The Austin Chronicle

Capitol Letters

The 2002 Texas Book Festival

By Shawn Badgley, November 15, 2002, Books

It's here, and I'm really not sure what else you want me to say. Since the 1996 inception of one of this country's largest and most respected statewide gatherings for writers, readers, musicians, and keepers of the culture, the Chronicle has tried -- often successfully -- to find a clear thematic point of entry for each Texas Book Festival. For instance, there's more to the Texas Book Festival these days than just Texas. It takes place here, yes, and you'll find a significant percentage of our Lone Star literati purposefully walking the halls of the Capitol this weekend. It raises money for Texas libraries. But in the face of decreasing attendance and bored whispers behind the scenes, the Author Selection Committee in the past few years has "loosened its criteria" and invited authors from all over to participate, and some don't even have a book out this year. Some wouldn't write about Texas if their sweet life depended on it. Clay Smith, my predecessor and a former member of the Author Selection Committee, wrote about this development one year ago in a piece titled "New Fest." You can find it online at I've been speaking with Smith during the past few weeks about the 2002 Texas Book Festival. One of our conversations went something like this:

Clay Smith: So, what are you going to say?

Austin Chronicle: I don't know. What should I say?

CS: You could say what's been going on all along, that the fest is getting bigger and bigger every year, and you could talk about the National Book Festival.

AC: About Laura Bush?

CS: About how it's modeled after Texas, yes.

AC: Right. I don't know if I'll have the room, though. My brain doesn't work like yours, anyway. It won't come off. I can't wrap it around this thing.

CS: Yeah. Well, my brain doesn't work like yours.

AC: Maybe I'll just do an intro.

CS: I hate those.

AC: Me, too.

CS: It's like, what do you say?

AC: What do you say? "Heeeeeey, everybody!" They're pat.

CS: They are pat. Don't do it.

A week after that conversation, I was sitting with the remarkable Amy Tharp Nylund in the Texas Book Festival offices on Brazos, just down the street from the Capitol. Tharp Nylund is the office manager and the publicity coordinator for the festival. The remarkable Cyndi Hughes is the director. She was sitting in the next room, in another meeting. It was raining outside. Things were comfortable and quiet, but you could sense a bit of a frenzy coming on, like, "We're about to host hundreds of authors and tens of thousands of people at the state Capitol in two weeks! I hope it works! Again!" It had been mentioned in this paper months before that the Texas Book Festival was having trouble coming up with enough panels and activities to sustain the many authors making their way toward Texas, and organizers seemed to fix that by coming up with more panels and more activities. Tharp Nylund was rightfully proud of this fact. She talked about programs geared specifically toward teenagers -- the "Read-a-Latte Lounge," for instance -- and piled six or seven packets of green paper into my palms. Turns out that these were spreadsheets sorted by everything from genre to race to point of origin. It was weirdly impressive.

"We're diverse this year," she said, "very diverse, in every way you can imagine. There's something for everyone."

I don't often say this about publicity-type people, but she's right. So, what we've done here, in addition to our previous features on attendees Edward Swift ( and Josephine Sacabo (, is provide a couple of brief interviews and reviews regarding TBF authors. It's a preview, a head start. Also, there's a full panel and reading schedule starting to my right, annotated with our picks for the best of the fest, i.e., the events to which you have no choice but to go. Keep in mind that quite a lot else will be going on: the book fair at Colorado & 11th, slams, signings, music, big and little parties, and much more. For specifics on that stuff, check Otherwise, you're alone with your literary instincts this weekend.

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