Journey to the 2021 Gala with Don Tate!

Texas Writer Award

Last Friday, the Texas Book Festival hosted the annual First Edition Literary Gala at the Four Seasons Austin. The evening saw presentations from award-winning storytellers and friends of the Fest, including Carrie Fountain, Noah Hawley, Chang-Rae Lee, Elizabeth McCracken, and recipient of the 2021 Texas Writer Award, Don Tate! 

We are delighted to talk with Don about his experience leading up to the big event. Read more below to spend [a couple of days] in the life of critically acclaimed Children’s author and illustrator, Don Tate!

Journey to the Gala with Don Tate

I learned that I was selected as the 2021 Texas Writer Award recipient while checking emails on my iPhone, while I was at a restaurant drive-through window. The message came from Texas Book Festival Literary Director Matthew Patin, informing me about the award.

Matthew said: 

“Your prolific contribution to Texas letters, your lengthy TBF alum status, your tireless commitment to community engagement, awareness, and in-school programming, including with Reading Rock Stars and The Brown Bookshelf —the choice is a no-brainer, really. And from me, and on behalf of the TBF staff and board and Author Selection Committee, I’d be honored if you’d accept the award.”

Moonstruck, I sent this message back to Matthew: 

I’m reading this email from a Schlotsky’s drive-through window, ordering a jalapeño turkey sandwich, with a mask covering my face, and hoping my very dark sunglasses are hiding my now red misty eyes. How’s that for a visual, huh? Of course, yes! I accept! Coming from my beloved friends at the Texas Book Festival, I can’t think of a greater honor!!

I was thrilled to receive the news, but I was also baffled—and even a little embarrassed. Like a lot of creative people, I tend to suffer from Imposter Syndrome. It’s a feeling of self-doubt, like I’m not quite what others perceive me to be. Past winners included names like Attica Locke, Dan Rather, and Pat Mora.

I also realized I’d be the first Black man to receive the recognition. My anxiety jagged up a few more notches. Being the first of anything is exciting, of course. But it can also be heavy, especially when it’s a Black first. Would folks take their recognition of me seriously? Might folks think the award to be penance for some past oversight? Or, do I simply worry too much?

In time, I was able to post the news to my social networks. Hundreds of people responded with congratulations, saying, “You deserve this!”

I thought about what I had accomplished since I started my writing career in 2010. I thought about several other recent honors I’d received—the SCBWI Golden Kite, induction into the Texas Institute of Letters. I was ready to put all that worry aside. But I began to worry again. The award is presented at a fancy gala! And I don’t own a tux. On the afternoon of the gala, I posted this to social networks: 

“Tonight’s the night—the Texas Book Festival’s literary gala! And I’ve sweated the whole tux thing way too much. I don’t own one, and I did not want to splurge on a pricey rental. So, I got the $49.99 blue-light special—which is a fair-looking tux, but not one of the more modern, skinny-fit ones with the narrow legs that I’d prefer. It’s more high school awkward, but the sales team said that with my athletic build, I could pull it off. The other thing is that it’s a black-tie event—which, if you know me, I like to be different. So if everyone else is wearing black tuxes, I want to wear— don’t know—ripped jeans and chukka boots or something. Anyway, after two years of being mostly shut-in, it will be nice to get out and have some fun with my literary friends!”

Later that evening, I was in aflutter some more:

One half-hour before the festivities, and I’m Googling “How the hell do cuff links work?”

That night after, I posted this: 

“Oh, what a night! Book lovers, philanthropists, politicians, authors, librarians, poets—an audience of almost 500 people! They raised almost $110.000 in about ten minutes to support Texas libraries. Then, I accepted the Texas Book Festival’s Texas Author Award. Even got a standing ovation after my acceptance speech. So honored to be acknowledged by an organization that I love. And my $49.99 tux, it worked!”

Texas Book Festival Gala 2022 at the Four Seasons photos ©Bob Daemmrich Author program

And the next day, I posted more about the cool cowboy boots that came with the award: 

“I forgot to mention in my previous post, the recipient of the Texas Writer Award receives a nifty pair of handmade custom cowboy boots. They are made by Rocketbuster out of El Paso, Texas, and they are fine works of art.”

“The process of creating them was quite an amazing experience, too. First, they asked me to trace my foot on paper and take other measurements—which included my heels, the waist of my foot, my instep, and the ball of my foot. I had to measure my calves in two different places. As far as the boots, I selected the toe box shape, the medallion stitching design, the height and style of the heel.”

“Rocketbuster builds the boots from scratch, but I picked a basic catalog design and then customized them from there. The Texas Book Festival’s logo would go on the front, but there was also a space on the back to fill. I thought about what the Texas Book Festival has meant to me over the years. To me, it’s been about presenting to children under the Read Me a Story tent or giving children books during the Reading Rock Stars program. So, I created this piece of art that represented that.”

“As the artists at Rocketbuster created my boots, they texted images to me along the way—sketches of the boots, leather choices, stitching color. It was cool to see how they literally carved and painted my design into the boots. I think they turned out so great, but I’m afraid to actually wear them. I put them atop my bookcase!”

To sum this post up: I am proudly a writer. I am proudly a Texas Writer Award recipient. And now, I am the proud owner of my first hand-made-from-scratch cowboy boots!