Day of Sales at BookPeople: Buy a Book and Support the Texas Book Festival!

 

TBF Day of Sales

BookPeople in Austin, TX

Tuesday, May 29, 9am-11pm

Join us for Texas Book Festival’s annual Day of Sales at local Austin bookstore, BookPeople! On Tuesday, May 29, a portion of proceeds from all books sold at BookPeople will be donated to the Texas Book Festival. Buy a book and help support the Texas Book Festival as well as a great indie bookstore!

Not sure where to start? Check out our list of recent favorite reads! Whether you’re buying for yourself or someone else, we’ve got recommendations for every sort of reader here.

 

Lois recommends:

God Save Texas – Lawrence Wright

Essential reading for every Texan! Wright takes the reader on a highly entertaining journey through some of the most colorful aspects of Texas’s history and identity, made rich and meaningful through Wright’s personal experiences and reflections.

 

 

Chemistry – Weike Wang

Refreshingly acerbic in style, Weike Wang’s novel features a confused young Chinese-American scientist’s reluctance to stay on the path of achievement in both love and career.

 

 

 

 

Julie recommends:

Everyone Knows You Go Home – Natalia Sylvester

Beginning with the appearance of a dead father, this novel is about family truth and fiction, the ways in which the past plays on the present, and the experiences of families who immigrate north over the border between Mexico and the U.S.

 

 

The Line Becomes a River – Francisco Cantú

Cantú’s mesmerizing chronicle of his life as a border guard opens up an important perspective on the urgent conversation of migration over the Mexico/U.S. border.

 

 

 

 

Claire recommends:

This One Summer – Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

This graphic novel is the beautifully illustrated coming-of-age story of summer-best-friends Rose and Windy as they face the fragile transition from childhood to adolescence.

 

 

 

March – John Lewis

The March graphic novel trilogy is Congressman John Lewis’s riveting account of his first-hand experience with Civil Rights, from his childhood in rural Alabama to meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. to marching to Selma.

 

 

 

Maris recommends:

The Female Persuasion – Meg Wolitzer

Greer Kadetzky’s trajectory changes when she meets Faith Frank, a charming famous feminist, in her freshman year of college. This sharp, sweeping novel follows Greer on her journey to find purpose in her post-college life.

 

 

Brass – Xhenet Aliu

Desperate to escape her small working-class Connecticut town, Elsie saves up tips from her waitressing job. But her plans change when she meets the brooding Bashkim. Narrated in equal parts by Elsie and her daughter Luljeta, Brass is a sparkling debut.

 

 

 

Lydia recommends:

You Bring the Distant Near – Mitali Perkins

This gorgeous novel follows three generations of the Das women as they emigrate to New York, struggle with culture shock and keeping tradition, grieve, grow, raise children, become American, and learn—over and over again—how to love.

 

 

Picture Us in the Light – Kelly Loy Gilbert

Danny Cheng’s college plans seem set with a scholarship to his top choice art school and his work in an exhibit in a hip San Francisco gallery, but discovering long-hidden painful family secrets, as well as suppressing his feelings for his best friend and his guilt over his part in a recent tragedy threaten to derail his future.

 

 

 

Lea recommends:

The Terrible Two – Mac Barnett

Great for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid or the reluctant reader in your life, this series follows two best friends/ pranking partners whose hijinks will have readers laughing out loud!

 

 

 

Grandma’s Purse – Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Great for talking about family history and connections with grandma! Kids and adults alike will love these beautiful illustrations.

Books for Budding Feminists: Some Recommended Reading

Reading more about women of history and women of today is something we can all aspire to, and with graduation coming up, there’s plenty of opportunity to inspire young adults to learn more about the place women occupy in the past, present, and future. If you (or people you know) are interested in learning more about women’s lives, struggles, and female trailblazers, this list of recommended reading from our intern Aliya should get you started!

 

Text Me When You Get Home – Kayleen Schafer

Text Me When You get Home started because of the author’s own journey in discovering the love and support women can provide for each other. As someone who previously prioritized male recognition over female relationships, Schafer had to teach herself that there can be more than one kind of love story to a person’s life, and that can be just as important as any romantic relationship. As a memoir, tell-all, and compellation, Text Me embodies the spirit of so many current movements that highlight the female bonds every woman can relate to, but don’t necessarily speak about. It’s all in the title, Text Me When You Get Home.

 

Invisible: How Young Women with Serious Health Issues Navigate Work, Relationships, and the Pressure to Seem Just Fine – Michele Lent Hirsch

After having struggled with her own heath issues, Michele saw an opportunity to shed light on an issue people don’t realize exists until they’re experiencing it. Even though females are some of the most primary demographic for many illnesses, they are often overlooked or have their symptoms underestimated. In Invisible she shares three women’s stories alongside her own, and how each of them experienced being young, ill, and woman.   

 

Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women’s Pain – Abby Norman

In Ask Me About My Uterus Abby Norman reflects on her experience struggling to find a diagnosis for the horrible pain she’d had for years and presents poignant examples of the way women’s symptoms are often disregarded in the medical community. After being forced to drop out of college and end her career as a dancer, she decided to take control and find her own diagnosis. A powerful call to action on all fronts, this book strives to shake current assumptions and strike forth in a new way of approaching women in heath.

 

I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope – Chessy Prout & Jenn Abelson

Chessy took her trauma, having been sexually assaulted as a freshman in high school, and created possibility. This memoir not only tells that story, the one of shame and pain and triumph, but it also shifts the focus back at the culture that allows things like this to happen daily without recognition. Featuring concrete ideas to force change in an unforgiving society and the empowering voice of a young girl, it’s hard to read this book and not feel inspired.

 

Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World – Ann Shen

A beautifully illustrated adult picture book, Bad Girls has everything you never learned in school about amazing women. The passion, drive, and rule-breaking tendencies of each woman paved the way for others to come and proved something in their own right about the true strength women possess. From spies to artists and Joan Jett to Marie Curie, it spans decades, professions, and status quos with moving biographies and watercolor portraits.

 

Legendary Ladies: 50 Goddesses to Empower and Inspire You – Ann Shen

The follow up to Bad Girls, Legendary Ladies takes the world of celebrating women to a mystical realm where magical stones repair the earth and home is a volcano. As another beautifully illustrated picture book it takes very conceptual characters and shapes them into tangible biographies, making us feel as though we can be just as strong and powerful. I can say reading just one a day fills me with the pride and inspiration to combat any obstacle put in my path with the same dignity they signify, only maybe fewer talismans.

 

Autism in Heels: The Untold Story of a Female Life on the Spectrum – Jennifer Cook O’Toole

Many times women and girls on the autism spectrum go undiagnosed and unrecognized because they don’t fit the traditional symptoms that are often found in men. Jennifer has had this experience personally and details her journey into discovering her identity and her diagnosis for the reader in a book sprinkled with careful wit, playful honesty, and a whole lot of strength. Going against the medical mainstream can be difficult, but for Jennifer that’s what she’s been doing her whole life as a “misunderstood miracle.”

 

 

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World – Rachel Ignotofsky

With the STEM field so present in the world of innovation right now Women in Science comes at the perfect time to highlight some of the forgotten ladies that made it what it is. Not only that, but in addition to biographies from Jane Goodall to Patricia Bath it contains a collection of quirky, unique renditions, an illustrated glossary of scientific tools and terms, and relevant statistics on women in STEM. In a field often dominated by the opposite sex, it’s powerful to see the unspoken framework of women who built it for those to come.

 

Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win – Rachel Ignotofsky

A sister to Women in Science, Women in Sports takes on the record breakers and trailblazers of the athletic community. We all know Billie Jean King and Simone Biles, but do we know Toni Stone or Patti McGee? After reading this you will, not to mention so many more women who fought against an environment structured to make them feel and act inferior to their male counterparts. A true testament to the not only physical but also psychological strength of the female athlete, Women in Sports will leave you impressed, grateful, and ready to stand.

Elizabeth Crook on her new novel “THE WHICH WAY TREE”

Elizabeth Crook’s latest novel The Which Way Tree is an epic southern tale. It chronicles the dangerous endeavors of Samantha Shreve, a 12-year-old girl growing up in Austin, Texas, just after the Civil War. After witnessing a panther kill her mother, she sets out with a hodge-podge team of characters to slay the evil beast—which, around these parts, is known as El Demonio de Dos Dedos. Told from the point of view of her older brother Ben, the story feels both authentic and intimate.

Crook is the award-winning author of five books, including Monday, Monday, a fictional account of the 1960 mass shooting at The University of Texas at Austin, which won the 2015 Jesse H. Jones Award for fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters. Our intern Marisa asked her a few questions about her new book, which is available at your local bookstore or library now!

 

What was the research process like for this book?

A lot of fun. It involved the usual plunge into history books, articles, old authentic journals and letters from the period—a lot of reading and note taking about everything from the politics of the time to the specifics of daily life. And then of course it involved deciding what was relevant to the story and what wasn’t—and leaving a lot of it out. It was more fun than it sounds! Essentially, as a writer, you have to know the history intimately enough to step into that time every day and get around without being recognized as an imposter.

 

In your mind, how does this book veer from or continue themes you’ve explored in your previous books?

That’s hard to say: my books differ vastly in subject matter. The most common theme is humanity running up against inhumanity during various kinds of chaos.  For the most part my characters, in all five books, tend to be good people trying to make their way through actual historical, and often violent, events. They often make grave mistakes in the ways they try to navigate. The books portray some amount of loss and sadness but aren’t depressing, I hope. There’s a big difference between a book that makes you sad at moments and a book that leaves you depressed. I wouldn’t want to write the latter. The Which Way Tree deals with heavy subject matter, as my other books do also, but what readers often comment on is the humor in Benjamin’s storytelling.

 

Why did you decide to write this book now?

When my son was fourteen he got lost in the canyons in Bandera County one night, and was finally located by search helicopters after a nine hour hunt, during which a mountain lion was spotted trailing through the canyon into which he had disappered. It was the scariest night of my life and left me obsessed with mountain lions and their attacks on humans. I read everything I could find on the subject. I guess I wrote this story partly because I had run out of real life accounts to obsess over.   

 

What challenges did you face writing this book and how did you try to overcome them?

Actually The Which Way Tree presented fewer challenges than my other books and was more fun to write. Every chapter rolled naturally into the next. I suppose the greatest challege was how to frame it. A boy Benjamin’s age wouldn’t simply sit down and write this tale, so I needed to give him a plausible reason for doing so. It took some figuring and brainstorming, but in the end I decided to write the story as testimony to a war crime, under mandate of a judge, in order to justify its existence.  

 

The book tells the story of an epic tale, akin to that of “The Whale” (Moby-Dick) which you mention several times throughout. Yet, the book itself isn’t too lengthy. How did you manage that?

Benjamin is recounting events that deal with a small cast of characters during a brief amount of time. He doesn’t elaborate, he just tells what happened. So the story covers a lot of ground quickly. For instance, here’s the brief paragraph at the end of a chapter, when Benjamin and three other characters set out to fetch a panther tracking dog:

“We fed the goats, turned the chickens loose in the yard to scratch, tossed cobs out for the pigs should they come up from the creek, mounted up and started off. It was about noon at that time.” Having Benjamin tell the story kept me from wasting any words in describing how things are done. They’re just done.  

 

When writing books that take place in a different time period, do you ever feel a pressure to make them relevant to today? If so, why and how do you achieve that?

No, I never strive for that. If I’m telling a story set in the past, it stays where it’s rooted. If there are themes relevant to today, it’s only because human nature tends to lead us into the same kind of predicaments repeatedly.

Explore Your Local: A Peek Inside Interabang Books, Dallas’ Newest Independent Bookstore

 

When I walked into Interabang Books—Dallas’ newest independent bookstore—for the first time, I felt like I was walking into an art exhibit. My eyes were immediately drawn to the wall in the middle of the store adorned with a retro, comic-book-style mural of a man and a woman talking on telephones. Then, I was struck by the wall to my left. It was lined end to end with colorful spines, and I wondered how long it would take me to peruse every row. The wall on my right featured crisp white shelves, showcasing several selected titles with their covers facing out. Each one looked like a curated work of art.

The store’s aesthetically pleasing nature makes sense, considering one of the masterminds behind it, Jeremy Ellis, was an art history major at Texas State University. Now, he brings his artistic eye to the store. He painted the mural and changes it out every few months.

 

 

Ellis has been a part of Texas’ independent bookstore scene since 1994. He started off at Taylor’s bookstore in Dallas, then moved to BookPeople in Austin where he was the marketing director, and later worked as the general manager of Brazos Bookstore in Houston. After nearly five years in Houston, Ellis was looking to move back to Dallas, which was lacking a full-service independent bookstore at the time. When he met Lori Feathers, now Interabang’s co-owner and book buyer, and Nancy Perot, who had long had an interest in community-centered bookstores, the three teamed up. On July 1, 2017, Interabang opened its doors. Now, the 5,000-square-foot space houses about 16,000 titles.

Since it’s begun, Interabang has brought in a series of well-renowned authors for signings and readings. Author Ann Patchett spoke at the grand opening, which garnered a crowd of about 500 people. It’s only fitting Patchett christened the space—she’s sort of a symbol of success herself in the world of independent bookstores. In 2011, she opened up one of her own, Parnassus Books, in Nashville.

 

 

Some might wonder how indies can thrive in an era of Amazon and e-readers, but the independent bookstore movement has gained ground in recent years. Though they were once closing across the country, since 2009 they’ve grown in number by 40 percent, according to the American Booksellers Association. Staying relevant is all about evolving, Ellis says. Good bookstores reflect their community. At Interabang, the staff is always adapting to what patrons want, listening to them and checking sales reports to find trends. “The real product of an independent bookstore is the staff,” Ellis says. “You can get the same collection of pages from just about anyone, but you might not be able to find that collection without going to the individual who recommended something that you really loved. No algorithm can do that.”

With that in mind, I went around asking Interabang’s booksellers what books they recommend right now and why. 

 

For teens, Melanie Thompson, the children’s events and marketing coordinator, recommends Wicked like Wildfire by Lana Popovic. “You’re going to want to visit Montenegro after reading this book,” she says. “Its gorgeous and ancient cultural setting provides a brilliant tapestry for this mysterious drama of mothers, sisters, and possibly witches to play out. Delicious to read in so many ways.”

 

 

 

Jack Freeman, digital marketing coordinator, loves poetry and non-fiction. For poetry, he recommends Fast by Jorie Graham, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017. “This is truly ambitious,” he says. “It gets at truth with a capital-T, without being pedantic. It does what poetry tries to do: makes you feel not alone.”

For non-fiction, he recommends The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú, a memoir out Feb. 6. Cantú, a Mexican-American, spent four years as a U.S. Border Patrol agent. “You can tell what an empathetic writer he is,” Freeman says. “He’s writing as a human being who has been exposed to human suffering.”

 

Tyler Heath, inventory assistant, recommends Heartbreaker: Stories by Maryse Meijer. “These stories are uncomfortable and stay with you the next day like a hangover,” he claims. “Not for the faint of heart.”

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Blute, events coordinator, recommends Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews. “It’s the third in the trilogy, and it’s a modern Russian spy thriller,” he says. He’s quick to note Matthews himself worked for the C.I.A. and included a lot of insider information in the book. It’s a wonder how he got so many details past the agency’s redacting committee.

 

 

 

 

And finally, Carlos Guajardo, store manager, recommends Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne. “On a Greek island, two wealthy young women encounter a handsome Syrian refugee, whom they endeavor to help, with disastrous results,” he says. “Perfect for fans of Patricia Highsmith, Graham Greene, and Saul Bellow.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Black Literature: A Q&A with Liara Tamani

Join us in celebrating Black Literature as we continue to highlight black Texas authors, readers, and contributors to the literary community in a series of blog posts. Thus far, we’ve had contributions from  TBF Community Ambassador Peggy Terryaward-winning children’s author and illustrator Don TateDr. Rosalind Oliphant Jones, founder of the Austin African American Book Festival, the new Austin Public Library director Roosevelt Weeks. and Texas Sci-fi author Nicky Drayden.

Today, we’re happy to share this thoughtful Q&A with lovely Houston YA writer (and 2017 Texas Book Festival author) Liara Tamani! Tamani, “a strong believer in following your heart, even when you don’t know exactly where it’s taking you,” holds a BA from Duke University and an MFA in Writing from Vermont College and has had a rather exciting and varied career path on her way to becoming a writer: she’s been “a marketing coordinator for the Houston Rockets & Comets, a production assistant for Girlfriends (TV show), a home accessories designer, a floral designer, and yoga and dance teacher.” She was raised in Houston, and lives there now with her daughter and her succulent collection.

 

Texas Book Festival: What made you want to write for teens? 

 

Liara Tamani: I can’t say that I set out with the intention to write for teens, but I can say that I feel honored to be writing for them now. When I wrote Calling My Name, I wasn’t thinking about where it would be placed on the shelf. I was blissfully living in the land of Let Me Write the Best Book I Possibly Can and was completely naïve about the business side of publishing.

After I finished the book and started sending it out to agents, I learned the voice was best suited for the YA market, which didn’t surprise me. I’d written the book for my teenage self.

Calling My Name is the book I desperately needed as a teenager. I needed a book to let me know it was okay to think differently than all the people around me. I needed a book to let me know it was okay, necessary even, to find my own way, to figure out what I believed and who I wanted to be. I needed a book to let me know that the best guide in my life would be my own intuition.

It fills me up when I think about teens reading my words and possibly taking away these lessons. Teens have so much power. But when they are mentally trapped inside the expectations and opinions and beliefs of other people, it’s hard to realize that power.

To be able to write for young people, to be able to help them connect to all of the beauty and power and light and intelligence that resides within them, is a huge honor. And I’m grateful for it. Teens will change the world.

 

TBF: You have quite the prestigious CV (undergrad at Duke, law school at Harvard, design school at Otis, earning an MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts). What lead you to writing? Was it a life-long dream or a sudden inspiration?

 

LT: I’ve always been a writer. I just didn’t know it. Trying to live up to the expectations of my dad, who wanted me to become lawyer, disconnected me from my own dreams.

All throughout middle school and high school, English was my favorite subject. I loved reading and took a lot of pride in my writing. Writers were who I saw myself in. My college admission essays were about my deep connection to Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. But I still didn’t know I was a writer.

In college, I majored in Political Science (because that was the major I thought would best prepare me for law school), but I squeezed in literature whenever I could. For a history term paper, I wrote about Phyllis Wheatley, the first published African American female poet. For a political science term paper, I wrote in depth about W.E.B. Dubois’ The Souls of Black Folk. My professors always accused my writing of being too literary. They wanted me to write more straight forward, to take out all of my “flowery” language. But I still didn’t know I was a writer.

In order to connect to the dormant dream living inside of me, I had to shed other people’s expectations and opinions of me. I had to trust myself. And I eventually did, mostly because I couldn’t face the sadness of living a life without passion. The first step I took was dropping out of Harvard Law, despite what everybody thought about it (and believe me, people had their thoughts).

After law school, I chose to move to Los Angeles, a place with lots of sun and a large creative community. Around the time I started writing, I was running my own design company and reading a lot of fiction, something I actually had the mental space for because I wasn’t studying all the time. I’d recently finished reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith and Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer when I sat down one night at my drafting table with my laptop and started writing. It felt like home. And from then on, I knew.

 

 

TBF: Calling My Name is set in Houston, where you grew up. What do you love most in writing about Houston? What are the pros and cons about writing a book set in your home city?

 

LT: I love representing Houston! When people from other parts of the country and world think of Texas, they often still picture cows and horses and fields. Texas has a lot of that, sure, but it’s so much more than that. Houston is the fourth largest city in the county. And it’s the most racially and ethnically diverse city in the country, but we don’t see that in its representation. I love that Calling My Name allows people to see Houston through the eyes of a young, black girl living in the suburbs. A very common experience in Houston (and in the south in general), but not one that’s well represented.

And teenagers of color know this. On my high school visits in Houston this year, the students were geeked about the book taking place in Houston and about me being from Houston. I loved witnessing their pride. Everybody wants and deserves to see themselves in books and TV and film. Everybody wants and deserves to be represented.

I also loved learning more about my hometown while researching the setting. I was on Google Maps travelling down streets I’ve never been down before. It was cool exploring Houston.

In summary, I loved everything about writing a book set in Houston. 🙂 No cons.

 

TBF: What are you working on now?

 

LT: Book two! I’m soooo excited about my second novel. It’s very different from my first, but I absolutely love it. It’s written in alternating first person perspectives (girl-boy), and the whole book takes place over the span of two months. By comparison, Calling My Name takes place over five years. I don’t want to give away too many details about the new book because I’m not finished with it yet. But it’s coming! And I can’t wait for everyone to read it! And it’s also set in Houston—this time, present-day Houston.

I also just finished a short story that will appear in a YA anthology edited by Ibi Zoboi entitled Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America. In it, my words will be alongside the words of some of my favorite writers, including Renée Waston, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Jason Reynolds. I’m so thrilled. Look out for it next year!

 

Books to Read When You’ve Seen Black Panther and Need More

 

It’s been almost a week since that gorgeous, groundbreaking, record-shattering juggernaut of a film, Black Pantherhit theatres. I know a lot of us saw it opening weekend—it did earn $201.8 million domestically in three days, after all, which makes Black Panther‘s debut the biggest domestic opening weekend ever for a black director and the biggest global opening ever for a film with a predominantly black cast (you can read more about the film’s many historic successes in this fantastic Buzzfeed article).

So now that you’ve seen it (probably multiple times, maybe enough times that your wallet is shaking its head—yeah, us too), what do we do while we wait for the next appearance of T’Challa (hopefully along with Nakia, M’Baku, Shuri, and the whole crew) in Avengers: Infinity War?

We read, of course! Our resident Science Fiction and Fantasy nerd Lydia is recommending some brilliant Afro-futurist and/or fantasy/magical realism by African and African-American authors to get us all started.

 

Black Panther comics, by multiple authors

This seems like the best (and most obvious) place to start. Both the original history-making series written by Don McGregor and the new reboot series (written by MacArthur genius, National Book Award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates) are fast-paced, thoughtful works full of adrenaline-fueled fun and unapologetic black pride. Know a young reluctant reader who can’t stop raving about the movie? Get them started on the comics, and they’ll be ready for Ronald K. Smith’s new middle grade novel, Black Panther: The Young Prince, in no time.

 

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

One of the most intriguing aspects of Black Panther is its setting, the hidden-in-plain-sight hyper-advanced country of Wakanda. Due in part to the rich resources brought by a Vibranium meteor, Wakandans were able to develop incredible technology that puts them a hundred years ahead of the rest of the world (eat your heart out, Tony Stark).

Similarly, Nisi Shawl’s masterful steampunked-history novel Everfair explores an alternate reality in which the people of the Congo were able to develop steam-powered technology ahead of the violent oppression and invasion from colonizing Belgium, England, and other developed nations. Everfair becomes a sanctuary utopia sheltering Congolese natives, as well as Africans stolen and pressed into slavery who escape from America and other nations to return. A fantastically complex tapestry woven from many voices, Everfair is a brilliant story about a little-studied time and place.

 

What is Means When A Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah 

Arimah’s collection of magical realism stories set in many places, including Africa (much as the author herself has lived in many places, including Nigeria) is full of shimmering strangeness and wonder and possibility which, when cast alongside the grounding themes of family tensions, class dynamics, and dislocation, makes her first book truly one of a kind. Arimah’s work has received numerous grants and awards, including the 2015 African Commonwealth Prize and an O. Henry Award, and What is Means When A Man Falls from the Sky leaves no doubt as to why.

But! You don’t have to take my word for it: listen to national treasure LeVar Burton read the title story of Arimah’s collection on Episode 5 of his new (amazing) podcast, LeVar Burton Reads, as well as a fantastic bonus conversation with Arimah following Episode 8.

 

The Binti trilogy, by Nnedi Okorafor

This is a must-read for all of us celebrating the introduction of the newest Disney princess, genius techie smart-aleck Shuri. Nnedi Okorafor (who has also written for the Black Panther franchise) presents a masterpiece in the Binti trilogy. The story follows the titular character, another 16 year old African genius, on a journey to take her place at the most revered university while struggling to both preserve her cultural identity and survive extra-terrestrial war.

I also highly recommend Okorafor’s Akata Witch (and sequel, Akata Warrior) and Who Fears Death, which will be adapted into an upcoming HBO series (produced by George R.R. Martin).

 

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden (a 2017 Texas Book Festival author)

Texas author Nicky Drayden’s novel of interconnected stories set in South Africa follows a young Zulu girl with immense powers, a queer teen who discovers he can control others’ minds, a sarcastic pop diva, a politician with a hidden side, and an ancient demi-goddess desperate to claw her way back to her former power. This book is an adventure and a whirlwind of fun.

Be sure to check out Nicky Drayden’s recent Q&A with Texas Book Festival where she talks writing, world-building, and her forthcoming novel, Temper!

 

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

This one comes out next month but we can promise—it’s completely worth the pre-order. This smartly paced, brilliant fantasy built on West African culture and folklore features a kingdom on the brink of war, forbidden magic, violent tensions in the royal family, and the age-old clash between modern change and traditional culture. This may be Adeyemi’s debut novel, but her immersive world-building and deft handling of several characters and a slow-burn, conflicted romance makes her a star on the rise. Children of Blood and Bone has been collecting rave reviews and deserves every word.

 

After the Flare by Deji Bryce Olukotun (a 2017 Texas Book Festival author)

In this brief but hit-the-ground-running quick-paced novel, Deji Bryce Olukotun explores a future where an enormous solar flare destroys electrical systems worldwide, strands an astronaut on the International Space Station, and leaves Nigeria the only country with a capable and working space program. At times serious and other times wryly hilarious, this is not one to miss.

 

 

The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

I’ve already recommended Jemisin’s award-winning record-setting Broken Earth trilogy on this blog and to everyone I know, but those are certainly not her only amazing books. Warring factions, royal families with dark secrets, surprise heirs—N.K. Jemisin brings all the profound history and family drama that helped make the Black Panther film so great in her Inheritance Trilogy. If you’re into rich fantasy, complicated families at war for the throne, and all-around badass women, run out and get The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and meet Yeine Darr today.

 

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi (a 2017 Texas Book Festival author)

Onyebuchi’s dazzling world of sin-beasts (manifestations of a person’s sins) and Aki (young sin-eaters indentured by mages to destroy the beasts) is home to a young aki, Taj, working a dangerous job to help his family survive in the corrupt walled city of Kos. The first in a duopoly, Beasts Made of Night is perfect for lovers of dark magic tales and underdog triumph.

 

 

Also recommended: everything ever written by queens of Science Fiction/Fantasy, Nalo Hopkinson and Octavia Butler! While these two prolific and award-winning authors are considered “canon” for SFF, they’re always worth a revisit (or a first visit for some).

 

Celebrate Black Literature: A Q&A with Nicky Drayden

Join us in celebrating Black Literature! We are working to recognize Black History Month by highlighting black Texas authors, readers, and contributors to the literary community in a series of blog posts. Thus far, we’ve had contributions from  TBF Community Ambassador Peggy Terryaward-winning children’s author and illustrator Don TateDr. Rosalind Oliphant Jones, the founder of the Austin African American Book Festival, and the new Austin Public Library director Roosevelt Weeks.

Today, we have an exciting Q&A with Austin resident and 2017 Texas Book Festival author Nicky Drayden! Drayden is a Systems Analyst who dabbles in prose when she’s not buried in code. Her debut novel The Prey of Gods is set in a futuristic South Africa brimming with demigods, robots, and hallucinogenic hijinks. See more of her work on her website,  or catch her on Twitter. Keep an eye out for Drayden’s forthcoming novel Temper, coming out from Harper Voyager on August 7, 2018!

You can also catch Drayden this coming Saturday, on February 24 at the second annual Celebration of Diverse Literary Voices of Texas at the new Central Library (Living Room, 6th floor) from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., presented by the Austin Public Library and KAZI Book Review. We’ll see you there!

 

Texas Book Festival: What inspired you to write Science Fiction/Fantasy? Similarly, what drew you to setting the book in South Africa?

 

Nicky Drayden: Science Fiction and Fantasy are in my bones. “E.T.” was the first movie I saw in a theater, so maybe that has something to do with it. I must have watched “Starman” a million times and one of my first memories is of begging my dad to watch “Superman” every single day when I was three years old. But I didn’t have a label for the shows I liked until much, much later. “Small Wonder,” “Mork and Mindy,” “Alf,” “Quantum Leap,” “Buck Rogers.” They just entertained me, and when I started writing, those were the kind of stories I wanted to tell.

South Africa drew me in as a setting because I traveled to Port Elizabeth back when I was in college, and I thought it’d be interesting to imagine how the experiences I had there could translate into a work of speculative fiction. Obviously, I didn’t come across any disenfranchised demigoddesses or sentient robots while there, but many of the highlights from my visit are featured in the book, for example, we toured some of the rural townships where people live in tin shacks, met teenagers who had recently gone through the circumcision rite, and bought hand-carved souvenirs from local artists. And it seemed like everywhere we went, there were these little cute antelopes called dik-diks rummaging around the city, kind of in a similar way some places have deer overpopulation problems, so those things all got worked into the book.

It was a lot of fun to relive my memories through my writing and to project how South Africa’s unique challenges and strengths would intersect with technological and scientific advancements over the next fifty years.

 

TBF: What kind of research did you do for The Prey of Gods? Was it difficult to write from so many different perspectives, from such different characters?

 

ND: I read articles and novels by South African authors, and—this one’s a bit odd—I dug into the comment sections of a few South African online magazines. People tend not to filter themselves in the comments section, so you can get an interesting glimpse of the issues people are dealing with. I also enlisted a few South African beta readers, and they helped to hone the story, filling in the gaps in my experience with rich texture and delectable details for readers to savor.

I loved the challenge of weaving the characters’ stories together in a cohesive manner. Most of the characters have never met before the story begins, but they’re all connected in various and multiple ways. For example, in Sydney’s first chapter, she’s giving a magical manicure to a woman who’s attending a fundraiser for Councilman Stoker. In another scene, Rita Natrajan, the pop diva in the story, unknowingly shares a robot taxi with Muzi’s brother-in-law and is secretly romantic with Muzi’s best friend’s cousin. It’s a knotty tangle of threads, but I think a few snags make the tapestry more interesting.

 

TBF: How do you go about world-building (one of the most important/hardest parts of SFF, but often is “invisible labor”)?

 

ND: I don’t know if it’s invisible, because readers can tell when you’ve just got a city full of prop buildings. I draw maps with labeled thoroughfares, floorplans of my character’s homes. Figure out their birthdays and zodiac signs. I pick out photographs of what they look like, what clothes they wear, what the buildings look like, and any significant objects mentioned in the book so my descriptions have some grit. Having world-building clear in my mind when I’m writing comes out not necessarily a big info dump, but in telling details. The lapel pin on a character’s jacket, the type of necklace a character wears and why. Details beget details, so the more you know going into the novel, the deeper it will lead you.

 

TBF: Who are some of your favorite Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers? Who has had an influence on your writing?

 

ND: Neal Stephenson is my favorite author. I had a writing mentor back in the day, and we were out at Half Price Books, and he pulled Crypotonomicon from the shelf and pretty much forced me to buy it. He was nearly shaking recalling a submarine scene. So I bought it and read it. And from then on, I was hooked. I’d never read anything with so much depth and attention to detail. When I read Stephenson’s Seveneves, I felt like I’d earned an honorary degree in orbital mechanics.

On the fantasy side, I like N. K. Jemisin. I started her Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and literally could not putit down. It was a good thing I was on vacation at the time, or I would have had to take a sick day. Her worlds are completely immersive, and the characters are so deep, and she’s not shy about jerking your emotions around.

There are also a ton of up-and-coming authors I’ve got my eye on. I was blown away by Kai Ashante Wilson’s A Taste of Honey. If you’re into generation ships and awesome world-building, Noumenon by Marina J. Lostetter will sweep you away. And Viscera by Gabriel Squailia is both hauntingly dark and delightfully funny.

 

TBF: What was the best part of writing The Prey of Gods?

 

ND: I loved creating these characters who are all horribly flawed. Of the six main characters, any of them could be the antagonist of the story, which I think makes them easy for readers to connect to in some ways and challenges them in others. Nomvula, a ten-year-old girl coming to grips with her newfound powers, commits atrocities worse than the villainess of the story. Muzi, a teenager with mind control, makes bad decision after bad decision. Nearly every page you want to shake some sense into him, but you never stop cheering for him. They’re all complicated, frustrating, and relatable.

 

TBF: What advice would you give to new and/or up and coming black authors in science fiction? 

 

ND: Guard your writing time. Guard the vision for your story when accepting feedback. It takes quite a while to hone your craft, and it’s all but impossible to do so in a vacuum, so most young black writers will come up against well-meaning critiquers and editors who can do real damage to a manuscript, or worse, to the writer’s sensibilities.

Your story might not always make sense to others, but that doesn’t mean that what you’re doing is wrong. It might be that your craft isn’t fully developed yet, and you need more experience to pull it off. Maybe it just needs to find the right set of eyes. So write more, read more, keep submitting and keep challenging yourself to grow as a writer and a person.

 

TBF: What are you working on next?

 

ND: I just finished copyedits on Temper, which is coming out August 7th. I’m really excited about this one, and though it is also set in a (fictionalized) South Africa, it was a whole set of different challenges because I was both building a world from scratch while drawing upon existing cultural references.

It’s about a wayward teenaged boy named Auben Mutze who starts hearing voices that speak to his dangerous side—encouraging him to perform evil deeds that go beyond innocent mischief. Lechery, deceit, and vanity run rampant. And then there are the inexplicable blood cravings…

It’s a mix of science fiction and fantasy like The Prey of Gods, though this one dips a little into horror and dark humor as well.

Celebrate Black Literature: [HER]story Month

Join us in celebrating Women’s History Month! Today, we want to feature ten recent or forthcoming books authored by award-winning black women authors that really must go on your 2018 reading lists! This list of novels, memoirs, and other works are characterized by their honest narratives and fearlessness in the face of controversy. We hope you’ll be able to pick up one or more of these books, not just this month, but throughout this year, so you can see why these books have been lauded by many prestigious national awards.

 

Nonfiction Picks:

 

This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins

Recognition:New York Times Best Seller, February 2018 Indie Next List, and listed as a “Most Anticipated Book of 2018” by Esquire, Vogue, Elle, Nylon, and many others.

I decided to start this list with Morgan Jerkins’s This Will Be My Undoing because of how raw her narrative is. Jerkins is not scared of not only dissecting the treatment of blackness in our society, but also dissecting how this treatment affected her as a girl. Jerkins walks the reader through her life, from when she brutally admits why she once attempted to conceal her blackness during cheerleading tryouts, to when she began to accept her blackness and take on the weight of what that means for her after she found out she was rejected from the team and called a racial slur for even attempting to try out.

Publisher description: “Morgan Jerkins is only in her late twenties but that has not stopped her from tackling controversial topics such as: what does it mean to live, be, and exist as a black woman today? Jerkins welcomes a conversation for not only black women, but also for all Americans. Doubly disenfranchised by race and gender, often deprived of a place within the mostly white mainstream feminist movement, black women are objectified, silenced, and marginalized with devastating consequences, in ways both obvious and subtle, that are rarely acknowledged in our country’s larger discussion about inequality.”

 

 

We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union

Recognition: A New York Times Best Seller, two 2017 NAACP Outstanding Literary Work nominations, November 2017 Indie Next List, and praise by Mindy Kaling.

If you’ve binge watched 10 Things I Hate About You or Bring It On (like I have), you may recognize Gabrielle Union from her roles in those movies. In We’re Going to Need More Wine, Union discusses how she has had to navigate her life in the public eye as a black woman. Most importantly though, Union also opens herself up when talking about her own experience as a sexual violence victim and survivor. According to the New York Times, Union did not hold back when discussing her experiences during her book tour talks. As a result, many men and women felt comfortable to open up to her about their own personal experiences during Union’s tour.

Publisher description: “One month before the release of the highly anticipated film The Birth of a Nation, actress Gabrielle Union shook the world with a vulnerable and impassioned editorial in which she urged our society to have compassion for victims of sexual violence. In the wake of rape allegations made against director and actor Nate Parker, Union…instantly became the insightful, outspoken actress that Hollywood has been desperately awaiting….Union uses that same fearlessness to tell astonishingly personal and true stories about power, color, gender, feminism, and fame. Union tackles a range of experiences, including bullying, beauty standards, and competition between women in Hollywood, growing up in white California suburbia and then spending summers with her black relatives in Nebraska, coping with crushes, puberty, and the divorce of her parents.”

 

 

 

Fiction Picks:

 

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Recognition: Winner of the National Book Award for fiction , New York Times Top 2017 Books, Time Magazine’s Novel of 2017, Publisher’s Weekly Top 10 of 2017, and many others.

Jesmyn Ward is the first woman to have won two National Book Awards in the fiction category: first for Salvage the Bones in 2011, and then in 2017 for her newest, Sing, Unburied, Sing. The National Book Award, in my opinion, is one of the most prestigious awards (if not the most) in the U.S. This being said, I believe that one of the many reasons this novel has done so well is because of its unique magical realist narrative.

Publisher description: “This singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing journeys through Mississippi’s past and present, examining the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power–and limitations–of family bonds.

 

 

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

Recognition: National Book Foundation Honoree (2017), NBCC John Leonard First Book Prize Finalist (2017), and named Best Book of the Year 2017 by Vogue, NPR, Elle, Esquire, Buzzfeed, and so many more.

Zinzi Clemmons, a 2017 Texas Book Festival author, presents a stunning novel about a young African American woman’s coming of age. Clemmons gives her novel such a distinct voice that makes it feel almost like a memoir. I think most importantly though, Clemmons creates a space where one can explore the concepts of being multi-racial and/or multi-cultural. Whether one identifies as such or not, Clemmons walks the reader through her protagonist’s struggle with finding that perfect balance between her identities–something many first generation and second generation immigrants in America can understand.

Publisher description: “Raised in Pennsylvania, Thandi is an outsider wherever she goes, caught between being black and white, American and not. She tries to connect these dislocated pieces of her life, and as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandi searches for an anchor–someone, or something, to love. The reader watches Thandi’s life unfold, from losing her mother and learning to live without the person who has most profoundly shaped her existence, to her own encounters with romance and unexpected motherhood. Through exquisite and emotional vignettes, Clemmons creates a stunning portrayal of what it means to choose to live, after loss.”

 

 

 

Young Adult Picks:

 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Recognition: William C. Morris 2018 Award Winner, Coretta Scott King Book Award, National Book Award Longlist, #1 New York Times Bestseller, just to name a few.

I am really excited to talk about this novel. I first heard of it a couple weeks ago when my professor, Dr. Domino Perez, lauded the impact of the novel and its relevancy to current events. I have Dr. Perez for a Young Adult Fiction and Film class, and the reason this novel came up was because of our discussion on the importance of diversity in literature–specifically in YA. This diversity goes beyond one’s racial identity but also the experiences that come with that racial identity. In Starr Carter’s case, and many others, this is police brutality. In addition to all its accolades, this novel has been adapted into a film by Fox 2000 and stars Amandla Stenberg, and is set to be released in late 2018.

Publisher description: “Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban high school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does–or does not–say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.”

 

 

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Recognition: Spring 2018 Kids’ Indie Next List 

Although this novel will not be released until March 6th, 2018, I am already excited to read this just based off the summary. Especially if you enjoyed Marvel Studios’s Black Panther with its colorful cultural elements and storytelling, this will definitely be a treat post-movie watching. Like any good YA, Children of Blood and Bone teases the readers with a romance but also hinging on the result of a political outcome. The novel also incorporates magic, a monarchy, and fantasy while grounding itself in West African culture and folklore.

Publisher description: “Zelie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orisha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zelie without a mother and her people without hope. Now Zelie has a chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zelie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. Danger lurks in Orisha, yet the greatest danger may be Zelie herself as she struggles to control her powers–and her growing feelings for an enemy.”

 

 

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

Recognition: Coretta Scott King Author Award, NPR’s Best Books of 2017, and a 2018 Newbery Honor

As soon as I had read the summary of this novel, the first thing I though of was Sherman Alexie’s the Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Renée Watson was also a featured author at the 2017 Texas Teen Book Festival! Piecing Me Together speaks volumes on how the education system treats children differently according to their zip code and their racial identity, and most importantly, what one has to sacrifice and leave behind in order to be successful.

Publisher description: “Jade believes she must get out of her poor neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother tells her to take advantage of every opportunity. And Jade has: every day she rides the bus to the private school where she feels like an outsider, but where she has plenty of opportunities. But some opportunities she doesn’t really welcome, like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Just because her mentor is black and graduated from the same high school doesn’t mean she understands where Jade is coming from. She’s tired of being singled out as someone who needs help. Maybe there are some things she could show other women about understanding the world and finding ways to be real, to make a difference.”

 

 

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Recognition: National Book Award Finalist, Kirkus Best Book of the Year, A New York Times Notable Book, and many other accolades.

I believe that a community of people that often get overlooked are immigrants and inhabitants of the Caribbean. Due to the historical conditions of imperialism, these people sometimes identify as Afro-Latinx, Latinx, or other identities pertaining to their nation. American Street discusses these concepts, as well as how immigration affects immigrants as they attempt to assimilate into the U.S., and the meaning of racial and cultural identities when merged with other identities.

Publisher description: “In this stunning debut novel, Pushcart-nominated author Ibi Zoboi draws on her own experience as a young Haitian immigrant, infusing this lyrical exploration of America with magical realism and vodou culture. On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie–a good life. But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own. Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?”

 

 

 

Middle Grade Book Pick:

 

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

Recognition: National Book Award Finalist, Kirkus Best Books of 2017, Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2017, Chicago Public Library Best Books, and many others.

I think that one of the most important themes in this novel is how music links generations, as a New York Times Review called it. Newbery Honor Winner Rita Williams-Garcia provides a powerful narrative to show how music is cultural and generational for many peoples, and also how it affects the coming of age of a young boy as he deals with family, love, and the loss of a family member.

Publisher description: “Clayton feels most alive when he’s with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and the band of Bluesmen–he can’t wait to join them, just as soon as he has a blues song of his own. But then Cool Papa Byrd dies, and Clayton’s mother forbids Clayton from playing the blues. And Clayton knows that’s no way to live. Armed with his grandfather’s brown porkpie hat and his harmonica, he runs away from home in search of the Bluesmen, hoping he can join them on the road. But on the journey that takes him through the New York City subways and to Washington Square Park, Clayton learns some things that surprise him.”

 

 

I Am Enough by Grace Byers

Although this book will also not be released until March 6th, 2018, many have already given their positive feedback on how well it will do, especially as a Children’s Book. Watch the book trailer below for more information!

Publisher Description: “This is a gorgeous, lyrical ode to loving who you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another—from Empire actor and activist Grace Byers and talented newcomer artist Keturah A. Bobo.”

 

 

Celebrate Black Literature: A Q&A with Austin Public Library Director Roosevelt Weeks

Join us in celebrating Black History Month! For the month of February, Texas Book Festival is working to recognize Black History Month by highlighting black Texas authors, readers, and notable contributors to the literary community in a series of blog posts. So far, we’ve had contributions from  TBF Community Ambassador Peggy Terry who shared a fantastic list of books coming out in 2018, award-winning children’s author and illustrator Don Tate who took the time to answer some questions, and Dr. Rosalind Oliphant Jones, the founder of the Austin African American Book Festival and the Folktales Black Women’s Literary Society.

Today, we’re excited to present wisdom from new Austin Public Library director Roosevelt Weeks, who comes to APL from the Houston Public Library system (where he was the much-beloved Deputy Director of Administration) and started in his new position last September. Weeks, a veteran of several Texas libraries, is a brilliant addition to our Austin literary community and we look forward to working alongside him in his exciting new role!

Also, we highly recommend checking out the Celebration of Diverse Literary Voices of Texas at the new Central Library (Living Room, 6th floor) on February 24, 2018 from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., presented by the Austin Public Library and KAZI Book Review for the second year running.

Join notable Texas authors (including several previous Texas Book Festival authors) for “author readings as well as panel discussions on cultural diversity, African American education, Mexican American literature and social justice in literature.”

We’ll see you there!

 

What drew you to pursue a career in libraries?

I was volunteering at the Pasadena Public Library providing computer training to customers. A customer told me she needed help learning Microsoft Word so she could get a promotion on her job. I worked with her for about 3 weeks and she came in the library one day and told me she got the job! At this point, I realize the importance of libraries and what they mean to the community.

 

What’s your favorite part of working in the library system? What are some of the most important roles libraries play in Austin (and Texas at large) today?

Meeting people with different background and culture. I love getting out into the community and talking about the importance of reading and the impact libraries how on communities.

 

What are you most looking forward to in your position here at APL?

Working with the various community and community leaders in identifying needed programs and services. Every community is different and I don’t believe in providing cookie-cutter programs and services. Programs and services should be meaningful and life changing.

 

What advice would you give to young black people considering a library degree and career?

If you want to make a difference in your community, a library career is for you. The pay will not make you rich, but it will give you a decent living. There are not enough librarians of color and we need more of them. Libraries and library workers should represent the community they serve. It makes a difference when you walk into a library and you see people that look like you and understand some of the challenges you face.

 

Is there anything you wish more people knew about APL (or even about libraries in general)? What programs/ events do you want to highlight/ make sure Austinites don’t miss?
Libraries are open and free to everybody from all walks of life. If you are looking for ways to start a business, we can help. If you are looking to develop a new skill, we can provide with the resources. If you are looking for entertainment, we have movies and programs from many genres and cultures. If you are looking for a good book, we have millions waiting for you! All of our library locations are safe and welcoming for you to come in to have meetings or just to relax. Finally, all Austinites must come visit our New Central Library. It is six floors of pure delight and excitement, but describing the Central Library makes it hard to do it justice. You must come visit to really appreciate it.

 

What are you reading right now? What are some of the books coming out in 2018 you’re most looking forward to?

I am currently reading We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled by Wendy Pearlman and Thursday Night Lights by Michael Hurd (a 2017 Texas Book Festival author). I am looking forward to reading The President Is Missing by James Patterson and Bill Clinton, and Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosely.

Celebrate Black Literature: A Q&A With Dr. Rosalind Oliphant Jones

Join us in celebrating Black History Month! For the month of February, Texas Book Festival is recognizing Black History Month by highlighting black Texas authors, readers, and notable contributors to the literary community in a series of blog posts. So far, we’ve had contributions from  TBF Community Ambassador Peggy Terry, who shared a fantastic list of books coming out in 2018, and award-winning children’s author and illustrator Don Tate who took the time to answer some questions.

Today, we’re excited to say we got to ask some questions of Austin legend Dr. Rosalind Oliphant Jones, the founder of the Austin African American Book Festival and the Folktales Black Women’s Literary Society, which grew out of her fantastic independent bookstore Folktales (which closed in 1999). Oliphant Jones has brought countless award-winning and best-selling black authors to Austin both through her bookstore and the AABF, from Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet Gwendolyn Brooks to YA author sensation Angie Thomas, whose debut novel spent more than 40 weeks at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list. Oliphant Jones has done immeasurable work for our community.

The 12th annual Austin African American Book Festival (AABF) will take place June 23, 2018 at the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural, and Genealogy Center. Don’t miss this vibrant, one-of-a-kind event!

 

The African American Book Festival Committee (L to R): Peggy Terry, Carol Wright, AABF Founder and Director Rosalind Oliphant Jones, and Anne Boyd

 

Texas Book Festival: What inspired you to start the Austin African American Book Festival?

Rosalind Oliphant Jones: When, in December 1999, it made good business sense to close the doors to Folktales, the Black themed bookstore I launched in the Austin area, I was left both devastated and relieved. I had given so much of myself to this venture, but even though I was exhausted and broke, none of that tarnished my love of books.

Longtime supporters constantly asked if I planned to reopen or if I was ever going to do any more author events. While I had no plans to reopen a full service operation I was organizing a few things here and there:  The Folktales Black Women’s Literary Society was going strong, I organized the Afrocentric Book Club at the high school where I was then teaching, and I also hosted a few author signings and book events around town.

From there, I saw the pioneering Harlem Book Fair, which has been held annually for the past 2 decades, as the creative impetus to start something similar and just as meaningful and influential here.

TBF: How has your experience opening and running Folktales, a successful community bookstore, informed your experience co-founding and running the AABF?

ROJ: Last year marked my 25th year as a bookseller! One thing I realize about great booksellers is they don’t just sell books; they also sell and cultivate a wonderfully multifaceted literary experience.

What we have been able to do with the festival is appeal to a reader’s desire to connect with authors both beloved and newly discovered and to share a kinship with readers in search of that same connection. There is so much excitement in meeting authors and hearing them discuss their work, and with Folktales and the Austin African American Book Festival, we have facilitated space for hundreds of authors to engage with readers in this community. I am really proud of that.

TBF: What’s your favorite part of interacting with authors and readers (through Folktales, the Austin African American Book Festival, Folktales Black Women’s Literary Society, and in any other ways)?

ROJ: I am absolutely fascinated by the work writers do. I am curious to know what their inspirations are, their favorite books, other authors they know, and more!

Back in 1994, Austin Community College brought the Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks to town. Folktales hosted a book signing for her and there was also a private dinner in her honor. I asked so many questions, all of which she graciously answered! At one point, in the midst of our conversation, which included lots of laughing, she looks at me and says something like, “You ask questions like that of a writer.” It was a goldenmoment for sure! This is just one unforgettable moment I have experienced while doing this very rewarding work. There are so many other wonderful stories I could relay about my interactions with writers and readers.

 

TBF: What do you look for when inviting authors and speakers to the AABF?

ROJ: It’s hard for me to put into words what we look for when putting together our festival. With a circle of very smart, charismatic friends who read across genres, we gather for tea or coffee or lunch to discuss books, brainstorm ideas, and create what has, for the last 11 years, culminated into something we believe has been very special and worthwhile for the community.

 

TBF: You’re someone who’s been a major community leader in promoting and supporting black literature and media for some time. Have you seen a shift the ways major publishing houses (and Hollywood) produce or respond to black stories?

ROJ: The world is constantly shifting and publishing houses are no different. When Folktales opened in 1992, it was the “Age of Terry McMillan.” Her first two novels Mama and Disappearing Acts were popular, but then came Waiting to Exhale and the success of that book jolted the publishing industry. Suddenly, the masses realized what many of us already knew: Black people buy books! As a result, we saw this wonderful proliferation of more Black authors getting publishing deals. We saw Black centered products like greeting cards, gift wrap, novelty items, T-shirts—it was thrilling to behold! Unfortunately, by the year 2000, things started slowly winding down. We saw more bookstores closing and some publishers began shifting their focus from a more varied landscape of black literature to a narrower emphasis on urban fiction.

There is talk that we are about to witness another renaissance! The excitement surrounding the Black Panther movie has certainly been contagious! And the fact that it has its origins in comic books and graphic novels counts it as a definite plus for the literary world as well.

 

TBF: Could you share an anecdote or two about the AABF?

ROJ: A powerful moment for me was the year historian Dr. Arnold Rampersad was our keynote speaker. Dr. Rampersad is celebrated for his acclaimed biographies on Langston Hughes, Jackie Robinson, and Ralph Ellison. He was extremely complimentary of the festival and in his opening remarks had created this beautiful tapestry connecting all the authors on program. Later, when we were walking through the museum, he asked me, “Where are the children, where are the youth?”

It revealed a troubling omission, as we had planned that particular festival with little attention to youth programming. It was an oversight we have worked very hard not to repeat.

TBF: What are you reading right now? What book or two (or more are you most looking forward to this year?

ROJ: I hope to complete the Old Testament by mid-year. I am in the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 18. I just finished Priscilla Shirer’s devotional Awaken: 90 Days with the God Who Speaks, which was uplifting.

I am also loving and learning from the fabulous never before published photographs and interesting backstories in Unseen: Unpublished Black History from the New York Times Photo Archives.

I just picked up Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power, which I am looking forward to reading it as well as all the books I am told I will be inspired to read as I make my way through it!

I expanded the health section in my library after I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2016. I am all about being a healthy and informed survivor! I just re-read The Immoral Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, which provided far too many lessons to recount here. I am also making plenty of highlights and notes in the margins of my copies of The Metabolic Approach to Cancer by Dr. Natasha Winters and Jess Higgins Kelley and The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

I cannot wait to be among the first to read Zora Neale Hurston’s book Barracoon: The Story of the Last Slave, which is due out in May, and I am also looking forward to Angie Thomas’ sophomore release, On the Come Up, in June.