Changes in the Local Lit Landscape
After seven years expanding the programming and reputation of the Texas Book Festival, Literary Director Clay Smith is leaving the organization to serve as the new features editor at Kirkus Reviews.
Having wrapped his final Texas Book Festival only last weekend, Smith was heading out today for a recuperative trip to Utopia with a friend and their dogs. Just a quick trip, though – he starts work for Kirkus on Monday. (Smith will stay based in Austin, with regular trips to New York.) The job marks a welcome return for him to journalism, where he started. (Many moons ago, Smith was the Chronicle's Books editor.) "I've missed journalism so much," Smith told the Chronicle via phone.
While Kirkus is well respected for its reviews, there's a lot of room for growth in its feature coverage, and Smith will be steering the direction of that growth: "I'm being given a chance to totally build the feature section and rethink how they've done it, and the website is going to be revamped in early 2013."
"It's really going to be what I love, which is cultural journalism â€“ profiles and trend pieces, issues that are affecting writers, and that's where Kirkus' expertise lies," he said.
Smith also reflected on his time at the Texas Book Festival: "I have to say that, when I took the job, I thought I would take it for a year or two. But then I realized, the ideas were new every year, the writers were new, we never really repeated writers year to year for the same book. ... There were [always] new challenges for me."
"I guess the thing that is most bittersweet for me is not that I'm going to miss the writers or anybody else in the industry, because I'm staying in the industry," he continued. "It's these people who the festival calls volunteer chairs" – a small army of volunteers serving on various committees in a system Smith jokingly likened to the "old Soviet politburo."
"When I first started the job, I thought, I do not know what these people do. I had been a journalist, so I wrote, and when you write, you write by yourself. And there were so many, many people...
"I learned very quickly that they feel very passionately about [the book festival]. The people who volunteer – they give a lot of their time, they don't get to go on TV, they don't even get thanked all that much in public. And I'm really touched by that. I'm going to miss that."
The Texas Book Festival is currently seeking to fill the position of "Literary Programs Manager."
Smith's departure wasn't the only shakeup this week in the local lit landscape: The Austin Public Library Friends Foundation announced today that it has acquired Badgerdog's education programs. Previously, Badgerdog Literary Publishing Inc.'s board of directors suspended publication of long-running literary magazine American Short Fiction, and an Aug. 6 press release quoted board chair Angela Luck saying Badgerdog was "considering other organizational changes designed to ensure that Badgerdog's mission remains clear and focused." The answer, it appears, was to incorporate Badgerdog's well-regarded writing workshops and camps into APLF.
The Nov. 1 press release had this to say about the acquisition:
"Due to the slow economy and the shifting of much of the local and regional education funding to focus on STEM, and because these changes happened more rapidly than the organization could make adjustments, the board of directors of Badgerdog Literary Publishing have decided to transfer the organization's education programs to one of its community partners, the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation (Library Foundation), so that the writing workshops and summer camps can continue to serve writers in the Austin area.
"A key to successful collaborations is ideological alignment and Badgerdog's past collaborations with the Library Foundation have been very successful. We are thrilled to see the programs continue as part of the Library Foundation's robust program offerings," said Badgerdog board member and founder Melanie Moore.
Enrollment for Badgerdog's Summer 2013 creative writing camps begins in January; go here for more information.