2021 Texas Writer Award Recipient: Don Tate

The Texas Book Festival awards the Texas Writer Award each year to a Texas author who has made a significant contribution to the literary arts. Previous recipients include Tim O’Brien, Sarah Bird, Sandra Cisneros, Steven Weinberg, and Pat Mora.

This year, we are honored to name Don Tate as the recipient of the 2021 Texas Writer Award.  

Don’s story:

“Born with a pencil in his hand,” Don recalls that for as early as he can remember, he was always drawing and making things with his hands. He felt that he was always an artist.

What Don didn’t see himself as, or didn’t think it was possible to imagine himself as, however, was a writer. Don wasn’t a reader in his youth. He didn’t see himself represented in books and believed that the world of writers and words were for white people.

But he had an aunt, Eleanor E. Tate, who was a trailblazer. She was the first black journalist at the Des Moines Register and also wrote young adult fiction. When one of her books, Just an Overnight Guest, was adapted for TV, Don attended the premiere at the Des Moines Public Library. For Don, “it was the moment I realized I could be a book creator. It gave me permission to dream.”

Don moved to Austin in 1999 to work at the Austin American-Statesman as graphics reporter, a career he had started in Iowa at the Des Moines Register. Joining the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (SCWBI), he credits the encouragement he found within the children’s book writing community, and especially the mentoring he received from Cynthia Leitich Smith, as instrumental in launching his career as an illustrator and writer.

Don’s first book publication as an illustrator was Say Hey: A Song of Willie Mays, followed by many book illustrator credits including Summer Sun Risin’, Black All Around!, Ron’s Big Mission, She loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story, Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite, Hope’s Gift, The Cart That Carried Martin, and The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw marked Don’s debut as an author and was illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. For his very first book, Don was recognized as the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor winner in 2012.

He wrote and illustrated his next book, Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (Peachtree Publishers, 2015). Poet went on to receive multiple awards and Don made history as the first two-time recipient of an Ezra Jack Keats award.

In recent years, Don has been busy as ever, publishing and illustrating books that celebrate the important stories and contributions of blacks in American history. Don is a 2021 Texas Book Festival author with his latest book, Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes. Passionate about raising the awareness of Black voices writing for young readers, Don is the founding host of The Brown Bookshelf. Don also gives so much of his time to inspire young readers through school visits to elementary schools across Texas and beyond. He participates frequently in Texas Book Festival’s Reading Rock Stars program as a featured author and illustrator.

Overcoming his insecurities about being a writer and as an award-winning author and illustrator of more than 80 books, Don reflects:

“What I discovered is that writing is just like illustrating, but using different tools. With illustration, I’m using my stylus and graphics program. With writing, I’m using nouns, verbs, and adjectives.”

 

Recommended Reads by Asian-American Authors

In any given year, I read a fair number of books by Asian-American authors. The breadth of books by emerging and established Asian-American authors is exciting and encouraging, and I’m frankly thrilled that there are more great books by AAPI authors than I can possibly get to tackling in my TBR pile. This was not always so, and I’m envious of kids today who can read Linda Sue Park, Minh Lê, Grace Lin, Arree Chung, and Gene Luen Yang (to name just a few) along with Beverly Cleary (RIP), Roald Dahl, Sydney Taylor, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and all the children’s authors I loved to read as a kid. I wonder what it would have done to and for my identity, my sense of worth and belonging, had those narratives been widely available and celebrated in my youth. That representation is one of the many reasons our Reading Rock Stars and Real Reads programs are so, so important. I’m definitely making up for lost time now with the rich variety in AAPI adult lit today, and I hope to see even more of it in the years ahead.

I’m of course distressed and alarmed by the rise in attacks against Asian-Americans this past year, and it’s been a struggle to make sense of that hate in the context of my work at TBF. A person who has the capacity to randomly and viciously attack another human on the street is, I would venture to guess, not reading literature. So what does the call to action to amplify AAPI voices mean when the aggressors, or those that sympathize with their racist sentiments, are not listening or interested in learning? Who are we talking to when we talk about amplifying AAPI voices if those who most need to hear that message are not going to receive it? It’s yet another reason why it’s so important for children to be exposed to the perspectives and experiences of others through literature so they don’t grow up unable to see the humanity in people who look different from them.  I’ve concluded that we—the readers and writers, the ones who care about and champion the inherent diversity within the human story—have the important job of even more loudly proclaiming our support for the AAPI community, for the Black community, for the Latinx community, and for all diverse communities—to show that there are more of us than there are of them.

So read more AAPI authors with me, with TBF, and share the books you like and love with those around you, and let’s show up those bullies.

Charles Yu’s National Book Award-winning Interior Chinatown is structured as a screenplay exploring and exposing stereotypes in American film and culture through the experiences of Willis Wu, an aspiring actor who is trapped in a hall of mirrors of clichéd roles where there is no place for Asian humanity in a binary world of black and white.
Twitter: @charles_yu

We loved hosting Kevin Kwan at the 2020 Texas Book Festival for his latest bestselling novel, Sex and Vanity, where he retells and reimagines E.M. Forster’s Room with a View through multi-racial and fabulously wealthy characters on Capri.
Instagram: @kevinkwanbooks
Twitter: @kevinkwanbooks

If you missed reading Ocean Vuong’s poetic and celebrated debut novel in 2019, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is most definitely worth picking up, with a narrative constructed a Vietnamese son’s letter to his illiterate mother.
Instagram: @ocean_vuong

I knew A.H. Kim in my childhood when our parents were part of a close immigrant community in Buffalo, New York, and am so proud that she’s published her first book, A Good Family, that’s a page-turner about family members behaving badly, with vivid details on the lives and flaws of the aspirational class.
Instagram: @ahkim.writer
Twitter: @AhkimAuthor

Susan Choi, another TBF alum who was at our 2019 Festival for her National Book Award-winning Trust Exercise, is a book I’m still thinking about, with its complex narrative structure, unreliable narrators, and layered treatment of adolescence, power, and abuse.
Instagram: @susanmchoi

Shirkers filmmaker Sandi Tan’s newly released Lurkers details the lives of three families who live on Santa Claus Lane in an LA suburb that feels very LA in the you-don’t-know-your-neighbors kind of way. Its dark humor and subject matter are not for the sentimental, but perfect for readers who will appreciate Tan’s cinematic style, unflinching portrayal of race, family dynamics, sexual predation, and alienation.
Instagram: @_sanditan_
Twitter: @sanditan

Don’t be intimidated by the page count in Chang-Rae Lee’s latest masterpiece, My Year Abroad. Just jump in and ride the waves of this wildly creative and crazy narrative. Lee’s latest is a departure from his more somber earlier work. Here, you meet and fall in love with Tiller, a somewhat lost college student looking for purpose and direction, and the mesmerizing Pong, a Chinese entrepreneur chasing fulfillment via material excess and chemistry-laden concoctions. Tiller is haunted by the past as he tries to find absolution in the present and his place in the disorienting landscape of American materialism, tribalism, complacency, dishonesty, and aspiration. Lee writes with such precision that you can’t help but experience the novel as both the very entertaining/disturbing story of Tiller’s experiences and the telescoping out to an ever-widening lens on the American condition of hope, longing, and dislocation. Lee’s writing is exuberant–sentences that hum and sing, chock-full of clever allusions and philosophy. It’s a surfeit but go ahead and feast along, just like his characters do.

RHCB Art School Live at TBF!

Random House Children’s Books invites parents, teachers, and their young artists to join bestselling illustrators and graphic novelists for an hour of non-stop fun! Learn how to draw fearless knights and superhero cats, challenge illustrators to draw something crazy, and ask them your silliest questions. Rewatch now on Crowdcast!

Practice your own artwork with this RHCB Activity Kit and Sampler!

Enter to win a RHCB Art School Swag Bag!

You could win a Random House Children’s Books prize pack! Enter by submitting an illustration/drawing/post on Instagram and using #RHCBArtSchool and tagging @RandomHouseKids and @rhkidsgraphic with permission from a parent or legal guardian over the age of 18 years old. All the rules are details are HERE!

Don’t forget to buy these books from BookPeople! 

 

Random House Children’s Books at the 2020 Virtual TBF!

 

 

 

Don’t miss RHCB Art School LIVE at the Virtual Texas Book Festival on Wednesday, November 11th at 11 AM CST!

 

Sign up here!

Random House Children’s Books invites parents, teachers, and their young artists to join bestselling illustrators and graphic novelists for an hour of non-stop fun! Learn how to draw fearless knights and superhero cats, challenge illustrators to draw something crazy, and ask them your silliest questions. Register now on Crowdcast!

GIVEAWAYS: All art students will receive a FREE downloadable activity pack and FREE digital sneak peek of six graphic novels for kids. All you need to do is register on Crowdcast and we’ll email all of this to you right before the event starts! You can even submit your own illustrations for a chance to win a deluxe RHCB Art School Prize Pack that includes Random House Graphic tote bags, enamel pins, coloring pencils, books, and more. School is in session and all we’re missing is…you!

Meet the Teacher Illustrators and our Host: John Gallagher (Max Meow: Cat Crusader), Lincoln F. Peirce (Max & the Midknights), Stephanie Yue (Katie the Catsitter), and Colleen VF Venable (Katie the Catsitter, moderator)

All of these awesome illustrators’ and authors’ books are available for purchase at BookPeople here! RHCB and BookPeople are teaming up to offer fun book swag with the purchase of any of the listed titles, like a lanyard, chapter sampler pack, or temporary tattoo sheet!

Download your own copy of the Random House Graphics Middle Grade Sampler here! RH Graphics Sampler

Join our Parents newsletter for age-specific book recommendations, engaging printable activities, and news about the latest children’s titles! Sign up for the Parents newsletter here!

 

Love Graphic Novels? Sign up for the RH Graphic newsletter to hear about the latest fantastic stories, get a behind-the-scenes peek at their creation, activities, giveaways, and more! Sign up for the RH Graphic newsletter here!

 

Download our free Kids Virtual Pass for fun interactive activities here! Complete 5 bookish activities and you’ll get a special prize pack from the Texas Book Festival! To download the Pass in Spanish, click here!

 

Learn more about our authors and illustrators!

John Gallagher is the art director of the National Wildlife Federation’s “Ranger Rick” magazine and has been drawing comics since he was five (John learned to read through comics and went on to earn the distinction of reading every book in his elementary school library!). John is also the cofounder of “Kids Love Comics” (an organization devoted to using graphic novels to promote literacy) and leads workshops teaching kids how to create their own comics. John lives in Virginia with his wife and their three kids. Visit him at MaxMeow.Com, on twitter @johnBGallagher, on facebook @MaxMeowCatCrusader and on instagram @johngallagher_cartoonist.

Lincoln Peirce is a New York Times bestselling author and cartoonist. His comic strip Big Nate appears in over 400 newspapers worldwide and online at gocomics.com/bignate. In 2010, he began a series of illustrated novels based on the strip, introducing Nate and his classmates and teachers to a new generation of young readers. In the past seven years, sixteen million Big Nate books have been sold. The New York Times bestselling Max and the Midknights originated as an unfinished spoof of sword and sorcery tales. Returning to the idea years later, Lincoln rewrote the story around Max, a ten-year-old apprentice troubadour who dreams of becoming a knight. When he is not writing or drawing, Lincoln enjoys playing ice hockey, doing crossword puzzles, and hosting a weekly radio show devoted to vintage country music. He and his wife, Jessica, have two children and live in Portland, Maine

Colleen AF Venable is the author of the National Book Award Nominated graphic novel Kiss #8 and is making her middle grade debut with Katie the Catsitter. Colleen is a lifetime comic fan and has designed numerous award winning graphic novels at First-Second books. She’s also is an avid rollerskater, animal rescuer, and once started a national holiday (true story). Colleen lives in Brooklyn, NY with her two pet rabbits. (photo credit: Amber Harrison)

 

Stephanie Yue grew up in Atlanta, Beijing, and Hong Kong. She’s a lifetime comic fan and martial artist (with a black belt in Kung Fu) and travels the world by motorbike. Stephanie was the colorist for the megahit, industry changing, Smile by Raina Telgemeier and Katie is her debut as a middle grade graphic novel illustrator. Stephanie currently divides her time between Boston and Hong Kong, where she’s working on the second Katie. Visit her online at http://stephanieyue.com and on twitter @quezzie.com. (photo credit: Timothy Wade Jr.)

Five recommended books for Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month

March and April brought much more than lambs and showers this year, to say the least, but one thing I’m really enjoying about May under quarantine is that it’s Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month AND the first time in a long while that I’ve tried to garden. Gardening for me = putting some supermarket herbs into pots, plus getting extra credit for keeping alive the volunteer tomato plants that cropped up in our yard. Like everyone else, I’ve had good and bad days, but the more optimistic, hopeful ones always involve puttering around outside in my “garden” and reading. I’m excited to share some AAPI reads I pulled from my bookshelves and hope you’ll get lost in one of these reads this month.

Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee

This is a marvelous book, a classic really, and if you’ve never read it, you must. It contains one of the most compelling openings of a novel – where the protagonist Henry Park describes the note his estranged wife leaves him:

You are surreptitious
B+ student of life
First thing hummer of Wagner and Strauss
illegal alien
emotional alien
genre bug
Yellow peril: neo-American
great in bed
overrated
poppa’s boy
sentimentalist
anti-romantic
______ analyst (you fill in)
stranger
follower
traitor
spy

Henry Park, it turns out, is a spy of sorts. This is one of the OG immigrant narratives of dislocation, with a suspenseful plot, incredibly crafted and clever prose, and psychological depth in spades. I pulled this off my shelf for this blog and just started re-reading it and couldn’t stop because Lee’s writing just draws you in, it’s so good.

Buy Native Speaker here.

Palm of the Hand Stories by Yasunari Kawabata

Attention span short much these days? Yet still aspiring to reach a higher literary plane in your reading? This collection of stories by Nobel Prize-winning author Kawabata might be the ticket. These stories are gems you can imagine holding in the palm of your hand, offering painterly transporting vignettes, some stories just a single page and none more than four. Featuring named and unnamed characters and types (the law student, the boy, the wife, the maid), the stories carry a fairy-tale and parable quality while respecting the reader enough not to telegraph an obvious message or lesson.

Buy Palm of the Hand Stories here.

Kim JiYoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

Originally published in South Korea in 2016, this novel became a huge bestseller in Korea and abroad and was just released in the U.S. last month. The story follows thirty-three-old mother and wife Jiyoung whose psychological break-down manifests in the impersonation of other women in her life. Spare in length and prose, the novel reminds me a bit of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian in its stark delineation of a severely patriarchal culture.

Buy Kim JiYoung, Born 1982 here.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

I can’t rec a list of Asian and Asian-American reads without a shout-out to my sister, Min Jin Lee. If you somehow never read Pachinko, then quarantine is a great time to immerse yourself in her award-winning, deservedly celebrated, and deeply satisfying novel. If you’re a Westerner, you might at first feel like you are reading about another place and time (Korea and Japan in the first half of the last century), but will soon feel the ways that its exploration of race, family, and society resonate with the here and now.

Buy Pachinko here.

 

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Unless you were in early quarantine through the entirety of 2019, you have likely heard of this multiple-award winning debut novel by Ocean Vuong. I thought I would include it since we have just celebrated Mother’s Day and the novel is composed as a son’s letter to his illiterate mother, transcribing his personal history and the history of Vietnam through stunningly vivid images and experiences.

Buy On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous here.

Looking for more book recommendations? TBF staffer Nicole Wielga recommends coming-of-age books for Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month here.

Gavin Quinn

Gavin serves as the Programs and Financial Coordinator, responsible for helping out in various odds and ends of Texas Book Festival’s programming, such as the Texas Teen Book Festival and Reading Rock Stars. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing from St. Edward’s University. His literary interests include literary fiction, comics and graphic novels, and poetry. His own writing has appeared in Grub Street Literary Magazine and Sorin Oak Review. In his free time, he enjoys watching films and learning how to bake.

Katey Psencik

 

Katey serves as the Communications and Marketing Coordinator at the Texas Book Festival. She is responsible for overseeing the Festival’s communication efforts, including social media, emails, press releases, and other publicity channels. Before joining the Festival, Katey worked as a lifestyle editor, writer and digital producer at a variety of online news publications, including the Austin American-Statesman. Katey graduated from the University of Texas School of Journalism, where she currently serves as an adjunct lecturer. In her free time, Katey enjoys teaching barre classes at a local fitness studio, cuddling with her shih tzu, and reading YA fiction, memoirs, and thrillers.

Interview with Lea Bogner Loy on Bringing Books to Life in Texas Schools

The Texas Book Festival launched by former librarian and then First Lady of Texas Laura Bush and philanthropist Mary Margaret Farabee in 1995 continues to grow in size and impact. Today the literary event brings more than three hundred authors to Austin each fall for a weekend of thought-provoking book discussions. What’s more, its book sale proceeds and attendee donations support powerful student programs in schools throughout Texas year-round.

One of those programs is Reading Rock Stars, which sends noted authors into Title I schools to inspire kids with great books and powerful live presentations. To date, the program has facilitated more than 400 author visits to Title I elementary schools in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and the Rio Grande Valley, and distributed more than 100,000 autographed books to students at those schools.

The newer Real Reads program serves middle and high school students in similar fashion, pairing close readings of urgent books with deep conversations with their authors. Participating authors include Kwame Alexander, Matt Mendez, Jason Reynolds, Erika Sánchez, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Jacqueline Woodson.

I recently spoke with Lea Bogner Loy, who, as the outreach manager for the festival from 2017 to 2019 expanded Reading Rock Stars and launched Real Reads. We discussed what separates these programs from other author visits, why kids need to see themselves in books and authors, and what she hopes her Texas Book Festival legacy will be.

What was the most meaningful part of your Reading Rock Stars experience for you?

I think the focus I brought to the program on working with authors of color. I just saw what a difference it made when the students saw an author that looked like them up there. How much they really connected with the book. I also saw how grateful librarians were because they always felt like they struggled so much to find books that related to their kids. And so for me, being able to give a platform to those authors, and also give kids that experience, was really meaningful.

What are some of your favorite Reading Rock Stars memories?

Oh man, so many. There was one in the Rio Grande Valley with Ying Chang Compestine, presenting [her book The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes] to PreK, K, and 1 students. She was talking about how she was an immigrant and all the kids were saying how they were immigrants too. There was that moment of cross-cultural understanding that was really special.

And there were always moments where kids would say, “I get to keep this book?” or “I’ve never had a book before.” That happened at every school we went to and every time it was always a gut punch. It was a reminder that we were doing important work.

During your tenure, you also launched the Real Reads program for middle and high school students. Why was it important to you to provide author programming for older students?

I think there’s a magic of reading that starts to get lost as you get older, especially for the students who aren’t seeing themselves in books. It’s an issue across the board. I remember being in school thinking “I can’t read The Grapes of Wrath or Shakespeare anymore. I want to read something that’s relevant and interesting to me.”

When you don’t have any reason to get connected to a book, you’re just not going to read as much. And it’s so important to continue to read—not only for vocabulary acquisition or to do well on standardized tests, but to be connected to modern issues.

And so that’s what Real Reads did. It gave students books that were really interesting to them and relevant, but that were also connected to things that they were seeing in the news and dealing with on a personal level. So they were able to really bring it all together and ignite that spark for reading.

I think people, especially literacy programs, have started to write off older students and think that they’re kind of a lost cause by the time they get to high school. And I really disagree with that.

What do you hope your Reading Rock Stars legacy will be?

Legacy is a big question. There are two parts of it. One is you’re just getting kids excited about reading, which so many authors are great about. But I think in publishing and in charity it’s easy to fall into the white savior complex of “I’m going to do these nice things for these kids of color and it’s going to change their lives.” If we’re not more intentional about it, it’s not going to make the kind of impact that it should.

I hope my legacy is that this program is not only about showing kids that reading is fun and important, but that they deserve books and that they’re empowered to do whatever it is they want to in their lives.

When I was in the classroom, the curriculum that was given to me was all about young white boys and 100% of my students were black. It was heartbreaking. Kids deserve to see themselves in books and if I had the platform to be able to bring a book to a child, I wanted to make sure that either it was going to be really funny and make them really love reading or they were going to see themselves in the book and feel empowered and seen.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Lucy Vélez

Lucy serves as the School & Community Programs Coordinator, responsible for Reading Rock Stars, Real Reads, and Library Grants programs. She has a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction and a doctoral portfolio in Mexican American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a Tejana, raised a few blocks away from the U.S.-Mexico border, and the community cultural wealth of this region continues to drive her commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Prior to joining Texas Book Festival, Lucy worked in higher education in multiple capacities including teaching, student support programs, and admissions review. Outside of the TBF, Lucy and her husband, Efraín, spend all their time making sure their two boys fall in love with Austin, road trips, wildlife, Texas summers, BBQ, tacos, and of course, books. Her favorite genre is Chicana literature- it validated her border crosser identity as a teenager and continues to inspire her today.