May Book Club: Elizabeth McCracken in Conversation with Gen Padalecki

We’re celebrating Texas authors at the TBF Book Club! For our May pick, we’re partnering with actor and fellow Texan Gen Padalecki and her Now & Gen book club for a conversation with National Book Award finalist Elizabeth McCracken about her new novel The Souvenir Museum. Grab your copy and read along with us! Be sure to join the conversation on Thursday, May 27 at 1 p.m. CT. RSVP here. Join our TBF Book Club Facebook group for all upcoming Book Club news.

Elizabeth McCracken is the author of seven books, including The Souvenir Museum, Bowlaway, Thunderstruck & Other Stories (winner of the 2014 Story Prize and long-listed for the National Book Award), and The Giant’s House (a National Book Award finalist). Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, won three Pushcart Prizes, a National Magazine Award, and an O. Henry Prize. She has served on the faculty at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and currently holds the James Michener Chair for Fiction at the University of Texas at Austin.

Genevieve Padalecki
(you can call her Gen) is a daughter, sister, mother, and wife. She’s also a traveler, book nerd, activist, actress, adventure seeker, and aspiring urban homesteader. A California girl from birth and a mountain girl at heart, she now calls Austin, Texas, home and lives with her husband Jared—yes, that guy from Supernatural and Walker—three kids (Tom, Shep, and Odette), 14 chickens, two dogs, and a hive of honeybees.

She blogs about her life, books, parenting, fashion, and more at and is the co-founder of @towwn – Take Only What We Need, a community that focuses on measurable steps we can take to live a more just and sustainable life for people + planet.

2021 book club picks:

Earth Day Reads with ATXSciWri

Happy Earth Day! Our friends at Austin Texas Science Writers have recommended a great list of reads to help us celebrate our planet. Though we come from different backgrounds and have an array of reading interests, we all value living on a more sustainable planet. These reads offer an opportunity to learn more about our impact and challenge our assumptions about the world. There’s something for everyone: ecotourism, conservation, food and agriculture, climate change, consumerism, and political social accountability.

The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells

Field Notes From A Catastrophe: Man, Nature, And Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert

Losing Earth: A Recent History by Nathaniel Rich

Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining The Relationship Of African Americans To The Great Outdoors by Carolyn Finney

Trace: Memory, History, Race, And The American Landscape by Lauret Savoy

All We Can Save edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson And Katharine K. Wilkinson

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Join us for a Literary Lunch Break!

Mark your calendars! We have some exciting upcoming discussions for our Literary Lunch Break series hosted on Instagram Live. All past 2021 Literary Lunch Break sessions are available to watch on our Instagram page, including our sessions with authors S. Kirk Walsh and Stacey Swann. Be sure to follow us at @texasbookfest for the next lineup. Join us on Thursday, May 20 at 12:30 p.m. CT for our chat with author Carrie Fountain moderated by TBF Executive Director Lois Kim.

CARRIE FOUNTAIN‘s poems have appeared in Tin House, Poetry, and the New Yorker, among others. She is the author of the poetry collections Burn Lake, a National Poetry Series winner, and Instant Winner, along with the young adult novel I’m Not Missing. Born and raised in Mesilla, New Mexico, Fountain received her MFA as a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. Currently writer in residence at St. Edward’s University, she lives in Austin with her husband, playwright and novelist Kirk Lynn, and their two children.

Born in New York and raised mostly in Houston, P. DJÈLÍ CLARK spent the formative years of his life in the homeland of his parents, Trinidad and Tobago. A Hugo and Sturgeon Award finalist, he is the author of The Black God’s Drums and The Haunting of Tram Car 015. His short story “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” (Fireside Fiction) has earned him both a Nebula and Locus Award. A Texas Book Festival 2020 featured author, Clark lives in Connecticut.

ANNETTE GORDON-REED is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University. The author of Pulitzer Prize-winning The Hemingses of Monticello, she lives in New York and Cambridge.

Celebrating National Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month! Poetry is a fundamental form of expression and we are excited to celebrate poets this month and beyond April. Writing poetry allows us to express our feelings and process thoughts in a creative flow and cadence. Reading poetry allows us to connect and find meaning in our life experiences. To celebrate, the Texas Book Festival staff is recommending some of their favorite poems. Check out the full list below.

Idiophone by Amy Fusselman
recommended by Claire Burrows, Deputy Director

“I can’t sleep in this uncomfortable New York City cab.
It keeps moving.
It’s like the bed in The Nutcracker.”

Amy came to the Festival in 2018 with Idiophone, and her work is so full of curiosity, and brilliance, and honesty. I also get a real sense of compassion for people, and a very open love of writing, creativity, and art. These are all beautiful things to have in our lives right now. Plus, she’s just super cool.

Six Unrhymed Sonnets” by Diane Seuss
recommended by Gavin Quinn, Programs and Financial Coordinator

“. . .I drove
to the sea, wandered aimlessly, I stared at my tree, I said
in my mind there’s my tree, there’s my tree I said in my mind,
I remember myself before words, thrilled at my parents’”
Seuss’s new collection
frank: sonnets is out now.

I love the gentle flow of images in these sonnets, shifting from the world of the mundane to the natural world and back again.

My Empire by Kaveh Akbar
recommended by Gavin Quinn

“The new missiles can detect a fly’s heartbeat
atop a pile of rubble from six thousand miles away.
That flies have hearts, one hundred and four cells big, that beat.”
Akbar’s new collection
Pilgrim Bell will be released on August 3, 2021.

In a few lines, this poem sparks wonder with the juxtaposed immense distance between a weapon with the small fragility of a fly’s heart.

Black Woods” by Kevin Prufer
recommended by Ke’ara Hunt, Communications and Marketing Coordinator

“Do you know where our child has gone?
I’m sorry. Do you know what has become
of him? I’m sorry. [        .] Is he hiding”
Appears in the
March 2015 issue of Poetry.

I grew up in Houston, which is how I know of Kevin Prufer. There’s something familiar about being in constant fear that you’re going to lose a young loved one to all that’s sinister beyond your own home. You can only protect children for so long before they’re old enough to wonder and wander beyond your reach. This poem reminds me of my younger brother, and specifically, how scary it is to be an older sister to a young Black boy in America. Even worse, I can’t imagine how scary it is to be a joyful Black boy living in this country. I don’t ever want my brother to feel trapped, but I don’t want him to become lost.

Poems” by Nikki Grimes
recommended by Ke’ara Hunt

“I am hardly ever able
to sort through my memories
and come away whole”
Appears in the March 2021 issue of Poetry.

Oh to be human with a mind that moves, shakes, captures, and frails. Even the mightiest of us struggle to sort through our thoughts, choosing one memory over another to cherish or bury. We keep so much inside: Our mind acts as a place to revisit pleasant moments lost in time or as a gatekeeper to thoughts that we wish we could extract from our brains. All thoughts make us who we are, and personally, I like to think that my mind is a carousel and each of my memories are winding away and toward me at the same time. If I have unpleasant thoughts, I know that they’ll momentarily leave me and I can enjoy a moment of peace from their hold on me. If I revisit a thought that I cherish or that inspires me, I’m sad when it dissipates and something else stands at attention. This poem (about poems and about the weight of the mind) is one of my favorite things to return to when I catch myself drifting…

Aubade at Bosque Redondo by Carrie Fountain
recommended by Lois Kim, Executive Director

“Almost nothing has changed
about the world. We’re still bound
to go on having this hunch”
From Carrie Fountain’s Burn Lake (2010).

My first encounter with Carrie Fountain’s poetry was hearing it spoken live from the poet herself. It was about ten years ago and I was at a benefit where Carrie was one of the speakers. Her powerful reading stopped me in my tracks. Ok, I was already sitting, but she was (and still is) an arresting presence, crisply and evocatively delivering powerfully shaped words that say and do so much. “Aubade at Bosque Redondo” is from Burn Lake, Carrie’s first book of poetry. The poems in this National Poetry Series Award-winning book are a marvel, redolent of the New Mexico of Carrie’s childhood and imagination, conveying the personal and universal implications of history, desire, and experience. We are so lucky to have Carrie as part of Austin’s literary community. She served as the 2019 Texas Poet Laureate, also writes YA fiction, has been a Festival author, and memorably emceed the 2019 Texas Book Festival Gala. For those looking for transcendence in the everyday, you’ll want to grab a copy of The Life, Carrie’s newest book of poetry (whose cover alone will bring you joy every time you look at it) when it is out in the world at the end of April.

Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa
recommended by Lucy Vélez, School and Community Programs Coordinator

“To survive the Borderlands
You must live sin fronteras
Be a crossroads”

Meditación Fronteriza by Norma Cantú
recommended by Lucy Vélez

“Rio Grande flows
from the Rockies to the Gulf 
holy waters heal the border scar”

In Defense Of Santana’s “Maria Maria” Ft. Wyclef & The Product G&B by Ariana Brown
recommended by Lucy Vélez

“this is as much about music as it is permission: to allow oneself 
to know most music, including mexican, is black at the joints. 
to be grateful to caribbeans for preserving blackness”
From Rattle #58, Winter 2017.

During this National Poetry Month, I would like to highlight and recommend critical poetry by Gloria Anzaldúa, Norma Cantú, and Ariana Brown as must-reads for anyone interested in Tejanx voices. You will be blown away by their critically candid description of a life sin fronteras (without borders).

Abdullah Abulbul Amir, or, Ivan Petrofsky Skovar” by Unknown
recommended by Nicole Wielga, Logistics and Volunteer Coordinator

“The sons of the Prophet are valiant and bold,
And quite unaccustomed to fear
And the bravest off all was a man, so I’m told,
Called Abdullah Bulbul Amir…”
Published in The Best Loved Poems of the American People, Selected by Hazel Felleman.

I come for a long line of storytellers on my father’s side. My earliest memories with my grandfather were of him telling me these magical stories about how the robin got his red chest, and how he tutored a young Albert Einstein. I remember being mesmerized by how he just had these stories in his head that he could recite at the drop of a hat.

When my father passed away, my grandfather pulled out this book called The Best Loved Poems of the American People, selected by Hazel Felleman. My great uncle Dave grabbed it and flipped to page 281, where the poem “Abdullah Abulbul Amir, or, Ivan Petrofsky Skovar” was written. I began to read it for them and my great uncle Dave told us that he and my father, as they were similar in age, had been told by my grandfather that they had to memorize that poem and recite it for everyone during the next big family gathering. This was their version of initiation into the Wielga storytellers. During the rest of that week that I was at my grandparents’ house, every night I would read a few poems from that poetry book and it would calm me down during such a hard time of grief.

Sonnet 55 by William Shakespeare
recommended by Nicole Wielga

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time”

With my background in theatre, I have spent a great deal of time devoted to the bard Willam Shakespeare. While “Sonnet 18” (‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’) might be the most famous of Shakespeare’s sonnets, “Sonnet 55” holds a special place in my heart as I had to study it in focus at college. This particular sonnet is about how this poem will forever be a reference point of the writer’s love to the person it was written about, as the words of the poem will outlive his life.

Indian Summer At Land’s Endby Stanley Kunitz
recommended by Susannah Auby, Development Associate

“The season stalls, unseasonably fair,
blue-fair, serene, a stack of golden discs,
each disc a day and the addition slow.”
From Passing Through, 1995.

My heart breaks a little bit every Labor Day and so I have always found the Indian summers to be especially poignant as they allow us to hold on a little bit longer to that sacred season of long days unbound by the usual restrictions.

Advice for Former Selves” by Kate Baer
recommended by Susannah Auby

“Burn your speeches, your instructions,
your prophecies too. In the morning when
you wake: stretch. Do not complain. Do not…”
From What Kind of Woman, 2020.

Thank you Kate Baer for permission to unapologetically change plans and for the reminder that we owe the best of ourselves just as much to our failures as to our triumphs.  This is the poem that I should have read when I was starting my adult life yet it would have meant nothing to that focused 21-year. Now it means everything.

Augustby Mary Oliver
recommended by Matt Patin, Literary Director

“We did not know [our neighbor] was sick, but she has come to the fence, walking like a woman who is balancing a sword inside of her body.”
Printed in the August 1993 issue of Poetry.

Days” by Karle Wilson Baker
recommended by Matt Patin

“Some days my thoughts are just cocoons—all cold and dull and blind . . . Other days they drift and shine—such free and flying things!”
Printed in
Blue Smoke: A Book of Verses, Yale University Press, 1919.

Recreation” by Audre Lord
recommended by Matt Patin

“moving through our word countries
my body
writes into your flesh
the poem
you make of me”
Published in The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde, 1997.

These verses captured or revealed with such brevity and precision an emotion or thought or state of being that I wondered, Why hasn’t it always been described this way?


UPDATE: If you missed the conversation, no worries – it is still available to watch on Crowdcast.

We are excited to announce that our April book club pick is Nepantla Familias: An Anthology of Mexican-American Literature On Families In Between Worlds edited by Sergio Troncoso. On Thursday, April 29 at 7:00 p.m. CT, we are hosting a discussion featuring authors Francisco Cantú, José Antonio Rodríguez, Diana López, and Troncoso on Crowdcast. RSVP for the event. Join our TBF Book Club Facebook group for all upcoming Book Club news.

Francisco Cantú is the author of The Line Becomes a River. A former Fulbright fellow and the recipient of an Art for Justice fellowship, his writing on the borderlands appears in The New Yorker, Best American Essays, and VQR. A lifelong resident of the Southwest, he now lives in Tucson.

José Antonio Rodríguez’s most recent books are the poetry collection This American Autopsy and the memoir House Built on Ashes, a finalist for the PEN American Los Angeles award. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Poetry, The Nation, BorderSenses, Paterson Literary Review, and elsewhere. He holds a Ph.D. in English from Binghamton University and teaches creative writing at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.

Diana López is the author of several middle-grade books including Confetti Girl and Lucky Luna. Her debut picture book biography about Selena Quintanilla will be released in the summer. She recently retired as an educator but is still “teaching” by serving as a mentor for Latinx in Publishing and AWP’s Writer to Writer program.

Sergio Troncoso is most recently the author of A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son, a collection of linked short stories on immigration which Luis Alberto Urrea called “a world-class collection.” Troncoso also edited the 2021 anthology, Nepantla Familias: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature on Families in between Worlds, which received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews. A Fulbright scholar, Troncoso is currently president of the Texas Institute of Letters.

2021 book club picks:

Take a Literary Lunch Break with S. Kirk Walsh

ICYMI, here is the full conversation with author S. Kirk Walsh and ABC’s Richard Santos for our Literary Lunch Break. You can also find it on our IGTV on Instagram.

We are kicking off this year’s Literary Lunch Break series with author S. Kirk Walsh to discuss The Elephant of Belfast on Thursday, April 8 at 12:30 p.m. CT. Walsh will be in conversation with Austin Bat Cave Executive Director Richard Santos on Instagram Live. Follow us on Instagram to join the conversation.

S. Kirk Walsh
is a writer living in Austin, Texas. Her work has been widely published in The New York Times Book ReviewLongreadsStoryQuarterly, and Electric Literature, among other publications. Over the years, she has been a resident at Ucross, Yaddo, Ragdale, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Walsh is the founder of Austin Bat Cave, a writing and tutoring center that provides free writing workshops for young writers throughout Austin. The Elephant of Belfast is her first novel. 

Staff recommended stories by Beverly Cleary

We bid farewell to the children’s author Beverly Cleary, who spent her life writing books about beloved characters Henry Huggins, Ramona Quimby, and Ralph S. Mouse. Cleary was a librarian, committed to sharing the joy of reading with children and families. Below is a list of favorite stories by Cleary shared by TBF staff members.

“As the youngest sister, I’ve got to go with Beezus and Ramona (1955).” – Lois Kim, Executive Director
Beezus and Ramona (1955).” – Gavin Quinn, Programs and Financial Coordinator

Ramona the Brave (1975) and The Mouse and the Motorcycle (1965).” – Claire Burrows, Deputy Director

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (1981).” –  Susannah Auby, Development Associate

“As a cat lover, Socks (1973).”  – Nicole Wielga, Logistics and Volunteer Coordinator

“Great memories being a teen reading Fifteen (1956) and Sister of the Bride (1963) during the summer.” – Ke’ara Hunt, Communications and Marketing Coordinator

Dear Mr. Henshaw (1983), not only because it’s an epistolary and I love epistolaries, but also because it’s an epistolary between students and their favorite authors!” – Matt Patin, Literary Director

Share your favorites with us by commenting and tagging us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Texas Library Grants 2021

Have you heard? Texas Book Festival provides collection enhancement grants to public libraries in support of their efforts to better serve their communities big or small across Texas. The 2021 grant cycle is now open and applications are due on Saturday, May 15. Download the application.

In 2020, TBF awarded grants to 42 libraries across the state, a total of $100,000! This year, the application review will again be completed virtually with folks from TLA during early summer. Grant recipients will be notified by Sunday, August 1. Don’t miss this great opportunity for your library!

Real Reads with Astronaut José Hernández

Last week, our newest Real Reads author and former NASA astronaut Dr. José Hernández spoke with 150 students online at Skyline High School in Dallas. Hernández shared memories from his book From Farmworker to Astronaut, based on his life growing up in California as a migrant farmworker and his STS-128 space mission in 2009. His first memory of deciding to become an astronaut came about after watching the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. The students at Skyline had many questions for Dr. Hernández and we included some of the highlights below.

Q&A with Astronaut Jose Hernandez and Skyline High School, Dallas ISD

What kept you motivated when you were younger?

JH: My family had high expectations for me and I did not want to let them down. If I stuck to my dream, I could contribute to my family by graduating from high school and college.

Does ‘time’ work differently in space?

JH: While in space, you go around the world once every 90 minutes (the day lasts 45 minutes and the night lasts 45 minutes). However, we followed the same schedule as our peers stationed at mission control in Houston. We closed the blinds when the sun was out so that we could get some sleep.

Any scary moments during the training or while in space?

JH: During training, there’s an underwater simulation while you’re inside an upside-down helicopter. You go through it three times and each time tests your abilities, including communicating with your team members while holding your breath and exiting the helicopter while being blindfolded.

How did it feel when the rocket first launched?

JH: Best ride Disneyland can ever hope for! After eight-and-a-half minutes, you reach space and it feels like you are weighed down by three hundred pounds or that three people are standing on you while you are lying down.

Dr. Hernández also shared six important ingredients for his recipe for success, which was passed on to him by his father: define your goal in life, recognize how far you are from your goal, draw yourself a road map, stay in school, put in the effort in your studies, and persevere…never give up.

“If you put in the effort, anything is possible.” – Dr. José Hernández

Real Reads 2021

Our outreach program, Real Reads connects teenage and young adult students with authors who resonate specifically with them. Texas Book Festival works closely with facilitators in order to create a culturally sustaining experience for youth and set a space for them to not only explore the author’s purpose and craft but also discover or grow their own aspirations as writers and storytellers.

Real Reads also provides a copy of the author’s book for every student and educational materials to engage students in critical book study.  It also links participating groups with the author through in-person or virtual conversations. During these sessions, authors share their journeys and youth have an opportunity to ask questions and voice their opinions.

Previous Real Reads authors include Elizabeth Acevedo, Marcelo Hernández Castillo, Julissa Arce, Jason Reynolds, Jacqueline Woodson, Angie Thomas, Nic Stone, Erika Sánchez, Matt Mendez, and Kwame Alexander. We are excited to report that in 2020, over 400 teens and young adults joined us in-person or virtually in Dallas and Austin. Next up, 150 students at Skyline High School in Dallas ISD will speak with Astronaut José M. Hernández and discuss his book, From Farmworker to Astronaut: My Path to the Stars. Real Reads is supported by AT&T.