Book Picks From TBF Staff

Whether you are looking for a thrilling mystery, inspiring nonfiction, contemporary fiction, or satire, we have all the recommendations. Straight from our staff’s bookshelves, here are some of the books we can’t get enough of. 

Marketing & Communications Coordinator, Ke’ara Hunt, recommends Virtue by Hermione Hoby.

It was the weekend before Thanksgiving, the end of the nothing month of November, and I remember raininess, a vague and unremitting overlay of pathetic fallacy. The sky had a passive‑aggressive quality, bruised clouds withholding their light while telling you they were fine, not to worry about them, they knew you didn’t really care anyway. Ahead lay the grotesquerie of the reality star who’d soon be eating McDonald’s and watching TV in the White House. It was a bad joke in the worst taste. The incoming president was the executive producer of The America Show, barreling faster toward the series finale, and the ratings would be great.”- Hermione Hoby, Virtue.

Ke’ara’s Thoughts: “No spoiler alert here! This excerpt stands out because it builds up to a sense of dread that I actually felt around the same time in 2016. I can’t remember what the weather was like back in Houston during these moments, but I imagine that the clouds darkened and the sky somehow foreshadowed the next 4 years of doom, gloom, and utter terror. If we’re aligning this real life moment in history with a season of television, then this was the season where everyone tuned in but had to watch with their hands cuffed over their mouths. The live-Tweeting was also out of hand.”

Logistics & Volunteer Coordinator,  Nicole Wielga, recommends Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala. 

“Hey isn’t it weird that my ex is dead, your fiancée is in a coma, both of them were possibly involved in the drug trade, and now I’m being accused of murder, assault, and drug trafficking? Wild, right?”- Mia P. Manansala, Arsenic and Adobo.

Nicole’s Thoughts:“Super fun mystery that features Filipino food and culture. Has lots of twists and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat!”

Literary Director, Matt Patin, recommends The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris.

“You cannot run from it,” Ezra said. . . . “It is just how things advance. We age. And we must be honest in the face of this truth.“- Nathan Harris, The Sweetness of Water

Matt’s Thoughts: An incredibly moving, beautifully written debut novel from a graduate of Austin’s own Michener Center for Writers


Programs and Financial Coordinator, Gavin Quinn, recommends Real Life by Brandon Taylor

“This could be their life together, each moment, shared, passed back and forth between each other to alleviate the pressure, the awful pressure of having to hold time for oneself. This is perhaps why people get together in the first place. The sharing of time.”- Brandon Taylor, Real Life

Gavin’s Thoughts: “A compelling observation of campus culture and an elegant character study of self-preservation by way of isolation.”


School & Community Programs Coordinator, Lucy Vélez, recommends Becoming- Adapted for Young Readers by Michelle Obama.

“There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”- Michelle Obama, Becoming- Adapted for Young Readers

Lucy’s Thoughts: “It’s the message of agency and hope that all of our teens need right now.”

Development Associate, Susannah Auby, recommends My Year Abroad, by Chang Rae Lee.

“My best life. I was certain I was already living it, going around with him. And okay, the trouble might not have been mine, but it had risen right up to my eyes. Yet the way he spoke sounded so natural and sure, so tender and brotherly, and even as I figured it was some sort of con, I understood at last that it was a con I needed. Now and from the beginning. For maybe your favorite teacher or coach or best friend conned you too, into believing in a version of yourself you hadn’t yet imagined, a person many factors more capable, a person who might not otherwise have bloomed.”- Chang Rae Lee, My Year Abroad. 

Susannah’s Thoughts: “Like this quirky, shadowy figure Pong who turns the young narrator’s life upside down, Chang Rae Lee takes you to some dark places you never could have imagined. This is definitely not your year abroad, but it’s an unforgettable one all the same.”

Deputy Director, Claire Burrows, recommends Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner.

“The smell of vegetables fermenting in a fragrant bouquet of fish sauce, garlic, ginger, and gochugaru radiated through my small Greenpoint kitchen, and I would think of how my mother always used to tell me never to fall in love with someone who doesn’t like kimchi. They’ll always smell it on you, seeping through your pores. Her very own way of saying, “You are what you eat.” – Michelle Zauner, Crying in H Mart

Claire’s Thoughts: “Michelle Zauner’s book is so visceral, from the smell of garlic, the crack of lobster, and the deep tears of grief. Her honesty and storytelling is enveloping and moving.”

Executive Director, Lois Kim, recommends This is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan.

” . . . I really couldn’t understand the role of caffeine in my life–its invisible yet pervasive power–without getting off it and then, presumably, getting back on . . . The idea here is that you can’t possibly describe the vehicle you’re driving without first stopping, getting out, and taking a good look at the thing from the outside. This is probably the case with all psychoactive drugs but is especially true of caffeine since the particular quality of consciousness it sponsors in the regular user feels not so much altered or distorted as normal and transparent. Indeed, for most of us, to be caffeinated to one degree or another has simply become baseline human consciousness. Something like 90 percent of humans ingest caffeine regularly, making it the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world . . .”
Michael Pollan, This Is Your Mind On Plants.

Lois’ Thoughts: “I wanted to understand my addiction to caffeine better and Pollan provides it. I’m in good company, it turns out, and Pollan’s latest book explores the history, economics, and cultural impact of not only caffeine but also opium and mescaline, cleverly grouping legal and illegal natural substances to unearth the arbitrary and conflicted ways we treat the mind-altering plants that have attracted humans for centuries.”

Meet the Texas Book Festival Staff

We’re just under three months away from the 2021 Texas Book Festival! We are so excited to meet all of you at our hybrid events this October 23- 31. We all know it’s been a while, so let’s get reacquainted with each other. Our team is eagerly counting down the days until Fest, so we’ve been feeling nostalgic lately. Get to know our staff below as we recount our favorite Texas Book Festival memories!

Lois Kim, Executive Director

It was my first year at TBF and we had decided to give a pair of custom cowboy boots to the recipient of the Texas Writer Award. Rocketbuster boots in El Paso shipped them FedEx. They still hadn’t arrived by the end of the week and we were really worried we wouldn’t have “the award” to give Steven Weinberg, our recipient that year. On Saturday while the Festival was already in full gear, I got a text that they had arrived. Interns ran them over from the TBF office and I met them in a golf cart taxi at the south end of the Fest. We hightailed it to the Capitol with the boots still in the FedEx box and got them there in the nick of time for Marc Winkelman, TBF Board Chair at the time to present them to Weinberg ahead of their conversation. The episode was an early indication to me that this job would have many down-to-the-wire moments (something that has borne out to be very true). It is also poignant as we are all saddened by the recent passing of Steven Weinberg, a brilliant physicist and writer who contributed so much to science, the arts, and society.

Susannah Auby, Development Associate

The Texas Book Festival has been the highlight of my fall season since long before I joined the staff.  As soon as the schedule was posted, I would comb through it, “starring” my favorites on the website line-up and trying to figure out how I would see them all.  In 2018, my brood of tweens announced they would be joining me. Seasoned veterans of author visits, they showed up with backpacks filled with books for the TBF authors to sign and took to the streets of downtown Austin. That was their first true taste of freedom.

Claire Burrows, Deputy Director

It’s hard to choose just one memory from my seven Festivals at TBF. Highlights include seeing chef Edward Lee roll up to Olamaie’s on an electric scooter, sending my cousin to every 7-11 in downtown Austin to try and find ice the year-of-no-water, surprising cartoonist Chris Ware with a very awkward hug, getting nervously starstruck every time my path crosses with Colson Whitehead, riding my bike from the Authors’ Cocktail Party to every venue in Lit Crawl on East Cesar Chavez, working the Tom Hanks check-in with my sister, getting black-tie Gala ready with my best friend in a Four Seasons bathroom, basically getting every important person in my life to work the Festival Weekend, and many, many more. Moderating a session with Ethan Hawke wasn’t too shabby. Year after year, one of my favorite moments of the TBF weekend is early on Saturday morning around 7 a.m., walking up Congress as the sun is rising. All the crew and booksellers are finalizing the setup, and there’s an electric anticipation in the air and a relief that the months of preparation have led here.

Ke’ara Hunt, Communications and Marketing Coordinator

A fun TBF memory for me is definitely our first staff lunch earlier this year and the team trying to socialize while distancing in the courtyard. The wind was not kind to our plates and napkins, so we took turns dashing after cutlery mid-sentences. At the time, I was still the newest on staff, so it was a great in-person introduction.

Close-second: Meeting Bob and Janis Daemmrich for the first time for staff photos. Most of my shots are me stifling laughter. I didn’t realize that Bob and Janis were married before the shoot, but I soon caught on. They have such a sweet and humorous dynamic.

Matt Patin, Literary Director

In 2016, I snapped this photo of a double rainbow encircling the Capitol rotunda at the end of Sunday—a wonderful bookend to the Festival.

Gavin Quinn, Literary and Financial Coordinator

My favorite TBF memory comes from 2017, my first year as a Fest attendee, and making a mad dash once the “Why Poetry?” panel ended to “Travel and Flight: Three Poets in Motion” before the Capitol extension room filled to capacity. The rooms weren’t actually too far from each other, but for someone who very quickly gets turned around in the Capitol, the task was a formidable one. Now my Capitol Panel Scramble almost feels like an annual tradition.

Lucy Vélez, School and Community Programs Coordinator

My favorite festival memory comes from my MOM-2019-vault (of things I actually remember). We moved back to Austin in 2017 and quickly returned to our traditional ATX outings but this time with two young boys in tow. Fall events for us always include the Texas Book Festival and the ¡Viva la Vida! Parade, which often coincides on the same weekend. Attending both events with young kids wasn’t an easy trek, but by 2019, my boys had acclimated well to this ritual. Oh, and we had such a blast that year! Nicolás and Edgar experienced the full awesomeness of the festival including a few read-alouds at the Read Me A Story Tent, a Ready-Set-Draw session, enjoyed Amy’s ice cream, plus played hide and seek on the Texas Capitol lawn! We haven’t been able to do this family tradition since then, but every drive by the Capitol sparks a festival memory for them. It’s so fun to hear what they remember and I’ve used these memories to keep fueling their love of reading!

Nicole Wielga, Volunteer and Logistics Coordinator

The staff was looking for a former employee’s computer that was stashed away in one of my drawers. This drawer was my snack stash, and the computer was hidden under the snacks, but the rest of the staff just looked at the snacks and kept searching. When I told them they were under the snacks they first were like you have a really good snack stash and then said it was the perfect place to hide something as everyone overlooked that area because it just looked like a bunch of snacks. That is how the whole staff found out that I have a snack stash, which is both embarrassing and hilarious.

New Releases by AAPI Authors

Every year during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I try to target one AAPI book that I can sit down and read. While I work at the Texas Book Festival, I actually rarely have time to sit down and read and my usual go-to books are cookbooks and graphic novels. So May feels like a special month to me, where I can say I read this book and I feel more connected to my Asian culture. Last year my book of choice was Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Hong Park, which I would highly recommend. It takes quite a bit of research for me to pick a book for May, so I thought I would share my shortlist as well as the book that I eventually chose for this month’s required reading.

Land of Big Numbers: Stories by Te-Ping Chen

Land of Big Numbers: Stories by Te-Ping Chen

This is a collection of short stories about people in China that weave realism and magical realism and explores how people deal with the struggles of making a name for themselves and climbing the social ladder. The subjects of each story are unique and fascinating, from the differences of how twins choose different paths in life to a group of people who are awaiting official permission to leave a subway platform. The latter was the story that drew me in initially, as a big fan of Samuel Beckett, my senior project in college being a theatrical production of Endgame. Buy the book here.

Klara and the Sun

Klara and the Sun
by Kazuo Ishiguro

Written by Nobel Prize in Literature winner Kazuo Ishiguro, this book is a story of Klara, an artificial intelligence friend that is waiting for the day that someone chooses them from the store. Klara observes the world outside from inside the store and tries to explore the meaning of what is love. I was interested in this book because of the similarities to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Buy the book here.

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

Lila has arrived home after a terrible breakup and she is tasked to help her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant. She has to deal with all of her aunties trying to set her up with new beaus and their criticism of her love life. When one particularly harsh restaurant critic, who is also her ex-boyfriend, drops dead after a moment of confrontation, her life turns from a story of romantic comedy tropes to a murder mystery. When the police are suspecting Lila as the murderer, she decides to start searching for answers on her own. I was drawn to this book for the murder mystery elements with some Asian flair, with Lila’s auntie network helping her figure out the case. It has serious Knives Out vibes that I love to see unfold. Buy the book.

Bestiary by K Ming Chang

Bestiary by K Ming Chang

When Mother tells Daughter about a tiger spirit that lives in a woman’s body, she shrugs it off as an old folk tale and goes to bed, only to find that she has grown a tiger tail overnight. This is the start of several events that are unusual and odd, like her aunt arrives with a snake in her belly and a hole in the backyard the spits up old letters from her grandmother. When Daughter meets Ben, a neighborhood girl with her own powers, they start to read the old letters to uncover why things are happening. This was a 2020 fall book that drew my attention because of how much I love Asian folklore and allegories. Buy the book.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

This book ended up being my pick because it felt like something I could relate to, which is crying in H Mart, a Korean supermarket (which has a store here in Austin). I cry in H Mart for different reasons than this author, but Michelle Zauner’s memoir really hits home with being an outsider in America and in her “mother” country of Korea. This memoir explores grief and coming into her own identity while trying to bridge two cultures, which resonated with me. I’ll be honest that Chapter 4 had me bawling my eyes out as I am still dealing with the grief of my father’s passing, but it is a worthwhile book that deserves its best-seller status. Buy the book.


Children’s Reads for AAPI Heritage Month

Cover photo: Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, illustrated Dung Ho

Growing up in Singapore, I didn’t really have very many books where I saw someone like me. I never really felt like I was part of either my American side or my Singaporean side. It didn’t help that in 6th-grade science class that I was used as the example for gene differences and anomalies, like how my eyes were slanted, my hairline had a widow’s peak, how I had one hitchhiker’s thumb and one regular thumb, and how my second toe on my left leg is longer than my big toe and on the right leg it is not, etc. Quite literally I became the class “specimen” somehow, and I felt so uncomfortable with who I was after that. It felt like my body in some sense was as complex as my personal heritage and the question, “Where are you from?”.

I had no books that showed that I was normal, just different and that is okay. I think the only book that even came close was this book about Singaporean kids, but that book mostly just made me wear swimming goggles while chopping onions (according to that book, all Singaporean children did this). Here are a bunch of newly released kid’s books that celebrate being a proud child of Asian American heritage. I truly wish I had these growing up.

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho is about embracing your features as a part of how you are. When a girl notices that other girls have different eye shapes than hers, she finds beauty in her own eyes “that crinkle like crescent moons”.

Click here for more information about Joanna Ho

Click here to buy the book

Toasty by Sarah Hwang
Toasty by Sarah Hwang

This book is about how you don’t need to change to fulfill your dreams. Toasty is a piece of toast that has a pair of arms and legs and dreams of being a dog. While dogs sleep in a dog house, Toasty sleeps in a toaster. While trying to run with the dogs in a park, Toasty becomes in danger when the dogs try to eat him. But soon Toasty meets a little girl who has always wanted a dog but is allergic to dogs, so Toasty becomes the perfect pet for her!

Click here for more information about Sarah Hwang

Click here to buy the book

Amira's Picture Day by Reem Faruqi
Amira’s Picture Day by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Fahmida Azim

Ramadan has come to an end, and Amira can’t wait to stay home from school to celebrate Eid. There’s just one hiccup: it’s also school picture day. How will Amira figure out how to be at two places at once?

Click here for more information about Reem Faruqi

Click here to buy the book

Laxmi's Mooch
Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali

Laxmi has never really paid attention to the hair on her upper lip until some kids at recess start to bully her saying she looks like an animal. Laxmi starts to notice more body hair and starts to become anxious. When Laxmi’s parents start to teach her that body hair is normal and happens to everybody, regardless of age or gender, she starts to accept her body hair and gains self-esteem.

Click here for more information about Shelly Anand

Click here to buy the book

The Most Beautiful Thing
The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang

Weaving the story of Kalia and her grandmother, spanning across time from Laos to immigrating to the USA. When Kalia decides that she wants braces to fix her smile, her grandmother, who only has 1 tooth, shows her that true beauty is found between people who love each other the most.

Click here for more information about Kao Kalia Yang

Click here to buy the book

Graphic Novel Reading for AAPI Heritage Month

This year for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I wanted to take the opportunity to suggest a few graphic novels created by Asian American cartoonists, authors, and illustrators. Last year, Nicole Wielga suggested some fantastic graphic novels written and/or illustrated by Asian American authors and artists, check it out!

This list is by no means exhaustive, and I haven’t included many genre or YA books, so please share your favorite comics or graphic novels penned by AAPI authors and artists on our Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. Without further ado, here are a few of my favorites to kick off the conversation…

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

A student recommended this book to me about 15 years ago, and it reintroduced me to the joy and power of storytelling in graphic novels. American Born Chinese challenges and satirizes Asian stereotypes, as three unique characters converge. Yang, a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, also wrote Dragon Hoops, Boxers and Saints, and Animal Crackers, and many more! Check out Gene Luen Yang’s website.


Good Talk by Mira Jacob

I know that I’ve already recommended Good Talk, a funny, honest, and scathing graphic novel by Mira Jacob, but you cannot miss this. This book was inspired by conversations Jacob had with her son about racism, and delves into the art of the conversation that reveals so much about relationships, beliefs, and love. I also love her novel, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing. More of Mira Jacob’s work and insight can be found on her website.

In recent days, Jacob has been drawing awareness to the healthcare and humanity crisis in India, and not only suggesting ways for us regular people to help but also holding accountable companies who have profited off Indian culture. Check out her Instagram for more information:

Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine

Adrian Tomine is amazingly prolific. You may have seen his New Yorker covers, Brooklyn Book Festival posters, Optic Nerve comics, and many books and collections. So if I just had to choose one, it was Shortcomings. It is funny, insightful, and quiet, and filled with the precise beautiful art that Tomine is known for. Check out Adrian Tomine’s website to look at the scope of his artwork.


This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

While this may technically be Young Adult, it is such an authentic story of adolescence, that is should strike notes of nostalgia for many readers. The coming-of-age story follows two friends as their annual summer vacation is a turning point in their lives, as they grapple with family, mental health, sexuality, and tragedy. This One Summer is illustrated by Jillian Tamaki and written by her cousin, Mariko Tamaki. More of Jillian Tamaki’s work can be found on and check out Mariko Tamaki’s Twitter to check out her latest work and collaborations:


Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale by Belle Yang

In this memoir, Belle Yang finds solace and healing through her father’s stories of old China. The same stories that she dismissed as a child now give her strength in the wake of an abusive relationship.

Yang also has several children’s books, filled with her beautiful art:

Celebrating National Poetry Month

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

Idiophone by Amy Fusselman
recommended by Claire Burrows, Deputy Director

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

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

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

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

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

My Empire by Kaveh Akbar
recommended by Gavin Quinn

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

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

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

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

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

Poems” by Nikki Grimes
recommended by Ke’ara Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meditación Fronteriza by Norma Cantú
recommended by Lucy Vélez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sonnet 55 by William Shakespeare
recommended by Nicole Wielga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Augustby Mary Oliver
recommended by Matt Patin, Literary Director

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

Days” by Karle Wilson Baker
recommended by Matt Patin

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

Recreation” by Audre Lord
recommended by Matt Patin

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

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

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.

Staff recommended stories by Beverly Cleary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susannah Auby

Susannah Auby serves as the Texas Book Festival’s Development Associate.  She received her MBA from Columbia University and her bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley. Prior to joining Texas Book Festival, she was a volunteer in Austin in many roles focused on education fundraising, literacy outreach, libraries, and her greatest passion, introducing children to authors. Her prior professional experience was in New York and included management consulting, strategic planning and financial analysis.  She spends her free time keeping up with her four teenagers and the precarious stack of books on her nightstand.

Ke’ara Hunt

Ke’ara serves as Texas Book Festival’s Communications and Marketing Coordinator. She is responsible for coordinating and executing the communication, marketing, publicity, and messaging efforts across multiple channels. She holds a master’s degree in Television Producing & Management from Boston University and a double bachelor’s degree in Radio-TV-Film & English from The University of Texas at Austin. Prior to joining the Texas Book Festival, she has worked in entertainment and events with SXSW, Austin Film Festival, Austin Film Society, and The Ellen Degeneres Show. In her free time, she blogs about TV/film/music/lit and experiments with vegan recipes. You’ll probably catch her re-reading an entry from the Harry Potter series or a Toni Morrison masterpiece.