Reflecting on The Texas Book Festival

    Stephanie Barko (left) holding Sam Gwynne’s (right) just signed bestseller.

    The first day of the Festival began with a colorful sunrise over the State Capitol and unseasonably cool temps. Soon around 30,000 people were milling about the grounds, the underground extension and the billowy white tents along Lavaca Street.

    The first breakout I chose to attend was a panel of three Texas novelists called “The Way We Were: New Novels about a Bygone Texas” with authors Leila Meacham, Carolyn Osborn, and Jane Roberts Wood. I assumed Osborn’s novel set in Galveston had beat out my clients’ nonfiction about Galveston, so I just had to hear what the fuss was about. Turns out Carolyn is only an elected member of the Texas Institute of Letters (like client Mike Cox). No wonder the Festival selected her.

    Carolyn Osborn (right) and Jane Roberts Wood (left)

    At 11:15, I made my way down Congress Avenue to the Book TV tent where Pulitzer winning journalist Eugene Robinson described the four classes he came up with in his book, Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America. Along with the rest of his mostly white audience, I listened with rapt attention, especially when he credited his grandmother with that sense of incredulousness we see come across his face so frequently on TV.


    A friend of mine moderated novelist Joyce Maynard’s talk at noon and because of her generosity, I got to shake hands with the prolific New Hampshire native before she took the stage. In discussing her latest release, Maynard said that she was groomed to be a writer as a child by her family, and that although she once gave her mother dictation, it was a long time after her first memoir before she found her true voice. She spoke of the theme of secrets throughout her body of work and said that secrets and shame inhibit voice and prevent authenticity from coming forth. “We must trust the reader with the truth”, she admonished.

    At 1:30, I allowed myself a complete change of pace and learned how, like a wildfire blazing through YouTube, Awkward Family Photos sprung forth from less than ten funny snapshots on the internet. And get this–there’s a sequel to be released with pets.

    I spent the rest of the day schmoozing the exhibition booths and reconnecting with publishers and vendors.

    For some reason, this first day of the Festival wore me out. I went home, doctored up my blood sugar, and slept nine hours. Then I got up Sunday morning, drank coffee, and headed out for the Writers’ League of Texas breakfast at a private residence honoring authors Bill Brands, Bethany Hegedus, James McGrath Morris, Rene Saldana, and Sam Gwynne who I learned lives less than 15 miles from my house.

    From there, I headed back to Congress Avenue for the environmental panel in the Lone Star Tent. Former Texas Nature Conservancy head Andy Sansom reminded us that we still attract Whooping Cranes to Matagorda Bay because Texas women took a squashed report to Washington and turned a military secret into Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
    The Texas Tribune moderated Jonathan Alter, Ari Berman & Jelani Cobb as they evaluated Obama’s first year. Book TV aired this to an overflowing tent full of folks. Alter: “Obama won ugly on healthcare, but won.” Berman: “The economy has disproportionately [negatively] effected Obama’s base.” Cobb: “Obama’s book portrays a moderate Democrat, yet he wanted both change and unification, which are oppositional to each other.”

    At 2:15 from the pulpit of United Methodist Church in the shadow of the Capitol, S.C. “Sam ” Gwynne held forth to a packed “congregation” telling us why the Comanches were the most powerful tribe in American history. When Gwynne was through talking, I believed him and bought his NY Times bestselling book.

    Sam Gwynne (right) & Brian Sweany (left)

    Hoping to learn more about the intersection of books and screenplays, I finished this year’s Fest with Alison Macor’s history of the Austin film industry.

    The weekend left me better connected, a smarter citizen, and a more inspired human being.

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    1 Comment

    1. Sounds like you had a busy and enjoyful time and took some nice pictures.

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