Texas Book Festival 2019:
Finding Their Power

Two authors mine the past for tales of queer sisterhood

The story of the CIA laboring to get Doctor Zhivago published in the late Fifties and the story of a group of queer Uruguayan women creating a sanctuary where they can escape persecution in the late Seventies – you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re not an obvious pairing.

But the number one takeaway from Saturday’s Finding Their Power: Novels of Female Community and Autonomy panel was that Carolina De RobertisCantoras and Lara Prescott’s The Secrets We Kept are sisters of the best kind –– they share a set of values and ambitions and they are instantly in conversation with each other, placed in the same room.

Carolina De Robertis (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

After both authors were introduced and De Robertis and Prescott each read a five-minute excerpt from their books (a segment from the first chapter and the prologue, respectively), moderator Dalia Azim (laser-focused as a listener, armed with insightful questions) began an engrossing conversation about how the threads of the two novels intertwine. As the title of the session suggested, both Cantoras and The Secrets We Kept have communities of women at their heart, and both De Robertis and Prescott indicated that sisterhoods had been at the core of their writing from day one. “The choral voice of the ‘we’ was the first thing to come to me,” Prescott said, regarding the sections of her novel narrated by the secretaries of the CIA’s typing pool. “I always knew this was going to be a collective story,” De Robertis noted when talking about the process of gathering oral stories about queer Uruguayans.

When Azim asked about what is meant to write about big political moments, De Robertis and Prescott once again seemed to have deeply shared experiences. Prescott nodded throughout as De Robertis described working on historical fiction as writing “with a double consciousness,” where you are mindful both of the details of the time you’re describing and of the current reality in which you’re living. And how do they know when to rein in the research? “I knew when I was using [research] as procrastination,” Prescott acknowledged, with a laugh. What she doesn’t use this time around, she puts “in the compost heap” of ideas, said De Robertis, and maybe it’ll become a different story down the line.

Lara Prescott (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

The room, full of a quietly attentive crowd, couldn’t have felt more eager to follow Prescott and De Robertis’ careers into the future. The brief audience questions segment that wrapped up the session was heartfelt and stressed the meaningfulness of seeing the stories of queer women in print – one woman described her joyful surprise at realizing there was a lesbian love story in The Secrets We Kept in the middle of reading it and thanked Prescott for it, while another brought De Robertis to tears when describing the hopefulness that Cantoras gave her. The community of their novels clearly stretched beyond the page.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Texas Book Festival
The Texas Book Festival Unveils Its List of Participating Authors
The Texas Book Festival Unveils Its List of Participating Authors
In-person and virtual panels and discussions abound

Adrienne Hunter, Sept. 22, 2021

Texas Book Festival 2021: First Authors Announced
Texas Book Festival 2021: First Authors Announced
Colson Whitehead, Elizabeth McCracken, Amor Towles lead the list

Robert Faires, July 21, 2021

More by Rosalind Faires
<i>Before Stonewall</i> by Edward Cohen
Before Stonewall
The short stories in this collection from Austin's Awst Press simmer with queer rage, grief, and longing

June 25, 2021

<i>One Last Stop</i> Is an Electrifying Queer Timeslip Romance
One Last Stop Is an Electrifying Queer Timeslip Romance
The author of Red, White & Royal Blue, Casey McQuiston, unveils her second novel

June 4, 2021


Texas Book Festival, Texas Book Festival 2019, literary fiction, Carolina De Robertis, Lara Prescott, Dalia Azim

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle