Recommended National Book Foundation Reads

Since 1996, the Texas Book Festival has featured many National Book Award longlisters, finalists, and winners. And TBF has for years partnered with the National Book Foundation, the awards’ presenter, to feature honorees at the annual Festival.

With the 2022 National Book Award longlist announcement around the corner in early fall, the TBF staff got to thinking about some of the NBA honorees and winners featured in Festival lineups over the years, and what their critically acclaimed works meant to us. See our selections below.

Michelle Hernandez, School & Community Programs Coordinator

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Winner, National Book Awards 2018 for Young People’s Literature
Featured Author, Texas Book Festival 2020

Elizabeth Acevedo’s debut YA book, The Poet X, introduced us to a much-needed voice in children’s literature. A novel written completely in verse, it is, by far, one of the most powerful examples of this style of storytelling I have come across.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Finalist, National Book Awards 2016 for Young People’s Literature
Featured Author, Texas Book Festival 2017

Jason Reynolds’ Track Series will always hold a special place in my heart as the soundtrack, if you will, of a series of Texas road trips my husband, daughter, and I enjoyed a few years ago. Ghost, the first book in the series, is filled with moments of hilarity and tenderness and is my favorite of the bunch. 

Ke’ara Hunt, Communications & Marketing Coordinator

The American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Longlist, National Book Awards 2018 for Fiction
Featured Author, Texas Book Festival 2018

This novel is deeply moving and I couldn’t help but think about the effects of America’s criminal justice system on the lives of Black families. The marriage between Celestial and Roy is challenged (to say the least) and you cannot help but mentally fight for them – as a couple and as individuals. The quote that really hit me in the feels: “A marriage is more than your heart, it’s your life. And we are not sharing ours.” 

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Winner, National Book Awards 2016 for Fiction
Featured Author, Texas Book Festival 2019 and 2021

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad left me breathless. As a Black woman, I felt a kinship with protagonist Cora as bondage is a painful part of my ancestors’ history. Though this is a fictional story, it’s engraved in realism and is a reminder that slavery is not just a part of Black history, but is America’s history and foundation. There’s an unfortunate reverberation of its roots in our present day. I also highly recommend the series adaptation on Amazon Prime Video!

Claire Burrows, Deputy Director

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw
Finalist, National Book Awards 2020 for Fiction
Featured Author, Texas Book Festival 2020

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw is a stunning reminder of the power of short stories. This debut collection about the internal, honest, and vulnerable lives of Black women and girls is impossible to put down.

Matrix by Lauren Groff
Finalist, National Book Awards 2021 for Fiction
Featured Author, Texas Book Festival 2020 and 2015

Lauren Groff came to the Texas Book Festival in 2015 with the captivating and unsettling Fates and Furies, and Matrix continues to bring Groff’s powerful, sensual, and researching writing to the page in this historical novel.

Olivia Hesse, Event Production & Logistics Coordinator

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Winner, National Book Awards 1992 for Fiction
Featured Author, Texas Book Festival 1996 and 2013

McCarthy’s sixth novel and breakthrough commercial success was a deserving winner of the 1992 National Book Award for Fiction as he captured the romanticism and wilderness of the Texas and Mexico frontiers. The coming of age touches on the powerful themes of struggling to adapt to modernizing world, love and loss, and our connection with nature. All that combined with complex characters and vivid descriptions of the American southwest will make it hard to put this book down. 

Lois Kim, Executive Director

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
Winner, National Book Awards 2013 for Fiction
Featured Author, Texas Book Festival 2013

James McBride brought this book and a band to the 2013 Texas Book Festival and mesmerized everyone with both, and won the National Book Award a couple of weeks later. The Good Lord Bird is hilarious (as much as a novel that concerns slavery can be), with incredible dialogue and characters. This title connects to another great TBF alum, with Ethan Hawke as a fiery John Brown in the adapted Hulu series.

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
Winner, National Book Awards 2019 for Fiction
Featured Author, Texas Book Festival 2019

Winner of the 2019 National Book Award, Trust Exercise is a novel that will stay with you long after you’ve finished, with its complex narrative structure, unreliable narrators, and layered treatment of adolescence, power, and abuse.

Matt Patin, Literary Director

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright
Finalist, National Book Awards 2006 for Nonfiction
Featured Author, Texas Book Festival 2021, 2006, and more

Lawrence Wright—Austinite, Pulitzer Prize winner, and recipient of the Texas Writer Award—has visited the Festival many times. A session about his Going Clear (Knopf, 2013) was one of my favorites. But The Looming Tower, a definitive account of the events leading to 9/11, was what first got me hooked on his writing.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
Longlist, National Book Awards 2020 for Nonfiction
Featured Author, Texas Book Festival 2010 and 2020

A most-viewed session in 2020, and one my favorite conversations from two-time TBF alum Isabel Wilkerson.

How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure by John Rocco
Longlist, National Book Awards 2020 for Young People’s Literature
Featured Author, Texas Book Festival 2020

Author-illustrator John Rocco is a brilliant presenter—his multimedia session in 2020 was rich with gorgeous imagery that painted a story of the people, ideas, and technology that sent humankind into space.

Susannah Auby, Development Manager

The Other Americans by Laila Lalami 
Finalist, National Book Awards 2019 for Fiction
Featured Author, Texas Book Festival 2019

Moroccan American Driss Guerraoui is killed in a hit and run on a Mojave Desert street. His story and the mystery around his death is processed through the alternating perspectives of the family members and other members of the community. Laila Lalami’s keen attention to detail and beautiful telling of one immigrant family’s struggle to make a life in America.

Disappearing Earth by Julia Philips
Finalist, National Book Awards 2019 for Fiction
Featured Author, Texas Book Festival 2019

This is not the Russia you have visited in books, movies, and travel. Set in remote Kamchatka Penninsula, Disappearing Earth follows the vanishing of not just two young girls but also the indigenous culture through the perspectives of the people whose lives are affected by the tragedy.

The mission of the National Book Foundation is to celebrate the best literature in America, expand its audience, and ensure that books have a prominent place in American culture.

Staff Reads for Pride Month

The Texas Book Festival is reading with pride to recognize LGBTQ+ lived experiences reflected and championed in the pages of great storytelling. Below is a list of our recommended pride reads to celebrate LGBTQ+ authors, literature, and culture! Tag us on social media at @texasbookfest and #readwithpride to let us know what you are reading for pride month.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

I guess 1985 was a long time ago, making Jeanette Winterson’s debut novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit a classic. Winterson’s writing contains so much craft and beautiful imagery, while still being about the lives of real people. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a coming-of-age story about a young girl torn between religion and her own sexuality, told with humor and sadness. — Claire Burrows, Deputy Director

The Work Wife by Alison B. Hart (Preorder now)

I’m a sucker for stories about navigating the glitz, glamour, and sometimes glib Hollywood life. Even more so, I’m quite fond of stories about the folks behind-the-scenes who are just trying to get by while creating paths for the stars to shine. A job is a job – even while working in Tinsletown. I am looking forward to reading Alison B. Hart’s The Work Wife, a tale of a personal assistant walking the tightrope of life working for a movie mogul and his family. What would you do to get the job done? — Ke’ara Hunt, Communications and Marketing Coordinator

R E D by Chase Berggrun

Chase Berggrun’s R E D is a book-length erasure of Bram Stoker’s Dracula which creates a new narrative of gender transition and selfhood. More than clever and thoughtful, the chapters of R E D drip of hurt and want, particularly in lines like “A detail in a pool of blood / the body gathered in an awkward kink / I dress myself in easy anything.” — Gavin Quinn, Programs and Financial Coordinator

Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote

Truman Capote’s first novel is a dreamy coming-of-age story set in a decaying Mississippi mansion. As always, Capote writes with great tenderness, and while the book isn’t actually an autobiography, the characters and themes of his life percolate in this early work. You can see a foreshadowing of the brilliant, humorous, and tragic legend he would ultimately become. — Susannah Auby, Development Manager

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Leah Johnson’s debut novel tells the story of high school senior, Liz Lighty, and her unexpected quest to become prom queen, a very big deal in her prom-obsessed Indiana town. Liz doesn’t fit in but, despite her intense social anxiety, agrees to participate in the contest in hopes that the prize money will get her one step closer to attending her dream college and living the life she’d always dreamed about. Once Mack, the new girl in town and fellow prom queen contestant, enters the scene, the rom-com vibes begin. This book was such a joy to read and Liz Lighty might just be my favorite YA character of all time. — Michelle Hernandez, School and Community Programs Coordinator

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

I am not a graphic novel expert with a Ph.D. in the topic like our own Claire Burrows, but I really enjoyed Bechdel’s coming-of-age memoir in which Bechdel traces her journey to self-awareness that she is gay as well as her complex relationship with her closeted gay father. Poignantly told with humor and honesty, Bechdel details the perspective of a child coming into the knowledge of herself, her family, and the world. The musical was great also, which I took my then-14-year-old son to when the show came through town and we both loved it. — Lois Kim, Executive Director

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Heartfelt and funny, this fictional—and Pulitzer Prize-winning— portrait of a midlife author balancing a career and revisiting his past was one of my favorites of 2017. Read it before the next book in the series—Less Is Lost—releases this fall. — Matt Patin, Literary Director

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

David Sedaris never fails to impress, and though I’m only halfway through this essay collection, I can easily say this is the most I’ve laughed at reading a book in a long time. Sedaris approaches blunders in life with eager eyes and a pen in his hand, ready to turn any embarrassment or tragedy into stand-up comedy. That being said, the essays are not without merit, and while you may laugh your way through them, you’ll also inevitably feel some sort of truth about the human experience that lingers on your mind for weeks following their conclusion. — Olivia Hesse, Event Production and Logistics Coordinator

Olivia Hesse

Olivia serves as Texas Book Festival’s Event Production and Logistics Coordinator, responsible for organizing volunteers, general setup, and assistance with logistics for Festival Weekend and year-round programming. She holds bachelor’s degrees in English and Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and a Certificate in Creative Writing. She’s lived in the Austin area her whole life, is passionate about the art of storytelling in whatever form it may take, and served as the Events Production intern for TBF prior to joining full-time.

Her favorite book genres are literary fiction, personal essays, and short fiction stories. She is often accompanied at the office by (unofficial) TBF Mascot, Otis the Shih-Tzu. Outside work, you can find her running slowly around Town Lake, reading at Zilker, or hanging out with Otis.

Staff Reads for AAPI Heritage Month

In celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander heritage month, the staff at Texas Book Festival presents some of our favorite AAPI stories. From love stories that transcend time, delicious recipes that come to life on Instagram, sound advice to navigate working on a K-drama, and more! Check out the full list below and follow us on social media (@texasbookfest) to let us know your AAPI recommendations!

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Malinda Lo’s beautifully written, award-winning YA novel is a love story set in and around 1950s Chinatown. I was immediately drawn in by protagonist Lily’s story and fascinated by the navigation of the intersection of being both Chinese-American and queer during a time when it wasn’t safe to be either. If you want to take a deep dive into the author’s research and story after reading the book, I highly recommend you visit Malinda Lo’s blog. Michelle Hernandez, School & Community Programs Coordinator 

Flip the Script by Lyla Lee

Check out Texas author Lyla Lee’s Flip the Script. Not only is this a game-changing YA romance novel, but it’s also fun, sweet, and set in the world of K-dramas. Make sure to follow Lyla on Instagram for some of the best bookish social media out there. – Claire Burrows, Deputy Director

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

I have a soft spot for stories about stories — particularly if they’re about bringing people together. Trung Le Nguyen’s The Magic Fish centers on a son who is having trouble coming out to his mom as gay, but the pair navigate this unfamiliar gap in their relationship by reading fairy tales from the library. This tender premise is intimately brought to life with Nguyen’s monochromatic illustrations. – Gavin Quinn, Programs & Financial Coordinator

 The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

A sweeping history of cancer from an expertly informed medical and scientific perspective, for certain, but also from a deeply human one. It’s precisely what I was searching for not long after my own family faced this “regal” malady, and it’s a book I sometimes recommend—when asked and when the time is right—to friends whose families have faced the same. – Matthew Patin, Literary Director

The Korean Vegan by Joanne Lee Molinaro

This year I’m shaking up my at-home meals! I’ve been vegan for nearly three years now but I’ve become way too comfortable with the recipes that I tend to cook up. I discovered Joanne’s videos on Instagram a year ago and I must say that they are a work of art! Every meal has a story and Joanne’s shared wisdom will not only make you hungry, but you will feel the urge to step into your kitchen to cook something that will make you feel good – body and soul. I cannot wait to test out these recipes! Check out this great compilation video of #KoreanAuntyGivesAdvice! – Ke’ara Hunt, Communications & Marketing Coordinator

The Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian

While this imaginative and riveting story has the Indian American coming of age experience at its heart, it also asks difficult questions about what parents will do to ensure the success of their offspring and how those fierce ambitions shape the children well into adulthood. This book is begging for deep discussions! – Susannah Auby, Development Manager




Poetry Recommendations by TBF Staff

In celebration of  National Poetry Month, the Texas Book Festival staff would like to share some of our favorite poems. Poetry is a great way to strengthen reading, writing, and listening skills for all age groups. It also helps us to think of new ideas and improve the way we think about old ones.  At its core, poetry allows us to heal and weigh our hearts and our minds – amplifying the ways in which we communicate our feelings and tell our stories.

Below are just some of the poets who have left an impression on our team, but we would love to know what poems you recommend! Share your favorite poems with us on social media (Instagram/Twitter @texasbookfest and Facebook @texasbookfestival).

“Black Lead in a Nancy Meyers Film” by Rio Cortez

Aging, at all. I want that. And to fall
perhaps most honestly in love
beside the ocean, in a home I’ve paid
for by doing as I like…

Ke’ara Hunt, Communications & Marketing Coordinator: My obsession with rom-coms has a tight hold on the way I view my life and society. Sometimes I’ll sit in a coffee shop and imagine that I can read the thoughts of men or that I’ll graciously stumble upon the perfect macaroon to match my vibrant energy. It’s all harmless daydreaming, but it can be a little detrimental as I don’t exactly fit the description of a Nancy Meyers leading lady. This poem by Rio Cortez is a little reminder that it’s okay to love…love, but I have to remember to set my own scene and cast myself as the leading lady in this beautiful thing called life.

Goldenrod by Maggie Smith
“The Grand Scheme of Things”

Claire Burrows, Deputy Director: You’ve probably read or listened to Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones“, and wept. Smith’s poetry is beautiful and honest and personal and feels personal for me as the reader. Her poems are sweeping and focused at the same time. Her latest book Goldenrod will make you think and remember and imagine. The poem “In the Grand Scheme of Things” ends with the lines,

We say in the grand scheme of things

as if there were one. We say that’s not how

the world works as if the world works.

Customs by Solmaz Sharif

Gavin Quinn, Programs & Financial Coordinator: A book of traveling and the spaces in-between. What does it look like to live in one country, but to have strong roots in another? In addition to these things, this book is often a critique of social and poetry customs – consider the last lines of “Patronage”:

I said what I meant
but I said it

in velvet. I said it in feathers.
And so one poet reminded me

Remember what you are to them.

Poodle, I said.

And remember what they are to you.


“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Susannah Auby, Development Manager: Mary Oliver’s poems are filled with imagery that vivifies the natural world in all its beauty. Just when you are feeling as though everything is outside of your control, she takes you back to the one thing that is truly yours.

Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield

Michelle Hernandez, School & Community Programs Coordinator: When I was an elementary school teacher and it was time to read and teach and write poetry with my students, my worn copy of Eloise Greenfield’s Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems was always our favorite. When I became a mother, it was the book I used to introduce my daughter to poetry. On occasion, I reread the pages, savoring each verse, and falling in love over and over again.

My mama’s on the sofa sewing buttons on my coat
I go and sit beside her. I’m through playing with my boat
I hold her arm and kiss it ‘cause it feels so soft and warm
Honey, let me tell you that I LOVE my mama’s arm
I love to kiss my mama’s arm…

“The Jungle” by Carrie Fountain

Lois Kim, Executive Director: Sometimes a poem is lovely to read by oneself, a private affair carried out curled up on a sofa, a private exchange between poet and reader. Sometimes a poem’s power is most felt when read by the poet in front of a lot of people, with hundreds following the peaks, valleys, and turns of the poem, feeling in their bones the simplicity and complexity in all that the poet and poem are saying and doing. I felt the latter when Carrie Fountain read “The Jungle” at our recently held Gala and recommend the former for any of the poems in her latest collection, The Life.

In motherhood I begin
to celebrate my own

smallest accomplishments,
as when I wake to find

I’ve slept through the night
and I feel a little healed

because sleeping is something
I didn’t learn how to do until

I was an adult…

“Poem for Jon” by Joaquín Zihuatanejo

Matthew Patin, Literary Director: Educator and spoken-word artist Joaquín Zihuatanejo was this month named the first poet laureate of the City of Dallas, and while exploring his work, I stumbled upon a gem that demonstrates that some of the most moving poetry is neither spoken nor written:

My Staple Reads for Black Culture Month

As we celebrate Black history and culture this month, I wanted to recommend some of my staple reads that inspire me to be confident, creative, and courageous all year round! In this list, you will discover stories that continue to transcend time and new stories that will surely be revisited time and again. Help us continue to elevate Black voices beyond the month of February by sharing the stories that have inspired you!

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

I first read this novel in college and I remember being very angry after closing the book. A few years later, I decided to read the story of eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove again and something about the timing and place (I finished it in about 3 hours on a rainy day at a coffee shop) of digesting the pages again made me feel a sort of reconciliation with this particular story and with my own struggles with racism and colorism as a child and adult.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

This is a time-travel novel that had me both eager and terrified to turn to the next page. I often re-read this story because it’s a history lesson, love story, and action movie all combined into a roller coaster of emotions. Speaking of an action movie, the novel will be adapted into an upcoming series on FX. I can’t wait to see this story unfold on screen!

Just as I Am: A Memoir by Cicely Tyson

Cicely Tyson is a film and television icon who we sadly lost in 2021. Watching her on-screen always captivated me because she used her roles as teaching moments that went beyond the plot. I like to just pick a moment in time from her memoir and revisit how she navigated the entertainment industry for over seven decades! 

Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis

I look up to actress Viola Davis on a daily basis (she’s so fun on Instagram) because she continues to take on roles that reflect the multiple generations of women in my family and myself. She addresses the topics that are sometimes hard to unpackage as a Black woman but it’s somehow comforting to know that she has gone through those trials and come out on TOP! 

The Education of Kevin Powell by Kevin Powell

I recently decided to watch the first season of The Real World where writer and activist Kevin Powell was a cast member. He stood out to me because he addressed his experiences as a Black man struggling and overcoming racism in this country. This was back in the early 90s, so this topic was, for the most part, taboo for a mainstream television audience. It was illuminating to hear him discuss his journey during that time and know that today, many (if not all) of those issues still run rampant. This memoir allowed me to dive deeper and learn more about Powell beyond a reality show.

The Deep by Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes

The concept of this novel is one of the most imaginative things that I have come across since reading Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred. I tend to get overwhelmingly sad or angry when I read narratives dealing with African-American slavery, but this was another way to digest those emotions. We’re talking about mermaids! 

She Memes Well: Essays by Quinta Brunson

I’ve been a fan of comedian Quinta Brunson since my college days binging her Buzzfeed skits when I was supposed to be studying. Her essays here are naturally funny but they are also really touching as she reflects on her journey trying to make it big in Hollywood. Check out her new TELEVISION series Abbott Elementary on ABC. What a success story!

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

I actually just received this novel a few days ago and I haven’t been able to put it down! I am adding it to this list because I already know that it is a staple to return to. I have a younger sister and over the years, we have definitely had our differences growing up and trying to come into our own. What I cherish the most about our relationship and bond is that we have dealt with some of the same experiences at the same time. As adults, we can reflect and unpack some of our traumas together, which reminds me of the characters Byron and Benny’s story here.

New Year Check-in with Lit Director

Dear reader,

With the new year having arrived, we at the Texas Book Festival are in a mood both reflective and forward-looking.

I, for instance, am thinking of the waist-high iron fence that hugs the ledge between Waller Creek and downtown Austin’s Symphony Square, where in October we held children’s storytime sessions at our first hybrid Festival. Each time a presenter entered the amphitheater, I would alert them to the ledge, the fence, the watery depths below. Be careful, I’d implore, my mind riddled with premonitions of ugly slips and falls.

I was exercising far too much caution. After all, the well-tread space has existed calamity-free for decades. But afterward two thoughts preoccupied me. The first was some navel-gazing about where this excessive prudence of mine had sprung. Perhaps it was an inheritance from my late grandmother—the mere notion of us driving in the rain filled her with terror.

My second thought was in fact more a feeling, a dormant but familiar one: the thrill of experiencing the details in‑person again. Transporting items from one spot to another, conducting sound checks, ensuring a just-so placement of chairs and tables and signage, escorting authors from here to there, guiding crowds, watching a book browsed and bought and signed, and yes, minding the gap, so to speak—things alien to us since 2019 but retrieved with like-riding-a-bike muscle memory.

Caution and the excitement of experiencing, safely, familiar activities once more: it’s an emotional admixture many of us are feeling. And whereas the precise shape of Fest 2022 this fall will ultimately depend on one new variant or another, we choose, for now, to begin the year with hope and optimism: we’ll be in downtown Austin again, on our traditional footprint, November 5–6. Save the dates. We hope to see you there.

Happy new year,

Matthew Patin

Literary Director

Happy Holidays from Texas Book Festival!

From every one of us at Texas Book Festival, we wish you a happy holiday season and a joyous New Year! Thank you for your support and contribution to the success of our programs and events this year. We look forward to discovering more exciting and engaging stories in 2022. Below are some end-of-the-year thoughts from the entire staff. Cheers!

Seeing the happiness in people’s eyes (since I couldn’t see their smiles behind their masks) and hearing their laughter during Amor Towles’ Festival session. I’ve missed seeing the connection an author makes with a live audience. I also was blown away this year by how teachers and students have made the best of virtual learning. The kids in Breakthrough Central Texas had such great questions for Emmanuel Acho in their own virtual session with him. It’s all about impactful moments. I can’t wait to bring everyone together around more of them in 2022 and hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season until then! – Lois Kim, Executive Director

I loved seeing our Texas Writer Award winner Don Tate create a drawing for an excited young reader in-person, I loved meeting poster artist Clemente Guzman for the first time, I loved seeing the line of people wrap around the Austin Public Library to see authors. Now with an appreciation for reaching out through virtual programming, I got a kick out of Ethan Hawke logging in at 2 am his time from Eastern Europe, eating M&Ms to stay awake for his chat with Greg Ruth and Richard Linklater. Overall, I remain so thankful for all the storytellers, sharing their joy, sadness, activism, anger, and love during this time and always. – Claire Burrows, Deputy Director

In January 2021, on the heels of our first fully virtual Festival, we had little idea what the future held insofar as in-person vs. virtual events. Where we ultimately arrived was our first hybrid Festival, and some of the memories I cherish most were those opportunities to once again see authors, attendees, and volunteers in-person. There will long be a place for virtual, and yet there’s a magic to face-to-face experiences that is very difficult to replicate. – Matthew Patin, Literary Director

As 2021 comes to a close, I reflect on all of the different ways the Texas Book Festival has brought our community together. It has been wonderful to hear from you and see you at our Festival and come together to celebrate our love of books and reading. – Nicole Wielga, Logistics & Volunteer Coordinator

2021 has been a year of uncertainty, but in spite of that, TBF was still able to pull off a hybrid Festival. Working my first in-person Festival cemented the magic of in-person events for me—there’s nothing like watching the light in someone’s eyes as they listen to their favorite author speak. Here’s hoping for more magic in 2022! – Gavin Quinn, Programs & Financial Coordinator 

This year has been a whirlwind, but I am so proud to be a part of the TBF team! From the top of the year to the very end, I’ve witnessed the TBF team (including staff, interns, volunteers, authors, students, teachers, librarians, community partners, and even family members) come together to contribute to a successful Festival and year of programming and events! We can’t wait to see what next year has in store! – Ke’ara Hunt, Communications & Marketing Coordinator

Nothing beat standing at the back of the packed Austin Public Library Special Events Center for our in-person programs. With a year of ups and downs, it was starting to feel impossible but at last authors and readers were back in one place again! – Susannah Auby, Development Associate

As the newest member of the TBF team, I had the awesome opportunity to dive into my new role during the week of the Festival. In the course of a very busy and exciting first few days, one of my favorite experiences was getting to attend Reading Rock Stars author visits at a local elementary school. Seeing students’ joy while engaging with authors and receiving their own copies of their beautiful books is something I won’t soon forget. – Michelle Hernandez, School & Community Programs Coordinator

P.S. If you missed a session from this year’s Fest or want to rewatch some of your favorite author conversations, head over to our website to stream all of the 2021 Virtual Sessions through December 31, 2021

TBF Holiday Gift Guide

Looking for the perfect holiday gift for the readers in your life? Look no further than the 2021 Texas Book Festival Books Page! There is something for everyone, all available at independent bookseller BookPeople.

We at TBF  thought about our friends and family—adults and young readers—and which books would be perfect for them and why. Check out our personalized recommendations below for inspiration!

Gavin – Machete: Poems by Tomás Q. Morin

For the creatives in my life, I’m gifting Machete: Poems. I hope this collection does for them what it did for me: revitalizes their creative energy and inspires them to go create.

Gavin – The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

I’m excited to gift The Insomniacs to my teen sister, who will hopefully (finally) see me as cool after she reads this. But really, I think this is a great gift for any teen (or YA book lover!) in your life who is looking for a compelling slice-of-life story.

Michelle – Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

I’m excited to gift Harlem Shuffle to my best friend in Washington and myself (that’s allowed!). We love jumping on a call and discussing a book we both just read, and I know this will be a fun read that gives us lots to discuss.

Michelle – A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

A Wish in the Dark is a rich, engaging story filled with adventure. Already a beloved book in my home, I plan on gifting a copy to my niece. I think it will be a perfect match!

Claire – Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia

This is a devastatingly beautiful book, sweeping across five generations of mothers and daughters. For someone who loves Homegoing, Beloved, or Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriela Garcia’s insight in women’s fight to survive is tremendous.

Claire – Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask: Young Readers Edition by Anton Treuer

Kids and teenagers ask questions, sometimes they’re the right questions, and sometimes they’re the questions that make adults cringe. But how will they know if they don’t ask?! Anton Treurer has created a brilliant book that gets straight to the point, and explains Native stereotypes, culture, and harmful cultural practices (Halloween costumes…). While there is an adult edition, this version is great for the entire family.

Susannah – From Pig Skins to Paintbrushes by Don Tate

It turns out that you can be an athlete and an artist! The Ernie Barnes story reminds us that no matter how good you become at something, it’s never too late to be great at something else.

Susannah – Paris Without Her by Greg Curtis

Both a beautiful celebration of an authentic marriage and a travelogue of Paris with all of its possibilities, this is the perfect book for someone who has lost a cherished life partner and is contemplating the next chapter of their life.

Matt – Being Texan: Essays, Recipes, and Advice for the Lone Star Way of Life by the editors of Texas Monthly

The book title almost speaks for itself, and I can’t think of any Texas family members of mine who wouldn’t want a copy this holiday season.

Matt – Indelible Ann: The Larger-Than-Life Story of Governor Ann Richards by Meghan P. Browne

For Texas’s young readers, a perfect picture-book introduction to larger-than-life governor Ann Richards, whose famous quips—I’m delighted to have discovered—have found new, viral longevity on TikTok. I’ll be gifting this to my goddaughter, complete with a personalized handwritten note from author Megan P. Browne: “To Mila—the future governor of Texas.”

Ke’ara  – As the Wicked Watch by Tamron Hall

I’m excited to gift As the Wicked Watch to my sister, a true-crime and thriller connoisseur. She is indeed the Sherlock Holmes in the family, effortlessly able to jump into a new haunting tale and skillfully assemble the pieces within a mystery. This book is also a great conversation starter around the dinner table– if you can stomach the gruesome clues and sometimes unsettling correlations to our own criminal justice system.

Ke’ara – El’s Mirror by Bavu Blakes

I am gifting El’s Mirror to my younger brother this holiday season. He’s currently navigating junior high, a pivotal time in our lives when we begin to define who we are and who we want to be. There are so many labels placed on our young Black boys in this country and I want my brother to always be able to look in the mirror and claim his own identity and narrative. Happy holidays!

Lois – Grains for Every Season by Joshua McFadden

I had the honor of meeting Joshua McFadden at the Festival this year, as he was the chef-author celebrated at our annual Olamaie brunch. Joshua is on a mission to help people incorporate more whole grains into their meals. Do not fear that this means eating healthy but flavorless hippie mush. Joshua wants you to eat whole grains like he does because they are delicious. Grains for Every Season has dozens of modern recipes and easily checks all the boxes of recipes that are going to be in heavy rotation off my cookbook shelf: inspiring, practical (aka not that hard to make), and full of color and flavor. The cookbook itself is gorgeous, with a letterpress cover that makes it a perfect holiday gift for those loved ones you know who always want to start off the new year resolved to eat more mindfully.

Lois – May Your Life Be Deliciosa by Michael Genhart

A beautiful picture book about a family’s tradition of making tamales on Christmas Eve and the love and lessons within food traditions. It has the magic of a book a little one would want to read over and over–during the holidays and throughout the year.


A Day in the Life of an Event Production Intern

As an intern for THE Texas Book Festival, there are few things more exciting than Festival weekend. After months of hard work, everything comes together for two glorious days of all things reading and writing, and for interns, it also means two full days of in-person action. I’m here to break down what it looks like.

Saturday, October 30 – Festival Day One

8:00 AM – Arrive at Symphony Square

There’s nothing quite like telling yourself you’ll get up with enough time to eat breakfast and make coffee before you leave the house, and then doing neither. Lucky for me though, the Book Festival bosses were prepared for this type of disaster and had bottomless coffee at the ready for us. We got the lay of the land, chugged our hot bean juice, and started prep for the Festival.

I was on the front line initially, scanning tickets and checking covid vaccination cards for all our fellow book enthusiasts. It was family day at the festival, and kids who are already far more well-read than me lined up with their parents to see their favorite books read and signed by the authors waiting inside. We would make brief chit-chat, scan their tickets and send them in for the show. I bounced between this, and parking lot duty for the first few hours in between other small tasks like tapping up posters or refilling my coffee cup.

12:00 PM – Assistant Producing and Book Presenting

I left my fellow interns to manage the check-in and headed to the author green room to set up for one of the last virtual panels of the Festival. As book festival interns, we all learned how to assistant produce online sessions for the week leading up to the in-person events. It mostly consisted of monitoring the audience chat to make sure nothing inappropriate was said and sending audience questions over to authors and moderators once Q&A was up, but we also just got to listen in on some very interesting discussions with authors all over the country. That Saturday the session was a discussion of the book “Forget the Alamo,” and the audience commentary was expected to be hot, but our attendees impressed us (as they always do) with civil conversation and interesting and relevant questions for the authors. I had to sign off quickly though so I could get to my next station: book presenter.

As authors read their books to the children in the audience, two interns would stand on either side of them with copies of the books open wide for everyone to see the illustrations. We not only got a good story read to us, but we were also able to see the effects the story had on the kids. More than anything though, it made me jealous of the kids growing up in 2021. The books that were read Saturday were not only fun stories with beautiful pages but thought-provoking and informative. I don’t think I ever had a children’s book that tackled race or immigration issues, and it was fantastic to see those stories being told for a young audience in such a tasteful way. But all good things must come to an end, and after a few readings, it was time for the Lit Crawl.

4:00 PM – Cheer Up Charlies

The best part of any day, the bar. While everyone at Symphony Square transitioned the area from kids shows to the cocktail party, I headed down the street to Cheer Up Charlies with a table, a few bags of books, and a hankering for a good time. Another intern and I set up a table inside the bar for a book swap, laying out books from the festival for people in the audience to take and trade out with books of their own. As the bar filled up the Lit Crawl shows started, first with the Writers League of Texas hosting a game of book quotes, and then with an author line up where Texas authors answered audience questions using only words from their books. Honestly, this was the most fun part of the festival for me. I got a chance to talk with people on the crawl as they came up to our table for books and I got to enjoy the programming. Not to mention how cool of a venue Cheer Up Charlies is. After the games had ended, we packed up our table and the few remaining books and took the crawl over to Symphony Square.

And that’s where my day ended! The rest of the interns helped close up the cocktail party a few hours later, but I went home to get to bed early for set up at 6:00 AM for day two of the Festival. I didn’t know what to expect going into Festival weekend, but I couldn’t have asked for a better time. It was great to bond with the other interns and TBF staff, and it was great to participate in what ended up being a really great production. Whether you were part of the Festival or a participant, everyone there made it a great experience and I can’t wait to attend next year!