Real Reads Austin 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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