Depleted Soil, Dirty Water, Bird Brains & Big Ag: ATXSciWri’s Best in Fest Shortlist

guest post by Austin Texas Science Writers

For the past two years, one mission of Austin Texas Science Writers has been to uncover the best science and nature writing. In Fall 2018, we launched the ATXSciRead book club in collaboration with BookPeople. Our book club has tackled sci-comm classics, like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring; welcomed authors near (Karen Olsson) and far (Deborah Blum, Katherine Eban); and sought out new voices on topics ranging from botany and indigenous knowledge (Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass) to race in medicine (Damon Tweedy’s Black Man in a White Coat).

Here, we share our most anticipated science and environmental titles at the 2020 Festival.

Perilous Bounty by Tom Philpott

Teresa Carr – Board Vice President, Independent Science and Health Journalist

Compared to 50 years ago, today’s industrial agriculture produces far more food on less land — but at a cost of less diversity in crops, depleted soils, and heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides. In Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of Agriculture and What We Can Do to Prevent it, veteran journalist and former farmer Tom Philpott makes the case that poor stewardship of natural resources have put American farming — and the global food supply — in grave danger.

I can’t bring myself to read too much doom-and-gloom these days, so I’m looking forward to Philpott’s reporting on the innovators who are developing resilient, soil-building, and water-smart farming practices that could very well prevent the looming crisis.

The Bird Way by Jennifer Ackerman

Julie Grisham – Board President, Science and Medical Writer

As a daydreamer, I often find myself staring out the window and watching the birds in my yard. And as a writer who frequently covers neuroscience, I know that studying bird brains has helped scientists uncover many new findings about how human brains work. So I’m excited about Jennifer Ackerman’s new book, The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think. Ackerman’s book highlights recent research on birds, ranging from parrots to pigeons to penguins and more. Full of anecdotes and facts, it will make you think about our feathered friends in a whole new way.

Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth

K. Angel Horne – Director-at-large, Nature Interpreter

While “activist fiction” doesn’t often make it to beach towels or wine-and-cheese-style book clubs, if one still has the luxury of literature in the fall of 2020, they are basically obliged to crack the spine of a darkly comedic examination of modern humanity framed by factory farming — don’t you think? Have you, after all, felt “cooped up” these long months? Have your grocery-store forays become a different beast altogether? Released this year, the book is not only timely, but lyrical and acute. It is a heist story and political commentary pregnant with complexity and presented through consciousness both homosapien and avian. Its deservedly lauded author, Deb Olin Unferth, has served us this opportunity wrapped in rich prose. Unferth is a Chicago native now teaching at UT Austin and running the Pen City Writers, a creative writing program at a max security penitentiary in South Texas. It is clear she is dedicated to uplifting the voices of those marginalized and confined, human and otherwise.

WASTE by Catherine Coleman Flowers

Eileen McGinnis – Board Secretary, Climate Activist

At first glance, a book about sewage might seem like a curious pick. But Catherine Coleman Flowers’ WASTE: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret is about so much more. Her book tells the story of rural communities of color throughout the United States that lack access to safe water and waste infrastructure. Flowers is the perfect guide: founding director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, she grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, a Civil-Rights-Era battleground now enmeshed in a struggle for basic sanitation.

In a time of intersecting crises, WASTE promises a necessary — and deeply personal — education in environmental justice, as well as a path forward to building a more inclusive environmental movement.

You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy

Emily Moskal – Director-at-large, Communications Specialist

Listening is the crux of many of life’s most important connections. Author Kate Murphy wants to improve your life with a simple adage: listen better. In You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters, Murphy explores the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience behind this oft-neglected personal skill.

Superman’s Not Coming by Erin Brockovich

Nika Sarraf – Student Board Member, Environmental Science Student

Erin Brockovich’s newest book, Superman’s Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis and What We the People Can Do About It details the water crises being faced by Americans throughout the United States, and what we can do as individuals to help preserve this resource. Brockovich is no stranger to advocating for environmental issues, and she continues to do so by stressing the importance of citizen science and individual responsibility.


Book-to-film adaptations for kids of all ages

by Ami Gandhi

I begin this post with two confessions: one, I am a former high school English teacher so analyzing books and movies is something I do for fun, and two, my five and eight-year-old boys helped me with this post. While I have read most of the books below, they have watched many of the movies more recently; in fact, they’ve watched a lot of movies (and thankfully read a lot of books) during the past six months. I used to be strict about screen time until, that is, we entered the age of the Coronavirus Pandemic and my boys came home from school one day last spring and just never went back! Currently, kids all over this country are experiencing various forms of “going to school”, from virtual to hybrid to in-person. My kids happen to be full-time virtual students, which means that they pretty much don’t ever leave my house, and since they’re five and eight, they pretty much don’t ever leave my side!  They still want to watch shows and movies during their free time but now I feel guilty about it because they already spend a lot of time in front of screens in order to “attend” school. I’m guessing that a lot of you parents out there can relate, which is why I suggest that you transform your kids’ movie-watching experiences into legitimate (as certified by me 😉) literary and film analysis assignments! You can even have them write proper essays if you’d like, though I don’t recommend it. 😊

Remember the phrase “compare and contrast” from probably all your years of schooling? Side note: I still say “compare and contrast” in my daily conversations with my husband and kids, no joke. Chances are your kids are already being asked to compare and contrast for school so why not give them additional practice (it’s good for their brains!) while also allowing, nay inviting them to watch more movies! As a former English teacher, the rule in my house has always been “read the book first, then watch the movie,” and my kids have followed this with series like Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. It helped that I started reading the books aloud to them when they were too young to watch the movies and then my older son finished both series on his own. Reading before watching is important to me because I want my kids to have the opportunity to exercise their imaginations and visualize the images  (like the Great Hall at Hogwarts with its suspended candelabras and starlit ceiling!) before seeing the film director and set designers’ interpretation of the authors’  words.

Other reasons to have you kids read (or listen to you read) before watching a movie is to introduce them to well-known characters and stories before they’re mature enough to watch the movies, as in the case of the Star Wars series and the Marvel Universe. Little Golden Books has a book for each Star Wars film and there are many versions of Marvel stories out there for preschoolers and elementary-aged kids. We have not allowed our kids to watch any Marvel live-action films yet but they’ve met all the heroes and villains through children’s books so they/re able to participate in this pop culture phenomenon of our time.  The Star Wars movies, on the other hand, my kids have watched (all nine since March, not surprisingly), and reading the books first helped them to understand the characters and complex plots in the movies. Watching the movies was a much more enjoyable experience for them because they weren’t struggling to make sense of what they were watching.

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you to surreptitiously turn your kids’ entertainment into educational experiences, and to sweeten the deal I offer you some questions to (nonchalantly) ask your kids. By now these conversations naturally arise between me and my kids, and sometimes my kids are the ones to start the discussion. As a matter of fact, I was inspired to write this post after my younger son, who had listened to the audiobook for The BFG, watched the movie and was outraged at the differences between the two. Yes, you read me right: my five-year-old started the compare and contrast analysis of The BFG simply because he was confused and mad that the movie doesn’t reflect the book perfectly! So try out the following questions on your kids and you may end up having enriching and enjoyable conversations with them!

  1. What happens in the movie that doesn’t happen in the book? Why do you think the filmmakers decided to include these scenes? How do these scenes make the movie more exciting or entertaining for you?
  2. What happens in the book which doesn’t happen in the movie? Why do you think the filmmakers left these parts out?
  3. Are the characters in the movie the way you imagined them in your mind while reading the book? Do they look and sound and act as you’d imagined them? In what ways are they the same and in what ways are they different?

Of course, I think you should always start with “How did you like the book? How did you like the movie?” and then encourage them to explain their opinions. Here is a list of fantastic books that have corresponding movies, many of which my family has enjoyed and discussed. Please be sure to check movie ratings and reviews to check for appropriateness for your children.

Movies based on illustrated children’s books: Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs (we love this one!), Where The Wild Things Are, The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax ( love this one too!), The Grinch (three film versions!), The Polar Express, Curious George, Paddington, Peter Rabbit, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Movies based on children’s classics (middle-grade): The Chronicles of Narnia series, Charlotte’s Web,  Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, A Little Princess, White Fang (animated and live-action), The Call of the Wild, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Cheaper By The Dozen, A Wrinkle in Time, Alice in Wonderland ( both animated and live-action)

Movies based on contemporary classics (middle-grade): Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, The One and Only Ivan, Bridge to Terebithia, Tuck Everlasting, Coraline, Harriet the Spy, Holes, The Giver,  Ramona and Beezus, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (two versions), The BFG, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Witches (we love Roald Dahl books and movies!)

Movies/Series based on contemporary/popular fiction (middle-grade): the Harry Potter series, The Last Kids on Earth (Netflix), The Babysitter’s Club (Netflix), Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Captain Underpants (Netflix), The Magic Schoolbus (Netflix)

There are so many more options out there beyond these titles and while many of these titles can be found on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, etc., many of them can also be found at your local public library. Now you have all the information you need to compare and contrast to your heart’s (and brain’s!) delight! Enjoy, and kiss your screen-time guilt goodbye!


Ami Gandhi is a former high school English teacher and current full-time Mom to five and eight-year-old boys. She has always loved reading, discussing, and writing about books, and both attending and working with the Texas Book Festival is one of the highlights of her year!








Picture books to ‘get outside’ when it’s too hot to actually go out

guest post by Ami Gandhi

I grew up in the northeast where we lived for summer. November through April were often cold and rainy, sometimes snowy, and unless you were a winter sports enthusiast (which I was not), you spent a lot of time indoors, yearning for May. May heralded the beginning of summer (okay not technically) and the sweet promise of long days playing outdoors. I also grew up in the 1980s so summer for me meant more freedom than my own kids get. I was kicked out of the house right after breakfast and allowed back in at dinnertime, and no, this wasn’t considered bad parenting. 😊 We spent days running through backyards (fewer fences in the northeast), traipsing through suburban swaths of woods, building ground forts and makeshift treehouses, and riding bikes from neighbor to neighbor to find the best snacks. It wasn’t all fun and games of course (mosquitos, ticks, intense humidity, etc.), but it was almost always bearable (if not heavenly!) to be outside.

I’ve been in Texas for nine years now and in those years May has taken on a very different meaning for me. It still heralds the beginning of summer, but for many people summertime in Texas means more time indoors than out. Admittedly this is not the case for all Texans but these days I’m only happy to play outside with my kids until about noon after which we head back in until late evening. I love living in Austin, I truly do, but during the blazing hot summers, I often long for the northeast so my own kids can run through backyards, build tree forts and bike from neighbor to neighbor in search of snacks (well, during non-pandemic summers, that is). The upside, however, of the painfully high summer temps is that we do a lot of reading in the afternoons. I like to read seasonally and luckily there are many wonderful children’s books about the joys of summertime. What are the kids in these books generally doing, you ask? Yup, you guessed it: running barefoot through the grass, exploring woods, and building tree forts, and the next best thing to actually doing these things is reading about them!

When it comes to nature-celebrating children’s books, my absolute favorite author and illustrator is Jim LaMarche, and I especially love his books The Raft and Pond.  In The Raft, a boy named Nicky has to spend his summer with his unconventional “river rat” grandmother because his father has to travel for work. Initially, he’s less than thrilled to be stuck with her in her cabin in the northern wilderness because he can’t imagine how he’s going to pass the summer. One day he spots and catches a log raft drifting downriver and spends the rest of the summer observing and sketching the bountiful wildlife that is drawn to the raft. He learns how to pole around the river and he delights in exploring the different parts of it, the teeming wildlife, and his newfound passion for drawing. Turns out that Nicky may be a river rat just like his grandmother! I love how this gorgeous book honors not just the gifts of nature but also a kid’s ability to constantly grow and learn and develop new interests and joys.

Pond tells the story of three kids who discover water bubbling up behind their house and, believing that the dry expanse was once a pond, decide to build a dam. At first, they’re simply trying to have fun and keep busy during their summer vacation but as they watch and wait for their puddle to grow, they find deep pleasure in the entire ecosystem which springs up around their pond and also in how it provides a place for their community to gather together during different seasons. My kids love this book because they themselves have spent the last couple summers constructing rock dams in the drainage creek behind our uber-suburban house, but only before noon, of course. 😊

The Hike by Alison Farrell is a newer book, released in 2019, and an entertaining and educational story about three girls, Wren, El, and Hattie, who set off on a hike together and experience nature’s wonders along the way. As a parent, I have to wonder why these young girls are allowed to hike to the top of a snow-capped peak unchaperoned but anyway, there are different parenting styles.😊 My kids love following these girls on their hike through woodlands and berry patches, over a river and past a waterfall, and finally to the peak. Various plants and animals are identified along their route and some nature education is provided at the end via glimpses into Wren’s sketchbook. The illustrations are colorful and whimsical and quite funny at times, like when Wren and El are draped over a fallen log because they feel sick from eating too many thimbleberries (did you know there’s such a thing as thimbleberries?). Wren says, “We may have eaten too many berries,” and El, green in the face, replies, “Is that possible?” Oh yes, El, overeating is definitely a thing. 😊

I’m embarrassed to admit that nature-lover that I am, I didn’t know about the historical figure Anna Comstock until I read Out of School and into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Jessica Lanan. This is a lovely picture book with watercolor-like illustrations which highlights the life of Anna Comstock, scientist, artist, educator, and author in a time in which most women did not pursue professional work, much less in multiple fields! As a child, Anna loved running barefoot in the grass and exploring nature. She always understood the value of human connection to the natural world, so much so that as an adult she advocated for nature education in schools. Anna loved insects, which is just awesome, and when she couldn’t find the books about insects that she wanted to read, she simply wrote them! What I love about Out of School and into Nature is that it has universal appeal. It’s great for nature-loving families, science-loving families, history-loving families, and families that want their kids to read about women who defy the gender conventions of their time and find great success. And it also happens to be a great picture book!

Oh man, I could go on and on about children’s books that celebrate the great outdoors, which I already have, so I will wrap-up with one last recommendation: Secret Tree Fort by Brianne Farley. This book is a playful romp between two sisters who are sent outside to play by their mother (she probably grew up in the 1980s too). The younger sister is ecstatic about spending the day outside but her older sister is nonplussed and sourly ignores her sister’s plea to play. (Incidentally, another good book like this but about brothers is Outside by Deirdre Gill.) Big sister’s disinterest drives little sister to resort to a popular younger-sibling ploy: fabricating a fantastically enticing story! She describes an amazing tree fort that has all possible amenities that can be dreamed up by a kid’s imagination. It may even be made of candy! Then again little sister’s description of the tree fort is so deliciously detailed you may just wonder, is she making it up? Whether she is or isn’t, the tree fort becomes something the sisters can enjoy together. I love how this whimsical yet thoughtful story inspires my own kids to get creative and design their own secret tree forts.

In fact, all of the books in this post inspire my kids to think outside the proverbial box and get outside to play and explore and learn, and learn not just about the natural world but also about how to cooperate and connect with it. In about a month or two I’ll be out there all day with my kids, dreaming up tree forts, building rock dams, sketching suburban wildlife, traversing roadside creeks…you name it! But for now, we’ll be out there from eight AM to noon and spend the peak sun hours nestled under a blanket fort, reading and rereading these books!

Ami Gandhi is a former high school English teacher and current full-time Mom to five and eight-year-old boys. She has always loved reading, discussing, and writing about books, and both attending and working with the Texas Book Festival is one of the highlights of her year!

Recommended reading about racism in the United States

Right now, people are wondering what they can do to not only better understand the racism faced by Black communities in the United States on a daily basis but also how to support anti-racist initiatives and organizations in their neighborhoods and cities. We want to share a few resources to help the TBF audience grow consciousness and responsiveness by better understanding the history of racism in this country. Our selected resources show our response to the crisis faced by many communities of color across the nation. 

Email us at if there are any additional resources we’ve missed that you think we should share.

@WellReadBlackGirl, a monthly book club focused on sharing the work of black writers (see the club’s full reading list here):

View this post on Instagram

Thank you for tagging #wellreadblackgirl and sharing your book pics – the #WRBG timeline is 🔥👏🏾😍 Excellent recommendation from @stewartdantec 📚 ・・・ If you are looking for a book to read during this time of distancing, this is your book. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Part memoir, part manifesto, part history, @austinchanning takes readers on a journey of remaking democracy. As the promise of equality have run hollow in the lives of African-Americans, Brown fights for a way forward that has black dignity at the heart of a better world. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ This is indeed a brilliant and landmark book of race, religion, and politics that is apart of a long tradition of black thinkers dreaming a new world. YOU WANT TO READ THIS BOOK! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #austinchanningbrown #wellreadblackgirl #blackwriters #wrbg #wellreadblackgirls

A post shared by Well-Read Black Girl (@wellreadblackgirl) on

Recommended reading from The Stacks podcast (see their list of 50+ nonfiction books here).

View this post on Instagram

I don’t even know where to start. • • We have to stop being ok with the White terrorism that is America. We have to stop being ok with executions of black bodies becoming a normal part of our social media feeds. We do ourselves a disservice if we don’t understand our history. If we think this is new. If we think this is normal. • • If you’re Black: I see you. I feel you. I’m exhausted too. We are beautiful. We are worthy. We matter. If you’re not Black: stop the performative solidarity and figure out what you can do. Work on yourself. Work on your community. Support the people who are doing the work. Get okay with the idea that if change is to come, you’re going to have to readjust your relationship to your privilege. • • I just put together a list of 50+ nonfiction books that deal in anti-Black racism and anti-racism. This stack is just the tip of the iceberg. • • Please share your favorite books that deal in anti-Black racism. • • Keep reading. Do the work. #thestacks

A post shared by The Stacks (@thestackspod) on

Anti-racism reads from @movingpartspsychotherapy on Instagram:

Recommendations from Tiffany Jewell, author of This Book is Anti-Racist. Visit her Instagram profile for more recommendations and resources.

Recommendations and resources from @southasians4blacklives:

Recommended books and articles from @expansive.hd: 

Recommendations shared by followers of artist @jane_mount on Instagram (here’s the full list):

View this post on Instagram

thank you all *so* much, for such a great list of antiracism books. there were so many (and are still so many others I could’ve included!) that I limited it to only non-fiction (I’ll do a separate fiction one later!) and still you can see I had to squeeze them in. 📚 if you are overwhelmed, please don’t be!! start with one in the middle like Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race, Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, and Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy. If you are a young reader, the two outside leaning ones on the right are particularly for you (Tiffany Jewell’s This Book Is Anti-Racist and Kendi and Jason Reynold’s Stamped), but don’t feel limited! 📚 any other suggestions or comments, please comment below for everyone! hope this is helpful ❤️. 📚 yes you can repost the image as long as you don’t alter it in any way and tag me in the image and in your caption! 📚 extra special thanks to @marmarfrick for suggesting this stack! 😘 📚 Ideal Bookshelf 1162: AntiRacism 📚 #antiracism #antiracist #idealbookshelf #soyouwanttotalkaboutrace #howtobeabantiracist #stampedfromthebeginning #meandwhitesupremacy #thisbookisantiracist #stamped #betweentheworldandme #thecoloroflaw #blindspot #thewarmthofothersuns #goodtalk #minorfeelings #imstillhere #thefirenexttime #thenewjimcrow #whitefragility #mindfulofrace #justmercy #whentheycallyouaterrorist #whyimnolongertalkingtowhitepeopleaboutrace

A post shared by Jane Mount (@jane_mount) on

Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to be an Antiracist (listen to him speak about the death of George Floyd on Democracy Now):

The Antiracist Research & Policy Center, founded by Ibram X. Kendi:

More resources:




Care and feeding: Tales of bread-baking during quarantine

guest post written by Ali Haider, Executive Director of Austin Bat Cave

I have a baking problem. With all of this time at home, I should be writing, but instead I am baking. Every few days, I order sacks of bread flour. My office, outfitted with a small but mighty space heater has been converted to a warm proofing room. I’ve conformed my work schedule around the tending of my sourdough starter, and I have a baking schedule that I keep to more religiously than I’ve ever kept to any prayers. With my morning coffee in one hand, I feed my starter and then walk the dog. My starter’s name is Scheherazade. The same name I imagine giving my daughter except the only child I have is this starter. A dozen or so timers set throughout the day remind me that it’s time to knead or stretch or fold my dough. 

Care and feeding. 

It’s gotten so bad that on days that I don’t bake, Siri chimes in and asks if I want to set a timer. Siri is on this schedule with me and is checking in. She sounds worried. She pleads with me. Bake, Ali.  

This all started a few months ago. A few days into the New Year, my brother visited and brought with him a loaf of bread that he’d baked. Knowing how much I love cooking, he urged me to give bread a go. To make things easier, he recommended a popular New York Times recipe that used a method developed by Sullivan Street bakery owner Jim Sullivan that involved no kneading. Just mixing a few simple ingredients that most of us have on hand: flour, salt, water, and a dash of yeast. 

I love complicated recipes with lots of ingredients and very particular steps that use up a lot of bowls and involve whisking this and tempering that and layering all the ding dang things to combine together in a culinary feat of deliciousness. I love mastering technique. But anything involving dough has always eluded me. Even banana bread comes out overcooked. Dry. Burnt. Dense. Bread was too complicated. I always wound up with messy countertops furred in flour and more dough stuck to my hands than what I ended up cooking. No thanks. 

The secret with this recipe, however, was mixing the ingredients into a shaggy dough and letting it sit overnight. Time, not talent, was the trick. Every step of the way, I thought I’d messed something up. This doesn’t look right, I kept saying. Nevertheless, I popped it into the oven and prayed. Less than an hour later, the bread was cooling on a wire rack and the sound of crust crackling was musical. You know that class they take in Harry Potter where they turn one thing into another? Transfiguration? The cat professor teaches it. Meaning the woman who can magic herself into a cat. That’s what this felt like. A soupy mix of flour transformed as if by magic into a delicious, nourishing loaf of bread. 

One of my favorite things about cooking is imagining how the heck somebody identified this process with these ingredients could somehow be delicious. Cooking can feel like time traveling. What did that first person see? What did they taste? How did they feel? Somebody looked at stalks of wheat and figured out not only how to mill the berries but also that it could be mixed with water into this paste that would react with fire and become something worth eating. And not simply eating for fuel. But eating to savor. Bread is meant to be shared. It is communal and sacred. A gift that sustains us physically, mentally, spiritually. It is our divinity. 

I don’t know exactly what it was about bread that dug its hooks into me, but as soon as I baked my first loaf, I wanted to do it again. And again and again and again. I baked a loaf of bread every day for nearly two months. The last time I’d maintained something that consistently was when I got sober. The two felt linked. 

Baking bread is mostly babysitting. You check in now and again, but the most used ingredient is time. Bakers will often tell you that if you’re having trouble with your dough, let it rest. Give it another thirty minutes, and when you come back to it, it’ll be easier. One of the most crucial steps I’ve found in baking is autolyse, which is a very fancy science-y sounding word that essentially means just mixing flour and water and letting them sit. The flour becomes fully hydrated and simply by waiting, becomes more extensible—stretchy–and easier to handle.  

I love this about baking. Bread demands of me patience. We do not set the timeline. With bread, it is enough just to be patient, and gluten will form. The recipe I’m currently using takes about 26 hours from step one to step bread. 

Just a few weeks before the outbreak of COVID-19 in Washington state, I made a sourdough starter. My first sourdough loaf was a complete disaster. Disappointed and grumbling, I went back to the no-knead method, but the promise of tangy sourdough with a creamy crumb kept calling me back. I tried again. Around this same time, I noticed that baking bread was a good way of getting my body and mind into a meditative and more peaceful state. On days that I baked, I noticed that I was kinder, softer, more appreciative of those around me. Because I was baking so much bread and not wanting it to go to waste, I began giving loaves away to friends, family, people following me on Twitter. Baking was meditative. Baking for others was restorative. 

For the past few years, I was lost and aimless. Sobriety gave me some direction. Baking gave me a sense of purpose. I have always enjoyed cooking for others. Coming together with friends and loved ones over a meal you’ve prepared is a balm. Knowing the people in your life well enough that you can pick and choose ingredients and design a meal that not only sates but also pleases them gives me the kind of joy that sits deep in my belly. I feel content and peaceful. 

I was bemoaning (on Twitter, of course) that with all this quaran-time on my hands, I was planning elaborate, delicious dinners but hadn’t touched a goddamn word of my novel, and a dear one replied, “Cooking is writing, walking is writing, gazing out the window is writing.” And she is exactly right. I am pouring myself into a creative endeavor. The thing I fell in love with about writing was the craft and learning how to build something—a story, a poem, characters—that made readers feel something. Bread is not so different. The same things that I love about writing are what I love about baking bread. When you execute it well and deliver it still warm into somebody’s hands, they get to sit with it at the kitchen table or at their desk and eat it with fresh butter and a sprinkle of salt, and if I really did my job, they’ll be moved and sustained. I will have done my part to give them a small comfort. I can’t think of anything more deserving of my time than that. 

Syed Ali Haider is a writer and the Executive Director of Austin Bat Cave. His work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Juked, Cimarron Review, and Aster(ix). You can read his bread blog at, and if you live near Austin and want a free loaf of bread, hit him up on Twitter at @SyedARHaider.

Texas Writer Award: James Magnuson

Every year the Texas Book Festival has the honor of bestowing the Texas Writer Award on a writer who has distinguished his or herself in the field of Texas literature. The breadth of talent observed by this award is impressive, ranging from writers like Robert Caro and Sandra Cisneros to Tim O’Brien and Dan Rather. To add to these ranks, the Texas Book Festival has selected James Magnuson as the recipient of the 2018 Texas Writer Award for his new novel, Famous Writers I Have Known.

While James Magnuson is not native to Texas, he has spent enough time here to earn his status. He was born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1941 and grew up in small towns throughout Wisconsin and North Dakota before moving to New York City in the 60’s. Once there he found a home in the Village and, at a time when critics were lamenting the inevitable death of the theater, was putting on one-act plays in East Harlem, “flying blind” as he would say. In his mid-twenties Magnuson was not floundering, but had yet to find his place as a writer. His time spent in New York City gave him the opportunity for experimentation with playwriting. His big break came when a chance encounter with a Princeton University professor of African Religion led to him receiving a Hodder Fellowship. This chance event more than anything else would mean the difference between failure and success. The patronage of promising young writers, a major theme of Magnuson’s life, allowed him to develop into a capable author and playwright, producing works in his Fellowship years such as “The Seeing Eye Dog With An Eye For Women.” Magnuson first moved to Austin in 1985 when he began teaching in the University of Texas’ English department. Times were hard for Magnuson and his young family during his early years in Austin. His fortune only began to look up again after heading out to Los Angeles to write for TV shows such as ‘Class of ’96’.

Magnuson eventually returned to Austin and wrapped up his professional career with a 23-year stint as the director of the James A. Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. Through this program he was able to mentor promising, young writers in the same way that he had been during his Hodder Fellowship years at Princeton.  Reflecting on his experience as a young artist and on mentoring young artists, Magnuson believes that, “sometimes when you’re an artist, being young and dumb can be a blessed state.”

Magnuson is the author of nine novels and numerous plays. Beyond this he has been awarded a National Endowment of the Arts fellowship and won the Jesse Jones Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. For the last 23 years Magnuson served as the director of the James A. Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin, but retired in 2017 to focus on his writing.

Join us on Saturday, October 27th at 11:00am in the Capitol Auditorium of the Texas State Capitol Building as we present James Magnuson with his Texas Writer Award. 

Discover New and Exciting Poetry

There’s no better place to wander than the Texas Book Festival, and no better companion to wandering than poetry. Whether you’re a seasoned reader of poetry or not, we’ve curated a guide of the Festival’s featured poetry to give you a little nudge in that direction. Eager to get to know more sessions? Check out our Guide to Debut Breakout Authors and our full program schedule.

Saturday, 27 October 12:00 pm – 12:45 pm
Heid Erdrich, Tacey M. Atsitty, Sy Hoahwah, and Tommy Pico
New Poets of Native Nations
Location: Capitol, CAP EXT 2.012

Editor Heid Erdrich has gathered poets of diverse ages, styles, languages, and tribal affiliations, all first published in the twenty-first century, in New Poets of Native Nations, demonstrating the extraordinary range and power of new Native poetry. Join her with Tacey M. Atsitty, Sy Hoahwah, and Tommy Pico as they read their work included in this vibrant new anthology.



Saturday, 27 October 3:00 pm – 3:45 pm
Sarah Kay, Laurie Filipelli, and Analicia Sotelo
With Wide-Eyed Wonder: Three Poets
Location: Capitol, CAP EXT 2.012

Curiosity and imagination, innocence upturned, and the depths of everyday life. Poets Sarah Kay (All Our Wild Wonder), Laurie Filipelli (Girl, Paper, Stone) and Analicia Sotelo (Virgin) read new work that approaches the world with eyes wide with wonder, ready to transform and to be transformed.

Saturday, 27 October 12:30 pm – 1:15 pm
Rickey Laurentiis, Tarfia Faizullah, and Rae Paris
History and Poetics
Location: Capitol, CAP EXT 1.014

Three award-winning, arrestingly original poets read work that reckons with the history entrenched in our land, our culture, and ourselves.

Sunday, 28 October 2:30 pm – 3:15 pm
Jasminne Mendez, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, and Daniel García Ordaz
Poetry Out Loud: Performing Verse
Location: Capitol, CAP EXT 2.012

Through honest and autobiographical poetry, poets Jasminne Mendez (Night0Blooming Jasmine), Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz (How to Love the Empty Air), and Daniel Garcia Ordaz (Cenzontle/Mockinbird: Songs of Empowerment) cover tough topics with beautiful words, including miscarriage, grief, and racial discrimination. Don’t miss seeing these poets doing what they do best — performing and discussing their work.

Sunday, 28 October 12:00 pm – 12:45 pm
Michael Cirlos and Daniel García Ordaz
Connecting with Community in Innovative Mediums
Location: LatinX Lit Tent

Poet Daniel Garcia Ordaz and photographer Michael Cirlos discuss working in different creative mediums to access elements of personal and community life in new and unexpected ways. Mixing genres, approaches and styles, they interact with their subjects and audiences to delight, inspire, and discover new ways to connect.


Sunday, 28 October 1:00 pm – 1:45 pm
Cyrus Cassells, Traci Brimhall, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Place of Verse: Poetry of the Earth
Location: Capitol, CAP EXT 2.012

New poetry collections by Cyrus Cassells (The Gospel According to Wild Indigo), Traci Brimhall (Saudade), Aimee Nezhukumatathil (Oceanic) find their inspiration in the Charleston and Sea Islands, the Mediterranean, the Brazilian Amazon, and the planet’s ocean to excavate grief, love, change, the past, and the present. Join them for a reading of earthly delights.


Discover the YA HQ Lineup

The Young Adult HQ Tent is back this year, giving readers of all ages a chance to dive into fantastic worlds, epic quests, unique situations, star-crossed love stories, and some with happy endings, too. Join young heroes and heroines as they solve the world’s problems, save the adults and the planet, and find how to love themselves and others. Test your YA lit knowledge with the Austin Public Library’s Teen Library Council for YA trivia, and stick around for their book recommendations! Check below for details on all panels and check out our full schedule of all there is to discover at year’s Festival!


YA HQ: Saturday, October 27:



Saturday, October 27, 10:30 am – 11:15 am
Ngozi Ukazu, Mary H.K. Choi, and Claire Legrand
YA Buzz Books

Catch our annual Buzz panel and get a first look at these exciting titles from your new favorite Young Adult authors! Whether you’re looking for a graphic novel about teamwork and baking; epic fantasy with prophecy, assassins, and time travel; or hilarious and heartfelt stories about starting somewhere new, these authors have you covered!



Saturday, October 27, 11:30 am – 12:15 pm
Brendan Kiely, Jennifer Donaldson, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, and Jarrett Kroscozka
Tough Times at Ridgemont High

No matter what the movies tell you, being a teenager isn’t all fun and games and falling in love. In these stories of betrayal, loss, and terrible secrets, these authors tackle how it feels when the world is against you, and the systems and adults meant to protect you fail.



Saturday, October 27, 12:30 pm – 1:15 pm
Traci Chee, Julie Kagawa, and Claire Legrand
The Revolution Will Not Be Prophesied

When the future seems written in advance, is any choice you make—love, loyalty, sacrifice—truly your own? Bestselling authors Traci Chee, Julie Kagawa, and Claire Legrand bring us stories of courageous, resourceful young women caught between fulfilling the roles set out for them and striking out on their own.



Saturday, October 27, 1:45 pm – 2:30 pm
Mary H.K. Choi, Sandhya Menon, and Ngozi Ukazu
Odd One In

In this loud, busy world, when everyone around seems to scroll past you at a mile a minute, finding your voice can be a tricky prospect. Join Mary H.K. Choi, Sandhya Menon, and Ngozi Ukazu as they discuss stories of finding your medium, finding confidence, and, just maybe, finding love along the way.



Saturday, October 27, 3:00 pm – 3:45 pm
Traci Chee and Scott Westerfeld
For Love or Country

Tough choices, tougher teens. In these in these epic novels by bestselling authors Scott Westerfeld (Imposters) and Traci Chee (The Storyteller), young women face conflicted love and divided loyalties —don’t miss this thrilling conversation between two giants of the Young Adult genre.


Saturday, October 27, 4:00 pm – 4:45 pm
Austin Public Library’s Teen Library Council

Gather up at YA HQ for a round of teen book trivia, led by Austin Public Library’s Teen Library Council! Plus, while you’re searching your memory for obscure YA Lit facts, the Teen Library Council will discuss their current fave books and recommended reads.

YA HQ: Sunday, October 28



Sunday, October 28, 11:00 am – 11:45 am
Cynthia Leitich-Smith, Nisha Sharma, and Ibi Zoboi
Love, When You Want It Least
High school: classes, tests, school newspaper, dance lessons, film club, drama club, family drama—nobody has time for love, right? Especially not when it isn’t the sort of love you ever wanted or planned for. Bestselling authors Cynthia Leitich-Smith (Hearts Unbroken), Nisha Sharma (My So-Called Bollywood Life), and Ibi Zoboi (Pride) present their newest novels, full of true-to-life struggles and follow-your-heart feelings.



Sunday, October 28, 12:00 pm – 12:45 pm
Mackenzi Lee, Amy Rose Capetta, and Carolyn Cohagan
Real World Issues, New World Rules

In these fantasy adventure stories, intrepid young heroines battle some familiar issues—such as the patriarchy—as well as crooked rulers, secretive cults, and the occasional monster. Join Mackenzi Lee (The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy), Carolyn Cohagan (Time Next) and Amy Rose Cappetta (The Brilliant Death) as they talk about rewriting the rules in the worlds they create.



Sunday, October 28, 2:00 pm – 2:45 pm
Kendra Fortmeyer, Carrie Fountain, and Maureene Goo
Not Your Everyday Teen Problems
Exiled to a summer of food-truck servitude for a prank gone wrong, following a missing friend’s single clue while trying to move on with life, showing the world your biggest secret and facing the fallout—these are not your everyday teen problems. Maurene Goo (The Way You Make Me Feel), Kendra Fortmeyer (Hole in the Middle), and Carrie Fountain (I’m Not Missing) introduce us to their unique characters and offbeat stories.



Sunday, October 28, 3:00 pm – 3:45 pm
Dhonielle Clayton, Ransom Riggs
Beneath the Surface

These magical worlds are strikingly beautiful, but underneath this lovely facade lie dark secrets and darker forces at work. Join us for a conversation between Dhonielle Clayton (The Belles) and Ransom Riggs (Map of Days), two major bestselling YA authors, as they present their new work and talk about writing, fame, and the fantastic worlds of words they create.


The 23rd annual Texas Book Festival takes place October 27-28, 2018 in and around the State Capitol grounds in Austin, Texas. 300 authors, 80+ exhibitors and two days of book signings and conversations as big as Texas. The Festival is FREE and open to the public! View the author listbrowse the books and check out the full schedule of events


Discover New Literature at the Latinx Lit Tent

We’re thrilled to present our Latinx Lit Tent, filled with bilingual events and readings, showcasing new and established authors. Join us for touching stories of dreamers and finding new homes, funny stories rooted in folklore, moving stories of immigration, beautiful portraits of la comunidad, harsh truths about border struggles and violence, and inspiring stories about the Chicana feminist movement. Come and enjoy a celebration of Latinx culture and literature. Bring the whole family—there’s something for everyone! Afterwards, check out our full schedule of all there is to discover at this year’s Festival!


Saturday, 27 October 10:15 am – 10:45 am
Xavier Garza

Author Xavier Garza reads from Just One Itsy Bitsy Little Bite where Joaquín and his mother are about ready to eat pan de muerto, the special Mexican sweet bread prepared especially for the Day of the Dead, when one hungry skeleton after another show up, singing and dancing and asking for just one itsy bitsy bite of the bread.



Saturday, October 27, 2018. 12:15 pm – 1:00 pm
Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award
Celebrate the winners of this year’s Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award! They’ll discuss the meaning and history of the award and why it’s vital to honor, share and support Latinx literature for young readers.



Saturday, 27 October 11 am – 11:45 am
Julissa Arce and Yuyi Morales
Soñadores inspiradores

Conversacion en español: Las autoras galardonadas Morales y Arce comparten sus propias historias de inmigración con los jóvenes lectores, describiendo sus propias experiencias al adaptarse a sus nuevos hogares y culturas, mientras celebran los lugares de donde provienen.
Award-winning authors Yuyi Morales (Dreamers) and Julissa Arce (Someone Like Me) share their own immigration stories with young readers, describing their experiences adapting to new homes and cultures, while celebrating the places they came from. Dreamers of all ages, join us for this inspirational talk! (This session will be held in Spanish).



Saturday, 27 October 1:30 pm – 2:15 pm
Natalia Sylvester and Luis Alberto Urrea
Todos en la Familia

These important new novels by Natalia Sylvester (Everyone Knows You Go Home) and Luis Alberto Urrea (House of Broken Angels) intertwine themes of family, the experience of migration and the long reverberations of the past to create propulsive, emotional stories that have been at the top of every must-read list in 2018. Join them for a discussion of the people, moments, and ideas which have inspired their new work.



Sunday, 28 October 11 am – 11:45 am
Juana Martinez-Neal and Pablo Cartaya
Pura Belpré Award Winners!

Join us as we celebrate and hear from two of this year’s Pura Belpré Award winners, Juana Martinez-Neal and Pablo Cartaya! The Pura Belpré Award is a recognition presented to a Latino or Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays the Latino cultural experience in a work of literature for children or youth.



Sunday, 28 October 12 pm – 12:45 pm
Michael Cirlos and Daniel García Ordaz
Connecting with Community in Innovative Mediums

Poet Daniel Garcia Ordaz and photographer Michael Cirlos discuss working in different creative mediums to access elements of personal and community life in new and unexpected ways. Mixing genres, approaches and styles, they interact with their subjects and audiences to delight, inspire, and discover new ways to connect.


Sunday, 28 October 1 pm – 1:45 pm
Daniel Peña
These Stories Are Ours: New Fiction of the Border

In his new novel, Bang, Texas writer Daniel Peña looks at both sides of the border from the perspective of two undocumented brothers from Harlingen who crash-land in Mexico. As they face the violence of drug smuggling and its impact on the innocent, they both must also reconcile with the complexities of the past. Join Peña for a discussion of writing Mexico and of breaking down stereotypes of the border in his fiction.



Sunday, 28 October 2 pm – 2:45 pm
Julissa Arce, Reyna Grande, and Fey Berman
Mexamerica: Fusionando Culturas

Conversaccion en Español: Las autoras Fey Berman (Mexamerica), Julissa Arce (Entre las sombras del Sueño Americano) y Reyna Grande (A Dream Called Home/ Un sueño llamado hogar) discuten la fusión de las culturas mexicana y estadounidense y la nueva comunidad que se ha creado en este paisaje cultural que mezcla el tradiciones y rasgos de ambos.


Sunday, 28 October 3 pm – 3:45 pm
Martha Cotera 
Chicana Movidas: Activism and Feminism in a New Era

A groundbreaking new anthology brings together generations of Chicana scholars and activists to offer the first wide-ranging account of women’s organizing, activism, and leadership in the Chicano Movement. Join contributors Martha Cotera and Brenda Sendejo for a look at the intellectual and political legacies of early Chicana feminism.



The 23rd annual Texas Book Festival takes place October 27-28, 2018 in and around the State Capitol grounds in Austin, Texas. 300 authors, 80+ exhibitors and two days of book signings and conversations as big as Texas. The Festival is FREE and open to the public! View the author listbrowse the books and check out the full schedule of events

TBF Author Q & A with Chloe Benjamin

Chloe Benjamin is the author of the New York Times-bestselling novel The Immortalists and The Anatomy of Dreams, which received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was longlisted for the 2014 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. She lives with her husband in Madison, Wisconsin and is twenty-nine years old.

TBF: Where did the idea for the novel originate? Was it a fascination with the occult, a philosophical question of fate over free will, or did it start with the family itself?

CHLOE BENJAMIN: I can’t remember exactly when (sometime in 2013) or why the idea hit me, but the nutshell was very clear: four siblings visit a fortune teller who tells them their dates of death, and then the book follows each of them over the course of their lives. I find ideas to be one of the most muse-y, mysterious parts of the writing process. I can’t force them—I’m just glad when they happen! But I know THE IMMORTALISTS came out of my lifelong fascination (and struggle!) with mortality, and with the unknown.

TBF: Has anything as strange—as meeting a gypsy who claims to know the day you’ll die—happened to you in real life? 

CHLOE BENJAMIN: I wish! No, I’m probably a fiction writer because nothing exciting enough has happened to me to pull directly from my life. On the other hand, I think that strange, small, magical-seeming sparks and coincidences are taking place all the time, if we stop and pay attention. And once, when I was in the Tucson airport, a woman came up to me, told me she was a clairvoyant, and gave me a “download” about what would happen in the next thirty years of American politics. I almost fainted.

TBF: Have you ever wished you could be a character in a book or literary universe? If so, which one?

CHLOE BENJAMIN: Like most kids of my generation, I was heartbroken when my Hogwarts letter didn’t arrive. I was about the same age as Harry when the Harry Potter books came out, and I found them utterly transporting. My favorite reading experiences are still like that—totally encapsulating, as though you’re living in the world of the book.

TBF: What is the first thing you ever wrote and when did you discover your writing voice?

CHLOE BENJAMIN: I wrote constantly as a kid and teenager–mostly long, meandering stories on an ancient, hand-me-down laptop from my mom’s partner. In fourth grade, my teacher, Mr. Gutierrez, gave us creative writing assignment. My story was too thick to be stapled and had to be bound with string! But I think I discovered my voice in college. That’s when I began to explore writing in different perspectives from a close third POV, which is still my favorite vantage point: inflected with the hue of each character, but stylistically more flexible than first person.

TBF: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be? 

CHLOE BENJAMIN: A therapist? A lawyer? Or maybe a yarn store owner.

Catch Chloe Benjamin on Sunday, October 28 at the State Capitol E2.016 from 11:00 – 11:45 at the 2018 Texas Book Festival!