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.

New imprint from Simon & Schuster for books with Muslim characters, stories

The new Salaam Reads imprint logo.
The new Salaam Reads imprint logo.

This morning, Simon & Schuster announced it will start a new imprint: Salaam Reads. It will have focus on stories that have Muslim characters or stories with Muslim cultures.

Some of the first books and authors will be:

“Salam Alaikum,” a picture book celebrating peace, community, and love based on the popular song of the same name by global social media sensation and Awakening Worldwide recording artist Harris J.

“Musa, Moises, Mo and Kevin,” a picture book introducing four kindergarten best friends who share their favorite family holiday traditions for Eid, Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, and Pi Day, written by H. A. Raz, a pseudonym for husband-and-wife writing team Huda Abdul-Razzak and Azhar Sheraze.

“The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand,” by Karuna Riazi, a middle–grade adventure about 12-year-old Bangladeshi American Farah Mirza from Queens, New York, and her quest to save her brother from a supernatural board game.

“Yo Soy Muslim,” a lyrical picture book in which a parent shares with their child the joy and pride in having a multicultural heritage, written by Mark Gonzales, HBO Def Jam poet and TEDxRamallah speaker.

Salaam Reads plans to release its first book in 2017 and at least nine a year.

Of course, there are Muslim-based independent publishers like Happy Books and Kube Publishing, but this is the first major publisher to create such a line.

We’ve written a lot about the lack of diversity in books offered to children before. My hope is that this new imprint allows children who aren’t Muslim to also read about Muslim children, and not just at “World Cultures Day” or around Christmas time, when teachers also throw in Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

After all, isn’t this one way we can bring peace in our time: when kids are exposed to a lot of different people who are different than themselves, but then realize that their stories aren’t really all that different.


Harper Lee reportedly dead at 89

Nelle Harper Lee, the beloved Alabama author who won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for “To Kill a Mockingbird,” has died at the age of 89, multiple sources in her hometown of Monroeville confirmed Friday morning.03-harper-lee-2.w750.h560.2x

The news was first reported on http://www.al.com, the Alabama website for several newspapers in the state, including Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile.

Lee was born April 28, 1926, in Monroeville, the youngest of four children of lawyer Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch Lee.

» Photos: The life of Harper Lee

“To Kill a Mockingbird” focused on racial tensions in the South, involving the trial of a black man accused of molesting a white woman. The black man was defended by Atticus Finch, whose daughter and son were named Scout and Jem. Much of the book was believed to be autobiographical in nature.

It was adapted into a movie starring Gregory Peck as Finch, and went on to critical acclaim.

Lee’s health was recently the subject of much speculation after she agreed to the publication of “Go Set a Watchman,” a sequel to “Mockingbird” that was found in a vault and recast the original heroic lawyer, Atticus Finch, as possibly a racist.

Lee had a stroke in 2007 and recently moved into an assisted living facility after her older sister, Alice, died.


Rounding up the literary awards

Ta-Nehisi Coates is national correspondent for The Atlantic. He is also the author of The Beautiful Struggle.</


The major literary awards are coming up, and we decided to put together a guide to who’s likely to be nominated, where things stand and what’s ahead. Such lists also provide a decent reading guide for anyone trying to figure out what to read next.

First of all, the National Book Awards have already been announced, and they’re a fairly good indicator of what lies ahead.

For fiction, Adam Johnson was named the winner for “Fortune Smiles.” Ta-Nahisi Coates won the nonfiction award for “Between the World and Me,” while Robin Coste Lewis won the poetry prize for “Voyage of the Sable Venus.” In young people’s literature, the winner was Neal Shusterman for “Challenger Deep.”

The finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, which is determined by book review editors and critics, were announced Jan. 18. These categories are slightly different from the National Book Awards, but here are the finalists, with winners to be announced March 17.

Nonfiction: Mary Beard, “SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome”; Ari Berman, “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America”; Jill Leovy, “Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America”; Sam Quinones, “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic”; and Brian Seibert, “What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing.”

Autobiography: Elizabeth Alexander, “The Light of the World”; Vivian Gornick, “The Odd Woman and the City”; George Hodgman, “Bettyville”; Margo Jefferson, “Negroland”; Helen Macdonald, “H Is for Hawk.”

Biography: Terry Alford, “Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth”; Charlotte Gordon, “Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecarft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley”; T.J. Stiles, “Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America”; Rosemary Sullivan, “Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva”; Karin Wieland and Shelly Frisch, “Dietrich and Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin, and a Century in Two Lives.”

Criticism: Ta-Nahisi Coates, “Between the World and Me”; Leo Damrosch, “Eternity’s Sunrise: The Imaginative World of William Blake”; Maggie Nelson, “The Argonauts”; Colm Toibin, “On Elizabeth Bishop”; James Wood, “The Nearest Thing to Life.”

Poetry: Ross Gay, “Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude”; Terrance Hayes, “How to Be Drawn”; Ada Limon, “Bright Dead Things”; Sinead Morrissey, “Parallax: And Selectged Poems”; Frank Stanford, “What About This” Collected Poems of Frank Stanford.”

The shortlist for the PEN Literary Awards was announced in early February, and winners will be named March 1 for biography, literary sports writing, poetry in translation and PEN translation prize. On April 11, winners will be announced for debut fiction, essay, Open Book and literary science writing.

Here are the finalists:

Fiction: “In the Country: Stories,” Mia Alvar; “The Turner House,” Angela Flournoy; “Mr. And Mrs. Doctor,” Julie Iromuanya; “The Sympathizer,” Viet Thanh Nguyen; “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness,” by Jennifer Tseng.

Essay: “After the Tall Timber: Collected Nonfiction,” Renata Adler; “Between the World and Me,” Ta-Nehisi Coates; “The Quarry,” Susan Howe; “The Givenness of Things: Essays,” Marilynne Robinson; “Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles,” David L. Ulin.

Literary science writing: “Rain: A Natural and Cultural History,” Cynthia Barnett; “The End of Plenty: The Race to Feed a Crowded World,” Joel K. Bourne Jr.; “The Boy Who Played With Fusion: Extreme Science, Extreme Parenting, and How to Make a Star,” Tom Clynes; “Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future,” Lauren Redniss; “Island on Fire: The Extraordinary Story of a Forgotten Volcano That Changed the World,” Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe.

Literary sports writing: “Not a Game: The Incredible Rise and Unthinkable Fall of Allen Iverson,” Kent Babb; “The Domino Diaries: My Decade Boxing with Olympic Champions and Chasing Hemingway’s Ghost in the Last Days of Castro’s Cuba,” Brin-Jonathan Butler; “The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball’s Lost Triumph,” Scott Ellsworth; “Molina: The Story of the Father Who Raised an Unlikely Baseball Dynasty,” Bengie Molina with Joan Ryan; “The Grind: Inside Baseball’s Endless Season,” Barry Svrulga.

Open Book Award: “Chord,” Rick Barot; “Bastards of the Reagan Era,” Reginald Dwayne Betts; “Forest Primeval: Poems,” Vievee Francis; “Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey,” Marie Mutsuki Mockett; “Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape,” Lauret Savoy.

Biography: “The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects,” Deborah Lutz; “Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art,” Nancy Princenthal; “John le Carre: The Biography,” Adam Sisman; “Michelle Obama: A Life,” Peter Slevin; “Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva,” Rosemary Sullivan.

Poetry in translation: “The School of Solitude: Collected Poems,” Luise Hernandez, translated by Anthony Geist; The Late Poems of Wang An-shih,” translated by David Hinton; “Rilke Shake,” by Angelica Freitas, translated by Hilary Kaplan; “I Burned at the Feast: Selected Poems of Arseny Tarkosky,” translated by Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev; “The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa,” translated by Sawako Nakayasu.

PEN Translation Prize: “The Complete Stories,” Clarice Lispector, translated by Katrina Dodson; “The Blizzard,” Vladmir Sorokin, translated by Jamey Gambrell; “Crime and Punishment,” Fyodor Dostoyesky, translated by Oliver Ready; “The Physics of Sorrow,” Georgi Gospodinov, translated by Angela Rodel; “Hollow Heart,” Viola Di Grado, translated by Antony Shugaar.

The Pulitzer Prizes will be announced in April. And various websites and critics expect the following to be in contention for the fiction award: “Fortune Smiles,” by Adam Johnson; “Fates and Furies,” by Lauren Groff; “A Little Life,” by Hanya Yanagihara, who won the Kirkus Prize in October; “The Sympathizer,” by Viet Thanh Nguyen; and “A Manual for Cleaning Women,” by Lucia Berlin.

The Texas Institute of Letters is expected to announce its finalists in March, with awards being presented in April. The big prize, of course, is the Lon Tinkle Award, which honors a career in letters. Last year, the award went to Lawrence Wright.

In late January, Valentin Sandoval’s “South Sun Rises” received the Southwest Book Award from the Border Regional Library Association. His novel, which deals with ethnic identity, is set in the Chihuahua desert along the El Paso Juarez border.

Julie Wernersbach named new Texas Book Festival literary director

Newly-minted TBF literary director Julie Wernersbach

Former BookPeople marketing director Julie Wernersbach has been hired as the new director of the Texas Book Festival.

She replaces Steph Opitz, who left earlier this year.

Wernersbach will be responsible for creating and implementing the festival itself and the TBF’s year-round literary programming.

In her five years at BookPeople, Wernersbach produced events featuring Elvis Costello, Jimmy Carter, Jonathan Franzen, Isabelle Allende, Stephen King, Donna Tartt, Lena Dunham, and others.

Wernersbach was previously publicist and events coordinator for the independent bookstore Book Revue in Huntington, NY. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Boston University and serves on the board of directors of the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association.

The 21st Texas Book Festival takes place Nov. 5-6, 2016. Book submissions are open until June 1.



Former Defense chief Gates to give lecture at LBJ Library


Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will give the third annual Tom Johnson lecture at 6 p.m. Thursday in the auditorium at the LBJ Library.

Gates, author of “Duty,” has recently published another book, “A Passion for Leadership: Lessons on Change and Reform From Fifty Years of Public Service.” He served as secretary of defense under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

He was also president of Texas A&M University from 2002 to 2006 and is serving as the chancellor of the College of William & Mary.

Before the event, Gates will participate in a book signing of “A Passion for Leadership” (Knopf, $27.95). Book sales begin at 4:45 p.m. in the upper auditorium lobby, and he’ll be signing from 5 to 5:45 p.m. Proceeds benefit the LBJ Presidential Library.

The event is free and open to the public. The library will have 125 tickets for the public available starting at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

In “A Passion for Leadership,” Gates makes the case that government bureaucracies can be reformed, and he offers routes to such reforms.

He has led change at the CIA, Texas A&M and the Department of Defense, and he offers an insider’s look at how major bureaus, organizations and companies can be transformed.

Free parking is available in the LBJ Library visitors’ lot (Lot #38), and after 4 p.m. in Lots 37 and 39. The LBJ Auditorium is located on the lower level of the LBJ complex at 2313 Red River St. You may access the auditorium through the lobby of the LBJ School of Public Affairs or through the south auditorium doors by the LBJ Fountain.

A chat with Harrigan



I sat down recently to talk with Austin author Stephen Harrigan about his upcoming book, “A Friend of Mr. Lincoln,” and the story about his new book is scheduled to be published Jan. 31.

But as usual, everything he said won’t make the article, which focuses mainly on Harrigan’s research of the young Abraham Lincoln as a circuit rider and politician in Springfield in his early days.

So here’s a tidbit from Harrigan on weaving Mary Todd, Lincoln’s wife, into his historical fiction:

“She was really fun to write,” Harrigan said. “You know, certain characters are a struggle for you, but certain characters, when you’re writing, you think, ‘Oh, I know that person.’ And Mary fell into that category where I felt she was someone I’d met and known. And she’s really interesting to put on the page.

As many people know, history hasn’t been particularly kind to Lincoln’s wife and partner. And Harrigan acknowledges that “she was a difficult person.”

“But she was also vivacious and fiercely intelligent. Had she lived in a different time, she’d be accepted. … She’s a woman who is frustrated by history. The only way into a political life for her is to marry some aspiring politician. She was every bit as ambitious as Lincoln was, and much more polished.”


A&M celebrating Shakespeare, too



Texas A&M is hosting an exhibit featuring Shakespeare’s First Folio from March 8 to April 3. “First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare” is part of a national exhibit, sponsored by the Folger Shakespeare Library, in partnership with Cincinnati Museum Center and the American Library Association.

The exhibit will be part of a series of events, including lectures and workshops and theatrical events.

The events coincide with the celebration of 400 years of Shakespeare.

The University of Texas is holding quite a large exhibit and celebration of Shakespeare as well. For details on the Austin exhibit, read Jeanne Claire van Ryzin’s story here.


AMC approves drama series ‘The Son’

A new TV series on AMC will be based on Austin author Philipp Meyer’s “The Son,” a sprawling epic with multiple viewpoints about the Texas oil industry.

The adaptation for TV was written by Meyer, Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy, all graduates of the Michener Center at the University of Texas.

AMC announced that it had approved the series at the recent Television Critics Association tour in California.

The series is being produced by Sonar Entertainment, with Kevin Murray as showrunner and executive producer. The series is expected to have 10 episodes, but it’s still unclear when it will make its TV debut.

I’ve written quite a bit about “The Son,” and if you’d like to see an earlier story, click here.

Texas Teen Book Fest set for Oct. 1

The Texas Teen Book Festival has set its date for 2016: Oct. 1 at St. Edward’s University.

The festival is one of that nation’s largest teen book events, usually attracting more than 4,000 readers. In 2015, 32 authors spoke at the fest.

The festival is a joint project of te Texas Book Festival and BookPeople, with support from St. Edward’s University and Humanities Texas, and in partnership with the Badgerdog writing program. The Festival is free and open to the public.

Authors for the fest will be announced in late spring.