From the Lit Director’s Desk: Heartbeats

In 2010—Texas Book Festival’s fifteenth anniversary year—Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson, who that fall had published The Warmth of Other Suns, stood alongside a TBF sign in downtown Austin, and on camera she spoke with an interviewer. She’d just wrapped up, she tells her interlocutor, a spirited conversation in the nearby C-SPAN Tent, and when asked if she’d ever return to the Festival, Wilkerson replies, “In a heartbeat.”

I was reminded of those words—“in a heartbeat”—this past November, when Wilkerson in fact returned with her next book, for another big anniversary year of ours, incidentally: our twenty-fifth. Wilkerson described to conversation partner Saeed Jones, in one of TBF 2020’s most viewed sessions, her creative process:

“I have the gestational span of an elephant. . . . If I’m going to [write a book], it’s got to make a statement, because I’m not putting a book out every other year. So it’s got to be the very best I can marshal. If this is my chance to speak, then I need to say everything I can say.”

How poetic, I thought, the multitudes a “heartbeat” can contain, just how custom and personal a unit of measurement it is—quick, but only relatively so, only as speedy as need be. Within the ten years between Wilkerson’s TBF appearances emerged Caste, after all, a magnum opus.

And in the heartbeat between March and November last year emerged a publishing landscape and a Texas Book Festival we’d hardly begun to imagine a year ago today. Encouraging, though, after the Festival wrapped, was learning from so many audience members—among the tens of thousands who tuned in from around the state, the country, sometimes the world—how much they enjoyed virtual, how convenient it was, how entertaining and insightful and informative the author conversations remained in this new format, how valuable they found the ability to view more sessions, and on their own schedules, than they’d ever been able to in person.

Suggestions came too, as we’d hoped: what we might discard in future iterations, what we might add or change or grow upon. And while most—including the TBF team—missed deeply the energy, crowds, sounds, movements, and, when luck strikes, the delightful fall weather that accompanies the in-person Fest each year, we heard a similar refrain from most corners: that there is a long-term role for virtual literary programming, that it’s here to stay to some degree and in some fashion, worldwide pandemic or not.

So as we continue to follow the news about vaccine distribution and new strains, we are actively imagining how to bring to Texans virtual literary programming throughout the spring and into summer—stay tuned. And of course we’re thinking about the Festival itself, too, in the fall, and what it might look like. Will something in-person be safe and advisable again? And even if it is, which lessons might we bring from TBF 2020, the year of virtual?

Whatever the case, despite how distant the fall feels, it’ll be here in a heartbeat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Lit Director Desk: Quarantine Reads

During a typical spring, my calendar would be buckling under the weight of near countless author readings and conversations in Austin: at our brilliant independent bookstores, at Austin Public Library, at venues set up by our friends at Austin Bat Cave, Writers’ League of Texas, the Texas Center for the Book, and others. During a typical spring, I’d each week be making my way, drunk on the smell of bluebonnets and prairie-fires (and sneezing from cedar), to Barton Springs, the zipper on my backpack near bursting from all the stuffed-in sunblock, towels, and books. I’d be eying a prime spot on the lawn near other readers, fancying myself a subject—a sweaty, disheveled, unflattering one—in Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. During a typical spring, well . . . 

This year things are different, of course. Many quarantined authors have found their new books’ publication dates quantum-leap from one season to another, and sometimes from one year to another, their in-person tours canceled or postponed. As of press time, those once bustling discussion halls and auditoriums and bookstores—in Austin and beyond—are as lonely as a rural West Texas highway en route to New Mexico, as loud as only a whistling Gulf Coast wind. Tumbleweeds reign.

Online, however, is an altogether different story. Many of those once in-person author tours have shifted to the web, and perhaps never before has such a wonderful abundance of virtual literary programming existed. That spring calendar of mine is alive and well, in fact, only now it’s filled with links to Zoom and Crowdcast and Instagram instead of Google Maps coordinates. One of my predecessors in the TBF literary director chair, for instance, Steph Opitz Lanford, is killing it with Minneapolis’s Wordplay. And Austin’s own BookPeople has for now shifted their own events online: Lawrence Wright will go live with The End of October—a particularly prescient pandemic story—on April 28

We here at Texas Book Festival, too, are talking online with authors all the time. Below you’ll find some of the sessions we’ve recently held with Texas authors, and one or two we’re scheduled to broadcast. You’ll also discover resources that may help keep you up to date on the events other Texas literary organizations and booksellers are scheduling or may schedule in the future, a useful list to peruse alongside our suggestions on how to support Texas’s independent booksellers during these strange times.

Thanks to all—authors and readers alike, in Texas and beyond—and happy reading.

Trust Me by Richard Santos
Arte Público Press, March 31

Richard first told me about Trust Me last year, when it was still in editing, and I’d been champing at the bit ever since. A few weeks ago, Richard and I talked about how his own previous career informed his story, about our shared love of Santa Fe—a central setting in Trust Me—about the books in Richard’s own to-read stack, and about publishing with a Texas press. 

Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth
Graywolf Press, March 3

Deb and I first chatted years ago, in a Texas Book Festival panel about her graphic novel I, Parrot. Recently we caught up about her latest novel, Barn 8, out from Graywolf Press this March. Favorite discussion topic: Deb’s chicken tattoo.

The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward
Ballantine, March 3

Amanda, a longtime friend of the Texas Book Festival, released her latest novel, The Jetsetters, in March, and it was quickly named a Reese Witherspoon book club pick. TBF’s own Claire Burrows caught up with Amanda earlier this month. Another of Amanda’s books, The Sober Lush: A Hedonist’s Guide to Living a Decadent, Adventurous, Soulful Life—Alcohol Free, which she co-authored with fellow TBF alum Jardine Libaire—whom I had the pleasure of chatting with about novel White Fur a few festivals back—comes out this June. 

The Old Truck by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey
Norton Young Readers, January 7

Gorgeous, both visually and thematically, The Old Truck, a picture book written and illustrated by Houstonian brothers Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey, found its way to bookshelves in January, adorned with six starred reviews. The Pumphreys were gracious enough to put together a wonderful printmaking video for Texas’s young audiences, which we’ll be releasing soon on Instagram.

American Sherlock by Kate Winkler Dawson
G P. Putnam’s Sons, February 11

Austin documentarian and University of Texas journalism teacher Kate Winkler Dawson spoke with TBF’s Katey Psencik recently, about her new book American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI. If you binge on Forensic Files and truTV as I do, you won’t want to miss the discussion and get your hands on a copy.

Running by Natalia Sylvester
Clarion, July 14

Fellow Texas literary stars Natalia Sylvester and ire’ne lara silva chatted on Instagram earlier this month about, among other things bookish, Natalia’s new young adult novel, Running, available for pre-order from BookPeople. Natalia is a tireless advocate for authors both in and outside Texas, and a wonderful conversation partner too: years ago I spoke with her at the Festival about her previous novel, Everyone Knows You Go Home.

Virtual Programming, Texas-Wide

Not all of the following bookstores and institutions are hosting virtual events themselves, but many if not all are actively sharing links to events via their social media channels. This is certainly not a comprehensive list—Texas has so many wonderful booksellers and literary organizations.

AUSTIN

BookPeople

Events Page: https://www.bookpeople.com/event

Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookpeople

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bookpeople/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bookpeople/

South Congress Books

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SocoBooks

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SouthCongressBooks/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/socobooks

BookWoman

Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookwomanaustin 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bookwomanaustin/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bookwomanaustin/

Malvern

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MalvernBooksTX 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MalvernBooks/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/malvernbooks

Austin Bat Cave

Online writing workshops: https://austinbatcave.org/adult-workshops/

Texas Center for the Book (TCFB) at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC)

Remote reference and research services: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/outofthestacks/reference-and-research-assistance-at-the-ready-remote-services-are-here-for-you/ 

COVID resource page for librarians: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ldn/covid-19

TSLAC Twitter: https://twitter.com/TSLAC

TSLAC Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tslac

TSLAC Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tslac

TCFB Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/txcenterforthebook

TCFB Coordinator Rebekah Manley’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/RebekahAManley and Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rebekahamanley

Writers’ League of Texas

Online programs: http://www.writersleague.org/WLTOnlineEvents

Writing Barn

Online programs: https://www.thewritingbarn.com/upcoming-classes/?_sft_classtype=online

HOUSTON

Brazos Bookstore

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BrazosBookstore

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BrazosBookstore/ 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/brazosbookstore

Murder by the Book

Twitter: https://twitter.com/murderbooks

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Murder-by-the-Book-243815711002/ 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/murderbooks

Blue Willow Bookshop

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BlueWillowBooks 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BlueWillowBooks/ 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bluewillowbooks 

River Oaks Bookstore

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/riveroaksbooks/ 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/riveroaksbookstore

SAN ANTONIO

Nowhere Bookshop

Twitter: https://twitter.com/nowherebookshop

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NowhereBookshop/ 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nowherebookshop 

The Twig Book Shop

Twitter: https://twitter.com/twigbooks 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/twig.b.shop/ 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thetwigbookshop 

DFW

Deep Vellum

Twitter: https://twitter.com/deepvellumbooks 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deepvellum 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/deepvellumbooks 

The Wild Detectives

Twitter: https://twitter.com/wilddetectives 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thewilddetectives 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thewilddetectives 

Interabang

Twitter: https://twitter.com/interabangbooks 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/interabangbooks/ 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/interabangbooks

Lucky Dog Books

Twitter: https://twitter.com/luckydogbooks 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LuckyDogBooksOakCliff/ 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/luckydogbooks 

Monkey and Dog Books

Twitter: https://twitter.com/monkeyanddog2 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/monkeyanddogbooks/ 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/explore/locations/815510248/monkey-and-dog-books 

El Paso

Literarity Book Shop

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Literarity 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LiterarityBooks/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/literarity/ 

Brave Books

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BraveBooksEPTX/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bravebooks.tx/ 

Rio Grande Valley and Corpus Christi

The Story Book Garden

Twitter: https://twitter.com/storybookgarden 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/storybookgarden/ 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/storybookgardens 

By the Book Bookstore

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bythebookbookstore/ 

Books Ink

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Books-Ink-128085003895136/