Real Reads Austin 2022

At this year’s Texas Book Festival, three award-winning authors joined us to engage with young readers as part of our Real Reads program. Modeled after our long-running elementary-focused Reading Rock Stars program, Real Reads aims to foster the love of reading in Texas middle school, high school, and young adult students. Like with Reading Rock Stars, Texas Book Festival provides a copy of the featured book to every student who participates in each Real Reads session.

Julian Randall is a Living Queer Black poet from Chicago. His poetry and essays are published in the New York Times Magazine, POETRY, The Atlantic, and Vibe. He is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize. Julian holds an MFA in Poetry from Ole Miss. His first book, Refuse, won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. He was also a contributor to the #1 New York Times-bestseller, Black Boy Joy. Julian has previously worked as a youth mentor, teaching writing workshops to children on house arrest. Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa is his debut children’s novel.

Julian joined us for a dynamic presentation during which he shared his writing inspiration and process as well as the Dominican cultural and historical connections and influences that helped to shape Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa. The energy in the room was contagious as Julian answered questions about the story and his writing life and students shared their thoughts and curiosities.

Celia C. Pérez is the author of the award-winning and critically acclaimed books, The First Rule of Punk and Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers. She lives in Chicago with her family, where in addition to writing books about lovable weirdos and outsiders, she works as a librarian.

In her Real Reads session, Celia gave students insight into what her early writing life was like when she was their age. She also talked about how her own cultures have influenced her stories, including the one told in her newest book, Tumble. The young writers who attended the session received awesome writing advice and encouragement from Celia and got to participate in Q&A session as well. It was truly inspiring!

Rubén Degollado is an educator from Texas and the author of The Family Izquierdo and the young adult novel, Throw. His fiction has appeared in Beloit Fiction Journal, Gulf Coast, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Image.

Rubén is a compelling storyteller who drew in his audience immediately as he recounted the events that led to his becoming an author. Full of humor and easy conversation, this session offered attendees a glimpse into the writing life and the people and events that inspired The Family Izquierdo. A particularly memorable moment came when a student and her parents shared their excitement about the connections they found between the Izquierdo family and their own. It was a beautiful reminder of the importance of representation and celebration of cultures in literature and the impact that seeing oneself in stories and authors can have on a reader.

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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