Written by Brittany Wagner
There are a lot of reasons why I enjoyed spending my fall semester interning at the Texas Book Festival. Besides all the free books I got to take home (including Malcolm Gladwell’s newest, Talking to Strangers), I learned the ins and outs of a nonprofit operation. I was amazed to come into the office on my first day and learn that a group of fewer than 10 very hardworking women was at the helm of such a huge, iconic event. The office got a little hectic as Festival weekend started to approach, but being part of a team of women who pulled off an event all about books and the people who love to read them was a rewarding experience that came with a learning curve.
As a development intern, I spent most of my time entering information about auction items into an online database, which made it easier for the First Edition Literary Gala attendees to eventually bid on these items at the Oct. 24 gala. I also kept track of donations, thank you letters, and Friends Passes sent to those donors.
Nonprofit employees learn to wear a number of different hats. If this was true for me as an intern, then it was doubly true for the rest of the staff. As a journalism student at UT Austin, I have a lot of writing and editing experience, which came in handy when updating TBF’s website and developing social media content. What I wasn’t familiar with was interacting with literary elites like Stephen Harrigan, Attica Locke, and Lara Prescott.
Two of the most glamorous TBF events I got to help with were the author lineup reveal party and the Literary Gala. After I checked the guests in at the author lineup reveal party, I got to hang out in the house’s cozy library where we were displaying books written by Festival authors. My official job was to make sure none of the guests walked off with a book thinking they were giveaways, but unofficially, I got to chat with some of the most interesting, well-connected literary professionals in Austin. I met designer DJ Stout, the former art director for Texas Monthly and current head of Pentagram who now designs book covers for a living. We chatted about what makes a good book cover, and I got to ask him questions about the logistics of collaborating with an author and publisher on cover designs.
As I was packing books up at the end of the party, I overheard a guest, Rebekah Manley, talking about her job at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. I hopped into her conversation and mentioned my interest in archives, and she gave me her business card. I ran into her at TBF events two more times during my internship before I finally got the courage to follow her on Twitter.
About a month later, TBF hosted its First Edition Literary Gala Friday evening before the Festival’s kickoff. The purpose of the gala is to raise money for the Reading Rock Stars program and the library grants program, as well as keep the Festival free and open to the public. This was the culmination of much of the work I’d been doing, so it was exciting to see all the components come together. It was equally exciting to see literary superstar Stephen Harrigan and Austin mayor Steve Adler there. That night, TBF raised more money than at any previous gala.
A lot of my job as an intern is performing menial tasks like going to the post office, picking up lunch for the staff, printing out thank you letters, and greeting guests at the gala. But it’s balanced by the fact that this organization is doing incredible work for the literary community of Texas. Working at TBF has reignited my love for reading and deepened my interest in working at a publishing house or library.