Sharon G. Flake to be keynoter at Austin’s African American Book Festival

Author Sharon G. Flake, who'll be the keynote speaker at Austin's African American Book Festival for 2016. (Photo courtesy of Sharon G. Flake)
Author Sharon G. Flake, who’ll be the keynote speaker at Austin’s African American Book Festival for 2016. (Photo courtesy of Sharon G. Flake)

Noted young adult author Sharon G. Flake will be the keynote speaker at the African American Book Festival of Austin, to be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 25 at the Carver Museum and Library.

Flake is the author of such books as “The Skin I’m In,” “Bang!” and “Pinned.” “The Skin I’m In,” which deals with a girl who is teased about her skin color and her clothing, won the John Steptoe Award for New Talent in 1999.

Flake, who was born in Philadelphia and lives in Pittsburgh, will help put the focus on young adult literature at the Austin festival, which will include music and prizes. The festival is also celebrating a decade of promoting books. Past speakers have included Leonard Pitts, Annette Gordon, Terry McMillan, Arnold Rampersad and Peniel Joseph.

ReShonda Tate Billingsley, an author and the CEO of Brown Girl Books, will lead a workshop on perfecting your pitch. The festival will also include discussions of “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates and the impact of Beyonce’s visual album “Lemonade.”

The festival is free and open to the public. The museum is located at 1165 Angelina St. For more information about the festival, visit http://www.aabookfest.com.

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.

Kirkus awards prizes to Yanagihara, Coates, Ryan

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FILE Ñ Ta-Nehisi Coates, the national correspondent for The Atlantic, in Baltimore, July 16, 2015. While CoatesÕ works on being black in America have won great acclaim, he also has a not-so-secret identity as a Marvel Comics superfan, and has aged to helm a new series about Black Panther, the first black superhero, for the comics publisher. (Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times)
FILE Ñ Ta-Nehisi Coates, the national correspondent for The Atlantic, in Baltimore, July 16, 2015. While CoatesÕ works on being black in America have won great acclaim, he also has a not-so-secret identity as a Marvel Comics superfan, and has aged to helm a new series about Black Panther, the first black superhero, for the comics publisher. (Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times)
Author Hanya Yanagihara poses with her book 'A Little Life' on stage at the Royal Festival Hall in London, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015. Yanagihara is one of six short-listed authors for the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.  The winner will be announced Tuesday Oct. 13. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Author Hanya Yanagihara poses with her book ‘A Little Life’ on stage at the Royal Festival Hall in London, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015. Yanagihara is one of six short-listed authors for the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. The winner will be announced Tuesday Oct. 13. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

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Hanya Yanagihara, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Pam Muñoz Ryan won the annual Kirkus Prizes on Thursday night at a ceremony in Austin.

Each of the winners gets $50,000, making the Kirkus Prize, presented by Austin-based Kirkus Reviews, one of the largest in the world.

Yanagihira won the fiction prize for her novel, “A Little Life,” which deals with four men who were college roommates and are dealing with personal demons as adults. Yanagihara, who is of Hawaiian ancestry and works at the New York Times, is a finalist for the National Book Award, and was among the finalists for the Man Booker Prize, which went to Marlon James of Jamaica earlier this week.

The judges described it as “a profound inquiry into the possibility — and impossibility — of redemption.”

Coates won the nonfiction prize for his best-selling “Between the World and Me,” a memoir about race, written as a letter to his son. Coates, a national correspondent at the Atlantic, is also a finalist in nonfiction for the National Book Award. Those awards will be announced Nov. 18 in New York.

The judges described Coates’ book as a “formidable literary achievement and a crucial, urgent, and nuanced contribution to a long-overdue national conversation.”

Ryan, a California native and full-time writer, won the young readers literature prize for “Echo,” a middle-grade novel about the healing power of music. She has written more than 40 books and lives near San Diego.

“Narratives intertwine through a singular musical instrument—the harmonica—celebrating the power of music to uplift and unite us across time and culture,” the judges said of “Echo.”

The Kirkus Prize was created in 2014 to celebrate eight decades of criticism from Kirkus Reviews. In prize money, it tops the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, whose winners get $10,000. The Booker Prize, which is based in Britain, provides 50,000 British pounds, or about $77,000.

The Kirkus Prize comes as the Texas Book Festival gears up to celebrate its 20th year this weekend at the state Capitol and on surrounding grounds. It takes place Saturday and Sunday, and is free and open to the public.

‘City on Fire’ event at BookPeople; it’s a biggie

BookPeople will be hosting one of the fall’s hottest young authors – Garth Risk Hallberg — at 7 p.m. Thusday Oct. 22.

He’s the author of the massive “City on Fire,” which is being released this month and is considered one of the biggest literary events of the year. Knopf reportedly paid about $2 million for the manuscript, and is rolling out a publicity juggernaut.

Nearly everyone is raving, including the Washington Post and Kirkus Reviews.

Here’s part of what Kirkus says about the book:

“Rough-edged mid-1970s New York provides the backdrop for an epic panorama of musicians, writers, and power brokers and the surprising ways they connect.

“New Year’s Eve 1976: Sam, a fanzine author and hanger-on in the Manhattan punk scene, abandons her plan to attend a concert and instead heads to Central Park, where she’s later discovered shot and clinging to life. Why’d she head uptown? Who shot her? Thereby hangs a remarkably assured, multivalent tale that strives to explore multiple strata of Manhattan life with photographic realism.”

With more than 900 pages at his disposal, Hallberg gives his characters plenty of breathing room, but the story never feels overwritten, and the plotlines interlace without feeling pat.”

We’ll run a full review of the novel on Sunday, Oct. 25.

Garth Risk Hallberg. Credit: Mark Vessey
Garth Risk Hallberg. Credit: Mark Vessey

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