On Oct. 17 and 18, Texas Book Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary of offering a large, free event to celebrate authors and readers. Guests can visit the rooms of the Capitol Building, Paramount Theatre, and tents on South Congress and the Capitol grounds to hear authors discuss their books.
With a book tent to purchase new reads, book signings, panels, live music, food vendors, a children’s tent and even a cooking tent, there’s something appealing for every festival-goer. I met with Literary Director Steph Opitz as she prepared for the upcoming event.
How Does It Come Together?
First Lady of the State of Texas Laura Bush, Mary Margaret Farabee (a prominent Austin philanthropist) and a group of volunteers founded Texas Book Festival in 1995. Originally, they showcased only Texas writers. In 1996, the event found its home on the Capitol grounds and the festival has since grown to include international writers.
Book submissions take place from January to June each year. Thousands of books are considered by several selection committees. Literary Director Opitz also meets with publishers to discuss upcoming releases that would be a good fit for the festival.
Determining the featured books and subsequent panels is like putting together a giant puzzle. The festival organizers don’t want total homogeny within the pool of authors, but common threads among books are beneficial for creating interesting panels.
Authors are asked for suggestions as to what they would like to discuss, but panel topics and participants are thoughtfully curated by Opitz and her colleagues. One of her favorite panel memories is when Reza Aslan and Owen Egerton discussed their novels’ common topic, Jesus. Though Aslan wrote nonfiction while Egerton wrote fiction, they discovered common threads through their upbringing and held a riveting dialogue.
Another fond memory is the panel that paired Jeff Guinn’s Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson and Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. The two authors examined the powerful personalities they wrote about and found surprising similarities between their subjects. One such similarity: L. Ron Hubbard and Manson both studied Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.
It can be challenging to choose between Texas Book Festival events when so many things sound interesting. I asked Opitz for her recommendations.
She’s particularly excited about Lauren Groff (Fates and Furies) and Helen Phillips’ (The Beautiful Bureaucrat) panel: The Private Lives of Others. Their novels are completely different, but both have the common theme of relationships. Phillips’ novel could have been paired with another piece of speculative fiction and Groff’s might have easily been matched with something resembling a classic tragedy. By selecting a less obvious common thread, the audience will be treated to an unpredictable discussion.
Texas writer Sarah Hepola’s Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget will also be a fascinating presentation. This brave journalist wrote an honest memoir of her alcoholism and how she went from thinking alcohol was helping her, to realizing it was hurting her.
Dave Goulson will be of interest to urban farmers and environmentalists, with his book about beekeeping and renovating a rural farm in France (A Buzz in the Meadow). He recounts the symbiotic meadow society that evolved after his restoration work.
Dystopias have proven increasingly popular across many forms of entertainment. Approaching the same dim subject, but with a different form, Mary Jo Bang (poet) and Laura van den Berg (novelist) will answer the question: “Are we living the dystopia we write about?”
Those are only a sample of the myriad of subjects being tackled at this year’s Texas Book Festival!
First Time at the Festival?
Opitz’s advice for first timers is to plan your day like a music festival. “Consider the big name authors you want to see, but leave the rest of your time for discovery. Wander around and duck into things. You can always leave if you don’t like it.”
If you’re hoping to catch some of the bigger events, such as Chuck Palahniuk’s two-hour variety show or Margaret Atwood’s talk on the latest addition to her Positron series, you might want to line up early.
A special pass can also help you and a guest get into popular happenings. Since Texas Book Festival is a non-profit event, donations keep the festivities alive. For $100 or more, patrons can buy a Festival Friends Pass, which acts like a Disney Fastpass by getting you and a friend to the front of any line.
People of all ages will find something of interest, so bring your family along. Young adults can enjoy plenty of panels with authors who write for a younger crowd, like the “Me, Myself and Awesome” panel which will discuss “what it is to be a young woman in today’s world.”
The children’s tent provides a setting for authors to connect with kids. Though some authors in this area draw a large crowd, the setting remains friendly and cozy.
If you’re more of a night owl, join the Lit Crawl activities on the east side on Saturday night (Oct. 17). These events are relaxed and meant for letting loose in a nerdy way. There will be ghost stories in the Texas State Cemetery (all ages), Lit Crawl Against Humanity (a literary version of the popular game Cards Against Humanity), Cocktails and Coloring (an adult coloring book contest), and several other events.
Make Your Plans for This Weekend
You may end up buying books you never thought you’d be interested in after an author says something that connects you to their work, or you may solidify your love for an author you already know. Either experience will have you coming back year after year.
To plan your weekend, you can use the My Schedule feature on Texas Book Festival’s website. You can even send your schedule to a friend.
You’ll see maps, food vendor lists and answers to other questions you may have on their incredibly informative website.
Also, download their app on your iPhone or Android to receive last minute updates, make a schedule and get easily accessible info during the festival.
Will this be your first year attending Texas Book Festival?