Laini Taylor, Leigh Bardugo headline Texas Teen Book Festival

Laini Taylor
Laini Taylor
Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo


Laini Taylor and Leigh Bardugo will be the keynote speakers at the 8th annual Texas Teen Book Festival on Oct. 1, the Texas Book Festival announced Monday.

Taylor is the author of the upcoming “Strange the Dreamer” as well as “Lips Touch Three Times,” and Bardugo is the author of “Six of Crows” as well as the Grisha Trilogy: “Shadow and Bone,” “Siege and Storm” and “Ruin and Rising.” Her sequel to “Six of Crows” will be published in September, and it’s called “Crooked Kingdom.”

Both are big names in young adult literature, and they’ll lead a series of author sessions, panels, book signings and other events for young adult genre fans at the festival, held at St. Edward’s University.

The Teen Book Festival is presented in collaboration with the Texas Book Festival, BookPeople, a team of librarians and St. Edward’s. It’s also made possible in part by a grant of Humanities Texas.

The event will start at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 1 and continue through 6”30 p.m. at the university, 3001 S. Congress Ave. It’s free and open to the public.

For more information, visit

Youth Fiction Writing Contest entries being accepted


Entries are being accepted for the 2016 Youth Fiction Writing Contest until July 1, and this year’s theme is “Note to Self.”

The contest is hosted by the Texas Book Festival and the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas. The contest is open to junior and high school students in Texas. They can submit a piece of original fiction, no more than 2,000 words in length.

Submissions are judged by authors, educators and others.
There are three divisions for the contest: grades 7-8, grades 9-10 and grades 11-12.

First-place winners get $250; second place, $100; third place, $50. Their work will be published on the Texas Book Festival website, and they’ll get a plaque. Finalists and semi-finalists in grades 9 through 12 also get an invitation to a writing workshop at the Austin Bat Cave.
To enter your submission, click here.

Texas Book Fest raising money for Reading Rock Stars

RRS collage FB 2
If you’re a fan of the Texas Book Festival, here’s a chance to help their programs. Beginning today, the festival’s Amplify Austin campaign has set a goal of raising $15,000 for Reading Rock Stars, a literacy program that brings children’s authors into Title 1 schools to meet students and hand out signed copies of their book.
For many students, the festival says, this is the first book they will on. The festival has given away more than 70,000 books to low-income young readers in Texas through the program.
Every dollar the festival gets will be matched by the Herbert Simon Family Foundation.
To donate, go here.

Exploring Cuba via boxing at the Texas Book Festival


Canadian writer and filmmaker Brin-Jonathan Butler spent more than a decade in Cuba where he examined the life-changing decision that boxing champions there face – stay in Cuba or defect to America and enjoy a huge payday?

This question, which grew out of his own search for world-class boxing training, led to the boxing memoir “The Domino Diaries: My Decade Boxing with Olympic Champions and Chasing Hemingway’s Ghost in the Last Days of Castro’s Cuba.”

Butler interviewed both boxers who turned down millions of dollars to stay in Cuba as well as boxers who defected to the United States. He says he realized it wasn’t that one decision made someone bad or good.

“The villain is that you have to make this choice,” he said at a Texas Book Festival panel on Sunday.

Some of the boxers who now led lives in Miami with big houses, pretty girlfriends and swimming pools, often stayed behind the walls of their mansions because they thought their new world felt dead and missed their street back home, he said.

“All these people had great stories about why they turned down the money,” he said. “I had heard what Fidel said and what ‘The Miami Herald’ said, but I wanted to hear it from the boxers themselves.”

Butler, an amateur boxer, has spent time in boxing gyms around the world. “They are a lifeline for many people,” he said. And contrary to what some may think, Butler says it’s also where you can find the most humble and gentle people.

Texas Book Fest shows what it’s like to be “Invisible in Austin”

"Invisible in Austin" panel at Texas Book Festival. Photo by Nancy Flores
“Invisible in Austin” panel at Texas Book Festival. Photo by Nancy Flores

While Austin’s reputation for being a hip, fun and weird city is known throughout the country, there are Austinites who never experience that side of the city. They live on the margins of the most economically segregated city in America.

At the Texas Book Festival’s Texas Tent on Sunday, University of Texas sociology professor Javier Auyero and two of his graduate students Katherine Jensen and Caitlyn Collins discussed the ambitious project they launched in order to get to know the people who are now featured in the book “Invisible in Austin.

“Invisible in Austin,” features the lives of residents like cab drivers, exotic dancers and house cleaners who are struggling to make ends meet.

“I want to believe that what we write matters,” Auyero said. The goal was not to necessarily push any type of policy, but instead to spark an important conversation beyond academia.

Jensen’s chapter of the book focued on a Kumar, who is a cab driver from Nepal who received political asylum. In this native country, Kumar was an attorney and professor and he reveals to Jensen how in Austin he’s sometimes mistreated by passengers.

“Why should we keep Austin weird?” he told her. “I’m not weird. I’m usual.”

Collins interviewed exotic dancer Raven, who began stripping after chasing many low-paying waitressing jobs.

When asked about writing a second volume to the book, Auyero and his students said they there are possiblities of looking at different angles in the future, either looking at the wealthy of Austin or re-interviewing the “Invisible in Austin” featured residents.

Texas Book Fest celebrates Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros reading at Central Presbyterian Church during Texas Book Festival. Photo by Nancy Flores
Sandra Cisneros reading at Central Presbyterian Church during Texas Book Festival. Photo by Nancy Flores

Author Sandra Cisneros took a look at the raised pulpit at Central Presbyterian Church during the Texas Book Festival on Saturday and asked the packed audience in the pews, “Should I read from up there?”

Cheers from the crowd erupted.

“As a woman, it’s empowering to be in the pulpit,” said the author of the highly acclaimed book, “The House on Mango Street,” who grew up Catholic.

Cisneros read a personal essay from a time after she moved away from Austin, when she was trying to pick up the pieces after she spent a difficult 1987 in the city.

“Everytime I’m in Austin, I feel so much sadness,” she says. It brings back memories of unemployment and looking to find her place in the world, she says.

Cisneros isn’t searching anymore. In fact, at 60 years old, she’s more sure of herself than ever. She’s living in Mexico now, a place that’s become her sanctuary and where she says “ideas are popping out of my head like popcorn.”

She doesn’t like to call her latest collection of autobiographical essays, “A House of My Own: Stories from My Life,” a memoir because she says that feels like someone who is the end of their life. “I still feel young,” she says.

Over the years, Cisneros says that many of her essays have been lost. Some of her work disappeared after many moves, and some of it burned. Making sure she had a book that housed the remaining essays was important to her. Preserving her work is not something she has to worry about anymore. Last month, Cisneros’ literary archive was acquired by the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University for $800,000.

Cisneros’ work is often taught in Chicana feminist classes, and the author recalled that when “The House on Mango Street” was published that she was bullied by some male, Chicano authors. “They thought I wasn’t raising the fist,” she says.

Cisneros also talked up the importance of perseverance. She says she started writing “The House on Mango Street” when she was 22, and finished it at 28. “When you feel like quitting is when you should hang in there.”

Lessons from Latina Trailblazer Pat Mora at Texas Book Fest

Author Pat Mora Photo by Nancy Flores
Author Pat Mora
Photo by Nancy Flores

Prolific author and El Paso native Pat Mora received the 2015 Texas Writer’s Award on Saturday, which came with a pair of custom-made cowboy boots. As founder of the program, “Día de los Libros/Día de los Niños” she also helps promotes children’s literacy across the country. Mora’s extensive literary work, which includes everything from bilingual picture books to poetry for adults, has made her an influential literary figure.

Here are four lessons from the Latina trailblazer from her conversation with Lois Kim, executive director of the Texas Book Festival at the State Capitol’s House Chamber.
Don’t Give Up: Mora says she receives many rejections, but her tenacity keeps propelling her forward. “I’m stubborn,” she says. “I said that early on. If all it takes (to make it, get published) is stubbornness, then I have a chance.”
Children Need Diverse Role Models: When Mora was in the 8th grade, she asked her parents for a typewriter to write poems. She says she never considered writing as a profession because, “I’d never seen a writer who was like me.”

Bilingualism Should be Valued: “There needs to be a climate where (bilingualism) is an asset,” Mora says. “Humans have odd ways in which we make ourselves feel superior. Our little egos are always hungry to be fed.”

Literary World Needs Diversity, Too: “Being a writer is a hard,” Mora says. Now being a writer of Mexican, Native American, Asian or Middle Eastern descent, she says, brings additional challenges “because that’s not who the editors are and that’s not who the reviewers are.”

Lemony Snicket at Texas Book Fest


Bridget Grumet of the American-Statesman staff has this report from the Lemony Snicket event:

The suited man on stage at the Paramount Theatre said he wasn’t Lemony Snicket, but as any fan of the enigmatic children’s author knows, such declarations should never be taken at face value.

“I don’t know why anyone would lie to children,” the man presumed to be Snicket said, with a dramatic pause. “Although it is fun.”

For a half-hour before the presentation, he milled about the theater, posing for photos with pained expressions and sometimes cutting through a row of seats, just to make everyone stand up. At times using audience members as accomplices and props, he gave a dramatic reading from the first book in his latest series, “All the Wrong Questions.”

Then after running a hilarious game show filled with wrong questions, the suited man abruptly ran out of the theater in accordance with the fifth moral lesson in Snicket’s books: Leave suddenly.

Luis Alberto Urrea discusses “The Water Museum” at Texas Book Festival

Luis Alberto Urrea discusses latest book at Texas Book Festival with Antonio Ruiz-Camacho. Photo by Nancy Flores
Luis Alberto Urrea discusses latest book at Texas Book Festival with Antonio Ruiz-Camacho. Photo by Nancy Flores

Pulitzer Prize finalist Luis Alberto Urrea discussed his latest collection of short stories, “The Water Museum,” at a Texas Book Festival panel at Central Presbyterian Church on Saturday.

Urrea, who is also the author of “The Devil’s Highway” and “The Hummingbird’s Daughter,” was joined by moderator and Austin-based author Antonio Ruiz-Camacho who wrote “Barefoot Dogs” earlier this year.

Urrea says that in his principal story “The Water Museum,” he pays homage to a Ray Bradbury style of science fiction writing. Set in the future, the story follows children in the Texas Panhandle who have never seen rain before. “It’s about all these things that we love and take for granted,” he says.

In the story “Amapola,” he turned to the genre that he enjoys reading the most for pleasure — mystery. In 2010, the mystery short story won the Edgar Award, and Urrea says that at the awards ceremony he was “losing my mind because I was going to meet all of my heroes.”

The Water Museum by Luis Alberto Urrea
The Water Museum by Luis Alberto Urrea

Urrea, who was born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and American mother, says the book highlights both sides of his identity.

Growing up, Urrea says he often felt like the kitchen in his home was like being in New York City, while in his living room, “Éramos Mexicanos (We were Mexican), and listened to Pedro Infante and watched bullfights,” he says.

His father worried about him becoming too Americanized. He describes his mother as a proper lady who wore gloves and affectionately called him, “Dear Boy” while living in the barrio in Tijuana. “But mom won because she had books,” Urrea says.

He remembers her reading Charles Dickens to him and feeling transported to another world. “It was really beautiful,” he says. “Then, she busted out Mark Twain, and that was the magic.”

As Urrea moved farther from the border, he discovered how many people had negative views about Mexicans. “I was shocked to learn that (some people thought) that the people who I loved most in the world were trash.”

Writing and telling the stories of the Latino community became important to him. “I’m in love with Mexico and the United States equally,” he says.