TBF Travels: Visiting Other Book Festivals

After the 2018 Texas Book Festival tents came down and our staff came back to the office, sorted through all of the books and banners, sent all of our thank you notes, and SLEPT (a lot), a few of us packed our bags and headed out across the country to visit book festivals in other cities.

Why spend so much time at other book festivals when we just wrapped up one of our own? We wanted to see firsthand the wonderful ways that other literary festivals serve their communities, create space for conversations, and bring together writers and readers. We wanted to compare notes, be inspired, and bring home ideas that might enhance and improve the experience for festival-goers here in Texas.

Okay, we’ll be honest, we also went to these festivals because it’s FUN. After the joyful madness of putting together our own Fest, it was a reward to become festival-goers ourselves and hop from panel to panel to hear authors talk with one another about their books, their writing and the world.

Now that we’re all home again, we’re sharing our vacation slides with you. We’re grateful to be part of this brilliant community of book festivals. We celebrate all of the hard work they do to unite authors and readers and highly recommend y’all hop on the festival circuit next year and visit them!

Portland Book Festival

Portland, Oregon
November 10
Staffer: Maris Finn, Financial and Administrative Coordinator

I had the privilege to fly out to Portland, OR for the Portland Book Festival on November 10. Located at the Portland Art Museum and the surrounding area, it was a day packed with literary fun for all ages.

The Portland Book Festival (formerly known as Wordstock) is a program put on by Literary Arts, a literary nonprofit organization. Here are their other year-round literary programs! There were authors for every age and interest (as you can see from the packed schedule!), but I spent most of my day listening to some of my favorite debut authors. Here’s what my day looked like.

My first panel of the day was “Metropolis: The City in Literature” featuring Jamel Brinkley (A Lucky Man), Ingrid Rojas Contreras (Fruit of the Drunken Tree), and Jason Lutes (Berlin), moderated by Tin House Editor and co-founder Rob Spillman. It was fascinating to hear these authors discuss their personal relationships to the cities they write about, and how the cities themselves take on starring roles in their work.

I wish I could go into every single panel I went to that day, but I’ll focus on one more! This one, “Survivor: Women at the End of the World,” was incredible. Featuring Leni Zumas (Red Clocks), Ling Ma (Severance), and Aminder Dhaliwal (Woman World), and moderated by Lidia Yuknavitch, this panel looked at the apocalypse from a female perspective. I went into the panel only having read Severance, and I left with Woman World and Red Clocks as numbers 1 and 2 on my To-Read list.

Book festivals aren’t only about going to panels, though! I was lucky to meet and chat with Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of the debut short story collection Friday Black, another one of my favorites this year. Quite simply: everyone needs to read this book.

Thank you, Portland Book Festival, for an unforgettable time!


Charleston, South Carolina
November 9-10
Lydia Melby, Literary and Communications Coordinator

I was pretty thrilled to get to attend YALLFest in Charleston, South Carolina for the first time. I always have a blast at our own Texas Book Festival and Texas Teen Book Festival, and, as a big reader of YA, I love seeing glimpses of other book festivals and excited YA readers in other states from the authors I follow. YALLFest was my first choice of outside festivals to visit, since the size and structure seemed similar to our Texas Teen Book Festival, and because the social media coverage I saw always made it look so vibrant and fun so I had to go find out for myself.

Spoiler alert: I was not disappointed.

YALLFest was founded by Jonathan Sanchez of Blue Bicycle Books in 2011, and just wrapped up its eighth year. Like our own Texas Book Festival, it’s a two-day festival that is mostly free and open to the public. It’s sponsored by a local indie bookstore Blue Bicycle Books, the College of Charleston the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, and several other local businesses, as well as by many teen and Young Adult publishers.

This year, YALLFest brought in 68 YA authors for more than 30 lively panels and conversations. Obvs I couldn’t get to every panel I wanted to see (which was all of them—I found myself desperately wishing for Hermione’s time-turner), but I still managed to catch a good bunch, as well as a few giveaways. Also, seriously, SO. MANY. GIVEAWAYS. I got not one, but four different pencil pouches and I have never been so tote-full. It was great to see authors I’ve met before once more (always fun to have a chance to re-do your first impression, right?) as well as more I’d never gotten the chance to see before. I gushed to authors, I chatted with other readers in line, I ate some pretty fantastic biscuits and gravy (though not as good as my mom’s, of course), and I got to tromp around this historical city to places like the grand old Charleston Music Hall, Charleston Public Library’s fantastic central branch, and of course, delightful indie bookstore Blue Bicycle Books (with its titular mascot parked out front).

Some highlights: the “Trapped Girls” panel, in which authors Claire Legrand, Natasha Ngan, Laura Sebastian, Megan Shepherd, Kaitlin Ward, and Kiersten White discussed the various ways their intrepid heroines found themselves trapped (physically or metaphorically) and how they got themselves out of it without any knight or prince or well-meaning doofus dashing in and making a mess of it all. They also played a memorably difficult round of “Kiss, Marry, Kill”—somehow all answering unanimously after much discussion (but sorry, I don’t “Kiss, Marry, Kill” and tell).

I loved seeing Mary H.K. Choi (a UT Austin *and* #txbookfest alum) somehow simultaneously out-awkward and out-cool everyone around her almost as much as I loved seeing bestselling author Soman Chainani perform a High School Musical-style dance tribute “To All the YA Boy Characters I’ve Loved Before” (yes, Peter Kavinsky was included). And of course, I will treasure forever my memory of being one in an adoring crowd of 300+ readers watching YA/Kidlit titans Neal Shusterman and R.J. Palacio discuss their writing, their characters, their inspirations, and their hopes for all our futures. The best part of it all was similar to what I love about being part of our own TBF and TTBF—walking down the street and seeing flocks of readers all flooding in the same direction, watching groups of friends cluster over a copy of their current favorite book, and lining up with other excited fans to tell an author what their words have meant to us.

Reading has always been my favorite solitary activity, but it might just be my favorite social activity too.

Miami Book Fair

Miami, Florida
November 24-25
Claire Burrows, Development Director; Julie Wernersbach, Literary Director

Like the Texas Book Festival, the Miami Book Fair has decades-deep roots in its community. This year, MBF celebrated its 35th annual fair with many of the same writers we welcomed to Texas: Jacqueline Woodson, Pete Souza, Tayari Jones, Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o, Celeste Ng, and 594 other writers. That’s right – the Miami Book Fair hosts 600 authors, most of them over the two-day weekend, with select events happening the week prior.

One of the key attractions at MBF is its street fair. More than one hundred exhibitors in colorful tents line the streets of Miami Dade College, offering everything from books (of course) to farmers market-style produce and baked goods to entertainers on stilts making balloon animals for kids. The weather was beautiful and we were happy to stroll up and down the booths, peruse books, feast on chickpea-curry onigiri (one of many, many options in the food court), catch live music at “The Porch,” the outdoor music and entertainment tent, and say at least a dozen times, “Wow, there are a lot of palm trees here.” We also took note of MBF’s booth dedicated to books in Spanish, which was busy all weekend.

Joyful energy reverberated throughout the street fair, with families dancing to music, readers browsing the many book tables and tents, and everyone trying to catch a glimpse of Sonia Sotomayor talking to C-Span 2 BookTV in their author interview booth.

A big part of the fun of visiting another festival right after TBF is the opportunity to see some of the authors we welcomed in Texas, but who we couldn’t see on their panels because we were too busy running the Fest. In Miami, we headed inside from the street fair and caught conversations with R. O. Kwon, Jamie Quatro, Jamel Brinkley and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. We loved hearing readings from the National Book Award finalists for fiction and laughed along with actress, comedian and writer Abbi Jacobson as she talked about her new memoir, I Might Regret This (which includes a section in Austin, complete with a sketch of a Topo Chico bottle, to our delight). We heard a panel of Haitian writers read from their work, moderated by Edwidge Danticat, and were impressed to learn that MBF made simultaneous translation into Haitian-Creole available at this and other sessions. We got going early on Sunday morning to catch readings by Deborah Eisenberg and Katharine Weber (who offered writers the great advice, “Trust your own strangeness!”)

We also experienced what we hear from many of our TBF festival-goers: so many choices, so little time! We made some tough decisions, accepted that we couldn’t see everything, bought very many books, and appreciated the way that MBF wove in programming and authors that represented Miami’s distinct and vibrant cultures. Thanks for the great weekend, Miami!

Thank for the kindness and hospitality, Y’ALLFest, Portland Book Fest and Miami Book Fair!