This fall marks 25 years of the Texas Book Festival uniting Texas readers with authors, spreading books and smiles all around the Texas State Capitol. Usually, the weekend festival erects tents down the streets surrounding the capitol, full of author panels, cooking demonstrations, book sales, activities for kids, book signings, and more. This year, however, the festival will inspire book lovers around the globe virtually, with an online festival from October 31 to November 15.
The nonprofit was founded in 1995 by former First Lady of Texas, Laura W. Bush, with a mission to connect “authors and readers through experiences that celebrate the culture of literacy, ideas, and imagination,” according to its website. The first festival occurred in 1996, and has grown to expect 50,000 visitors, host over 300 authors, feature more than 80 exhibitors and vendors, and offer a variety of programming for all with no admission fees.
It began with only Texas authors, but now invites authors from around the world to curate a richly diverse literary scene. “The Texas Book Festival is considered in the top festivals along with Brooklyn, Miami, and [Los Angeles],” Deputy Director Claire Burrows said. “[It has] books and authors for every reader in a space that really encourages engaged conversations, enthusiastic discovery, and it supports arts and education.”
A Virtual Festival
Burrows said that featuring more online content was already a consideration, but is now a priority. “We are embracing and leaning into this opportunity to reach people who can’t come to the festival,” Burrows said. “Part of what we really believe is that everyone deserves to have the best book and the best programming. Now we can do that.”
Previous festival lineups have included authors such as Malcolm Gladwell, John Grisham, Laurie Halse Anderson, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Douglas Brinkley, Raina Telgemeier, PJ Stoops, and Chris Ware, among other illustrious and launching authors. This year, there are many virtual author appearances to look forward to, including Erin Brockovich, Candace Bushnell, Stephen Graham Jones, Dean Koontz, Kevin Kwan, José R. Ralat, Nic Stone, Natalia Sylvester, Kathy Valentine, and more.
Normally lasting two days, this year, book lovers can tune into two weeks of programming. They can watch a variety of panels featuring discussions from diverse authors. Last year’s festival hosted a plethora of subjects, ranging from climate change, motherhood, copy editing, fantasy, history, young adult literature that tackles difficult topics, how to raise children to love reading, politics, award-winning books, poetry, and much more. As the festival has grown, the staff have striven to provide literary opportunities for all.
The Latinx tent was introduced in recent years and has expanded to encompass a Spanish- language book sales tent and bilingual and Spanish-language programming, including storytime for children. The recently appointed Latinx selection committee works with Literary Director Matthew Patin to move the festival forward with relevant books, authors, and programming centered on meaningful topics for a Latinx audience.
“It goes back to really listening and really paying attention,” Burrows said. “One thing that I really love about [the] Texas Book Festival, even just over the seven festivals that I have been here, is that the organization is able to grow and adapt and respond to authors and readers.”
First Edition Literary Gala
The First Edition Literary Gala typically gathers authors, cultural arts supporters, members of the Texas Book Festival community, dignitaries, and others for a celebratory evening the Friday before the festival. The black-tie event will be held online this year, yet will still present “an evening filled with good books and wonderful conversation,” according to a press release.
Funds raised at the gala keep the festival free for the public, and finance Texas Book Festival’s outreach programs. Additional support from corporate sponsors, foundations, and individuals allows the festival staff to pursue their vision of “[inspiring] Texans of all ages to love reading” all year long.
Lone Star Literacy
The organization engages with authors and readers throughout the year through multiple programs. In 2019, they provided over $100,500 in funding for Texas public libraries through their collection enhancement grants, and continue to promote literacy among young readers through Reading Rock Stars and Real Reads.
Reading Rock Stars brings authors to Title 1 elementary schools for book readings, presentations, and hand deliveries of brand new, signed copies of their book for each student. This program has enabled the Texas Book Festival to donate more than 119,000 books to students in Title 1 schools and arrange over 400 author visits. “The Reading Rock Stars is such an incredible program,” Burrows said. “The day the author comes, we really make it a special event.”
They are currently partnered with schools in Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth, Austin, and the Rio Grande Valley. They provide a curriculum for the school leading up to the author’s visit, which prepares students by having them read the author’s book and study-related topics. Some schools have even invited the high school marching band to parade around the school, all in celebration of a shared love of reading. “We want to show these kids that this is a reason to celebrate, and we want to make the kids feel like [they] are a reason to celebrate,” she said.
To implement Real Reads, the festival partners with organizations that already have an infrastructure in place to reach the older students, such as Breakthrough Central Texas. “We really believe that by partnering with cultural organizations and other nonprofits, rather than being competition, we can make so much more of an impact together,” she said.
They host a book club throughout the year and normally crown it with an in-person visit from the author in the fall. This summer, they read The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, followed by her book Clap When You Land. This fall, Acevedo will meet with the students in a virtual session. “I think she’ll really speak to these students,” Burrows said. “We choose authors who will speak to what’s going on with them.”
Texas Teen Book Festival
Teenage readers are also connected with a literary community through the Texas Teen Book Festival. As part of the overall virtual festival this year, teen-centered programming will dominate the schedule on October 31 and November 1. Nic Stone and Elizabeth Acevedo hold the honor of keynote authors.
Over 5,000 teenagers usually attend, getting to meet the 30 to 35 young adult authors, have their books signed, and participate in interactive activities like the literary character costume contest. Burrows said that in previous festivals, attendees could find teenagers reading books in the grass or on the curb, running around in costume, and engaging with authors on topics that are important to them.
“I think for these teens, this is an opportunity where they’re seen, and they are celebrated,” she said. “I think it can be life-changing to be able to meet these authors and see these authors and discover new authors, as well, at a crucial time in their education.”
Despite the unusual circumstances of this festival, it is sure to provide an awesome experience for readers all across the Lone Star State, as it continues to benefit literacy and libraries by connecting readers and authors. All of the virtual sessions will be free and will be available online afterward, as allowed by publisher and author permissions. For the full lineup of this year’s featured authors and events, visit the Texas Book Festival website.