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Don’t be fooled by the marquee names and Oscar buzz. Don’t be dazzled by the presence of famous directors like the Coen Brothers and Steve McQueen, or the glamour of A-list stars like Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep and Justin Timberlake. Don’t even be wowed by the tribute to Susan Sarandon. The Austin Film Festival may have very quickly become one of the biggest and brightest in the world, but like all truly great festivals, its heart still lies with the tiny movies no one’s ever heard of, all struggling for a little attention and the hope of life beyond the festival circuit. Especially the low-profile movies representing the state and the town that’s opening its doors to the hullabaloo: the hometown heroes. That’s where the hope lies.

Of course, to be heard over all that noise, a small, local film has to be able to make some noise of its own, and it’s best if a film has something to say: a philosophy, a point of view that festivalgoers can take with them after they’ve left one theater and moved on to the next. This year, two Austin-based filmmakers are bringing their own particular, and differing, viewpoints to AFF in hopes of making their voices heard.

DearSidewalkTake Dear Sidewalk, which has plenty to say about the power of hope in the face of despair—or, rather, in the face of boredom, which is worse. The film’s hero is Gardner, a 24-year-old mailman in the midst of a quarter-life crisis. Addicted to his daily routine and terrified of the chaos of life beyond it, Gardner sees his existence as a series of well-regulated but meaningless gestures. His arms and his legs move, but there’s no blood going to them. He may as well be a robot or a beast of burden, out of touch with his fellow man. And he prefers it that way. He is a mailman, after all—the living symbol of an obsolete form of communication. No one connects through the mail anymore.

Dear Sidewalk is filled with this kind of metaphor. It’s a prime example of the cinema of easy symbology, where every moment and every physical reality is mined for meaning. It’s not enough that Gardner feels detached from the rest of humanity; he has to find literary significance in the sidewalk he tramps every day. He has to live on a boat parked in his friend’s driveway—not on land, but not at sea, unmoored from society but drifting nowhere. And he must collect stamps, petrifying the tools of human communication and locking them away, stripping them of their true value. His physical reality must be a key to understanding his emotional state. Gardner and Dear Sidewalk exist entirely in worlds of their own making.

SombrasCompare that to Sombras de Azul, which shares a spot on the AFF Texas Independents program with Dear Sidewalk, but represents an entirely different approach to filmmaking, storytelling, and life itself.

Based on the personal experiences of writer and director Kelly Daniela Norris, Sombras follows a young Mexican girl named Maribel to Cuba, where she travels after the suicide of her older brother. While there, Maribel gives herself over to the unmanageable whims of memory and reflection. Long scenes of natural beauty unfold while Maribel engages in enigmatic voice-overs about the nature of death and love and loneliness. Shots of birds, butterflies, waves crashing on rocks, sunlight streaming through leaves: These are the visual accompaniments to Maribel’s inner, philosophical wonderings. Where Dear Sidewalk is regulated and contained, Sombras de Azul is poetical, meandering and unconfined, more concerned with the essential questions of life and death than with answering them. Like a heroine in a Roberto Rossellini picture, Maribel searches for meaning among the actual citizens of an actual city, residents who don’t realize they’re being filmed. Which means that at any moment, anything can happen—a visual parallel to the sudden and unexpected death of Maribel’s brother and the effect it has on her life.

At heart, both Gardner and Maribel are mourners—Gardner of his childhood and Maribel of her brother—but they deal with loss, that most fundamental of life’s realities, in radically different ways: Gardner by controlling those parts of his life he feels he can control, Maribel by ceding all control to her mental meanderings and the ungovernable beauty of the natural world. Maribel wanders through life aimlessly; Gardner builds maps and routes and never deviates from them. Sombras de Amor and Dear Sidewalk and their protagonists represent two opposing philosophies, two different schools of thought about life: the inquisitive versus the descriptive, questions versus answers, mystery versus definition.

arsonAnother regional film making its Texas premiere at the Austin Film festival is Little Hope Was Arson. This one’s a bit more literal, if no less complex. The following review will appear in the Observer‘s November print edition:

The life of the atheist is in some ways easier than the life of a true believer. Particularly, I think, when things go really, really wrong. The religious person, of course, will disagree and argue that faith in God provides a sense of strength and comfort to get you through trying times. People like me, on the other hand—people who believe in nothing—regard disappointment and difficulty as the inevitable inheritance of anyone born into an indifferent universe, so we’re not surprised when hard times arrive. Sure, we may have no rock to lean on, no one to carry us through our trials, but neither do we take it personally when the darkness falls. For those who have a personal relationship with God, disappointment and heartbreak can lead to devastation and despair. And, in extreme cases, arson.

Little Hope Was Arson, which has its Texas premiere at the Austin Film Festival, is director Theo Love’s fascinating new documentary about a series of East Texas church burnings in 2010. The film starts off as a police procedural—with Texas Rangers and ATF agents walking us through the steps they took to arrest Daniel McAllister and Jason Bourque for the burning of 11 churches over the course of a little more than a month—but it finds its stride as an investigation of faith in communities where God is experienced not as metaphor, but as a visceral presence. In the wake of the burnings, nearly everyone Love interviews, from perpetrators to parents to pastors, admits to having experienced a crisis of faith—a remarkable turn of events in communities where faith is foundational.

The tragedy of McAllister and Bourque starts where most tragedies end: with unrequited love and sudden death. While some people might view such things as marks of life as most people live it, to deeply religious kids like McAllister and Bourque they amounted to a breach of trust. When God failed to save McAllister’s mother from a fatal stroke and declined to force the girl of Bourque’s dreams to love him back, the two young men felt betrayed. Their heartbreaks became proof of sinister agency or, worse, divine indifference, which flew in the face of the evangelical philosophy they’d been raised on: that God cares about each of us individually. McAllister and Bourque’s personal God turned his back on them; burning his churches was an act of personal vengeance.

But the 2010 church burnings weren’t just symptoms of two young men unable to tolerate the disappointments of the world. They also sparked a moment of clarity for many in the Christian communities of East Texas. Like tribal medicine men, the pastors and laypeople of cities like Canton looked at the destruction of all that wood and gleaned a message in the ashes. They believed the burnings were both a test of faith and proof of God’s disappointment. They transubstantiated destruction into symbolic significance.

During those terrifying weeks in early 2010, many parishioners, like the good Texans they were, barricaded themselves inside their churches with guns in case the arsonists should come for them next. In the end the irony was on them; many came to believe that the fall of Daniel McAllister and Jason Bourque was the result of the Christian community metaphorically locking itself inside those churches to begin with, of their own false belief that a church is the four walls of a building and not, as one repentant minister says, “God’s people.” In this interpretation, the church burnings were punishment for the congregations’ failures as messengers of Christ. In a world where God is personalized and nothing happens for no reason, the community’s failure to look beyond its own walled garden led to the destruction of those walls. It’s the kind of perfect symbolism that only the truly religious, or a bad novelist, could love.

“The only church that illuminates is the burning church,” famed Italian anarchist Buenaventura Durruti once said. Love concludes his film with that quote, and though Durruti had a different meaning in mind, no other sentiment could capture Little Hope Was Arson half so well. The East Texas church burnings of 2010 became the flashpoint for an entire community’s soul-searching. Those flames shined a light into every dark corner and every abandoned room.

 

Dear Sidewalk screens at 8:15 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 28, at the Alamo Drafthouse Village; and at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 30, at the Rollins Theatre in the Long Center for the Performing Arts.

Sombras de Azul screens at 7:10 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 24, at the Rollins Theatre in the Long Center for the Performing Arts; and at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 28. at the IMAX Theatre at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.

Little Hope Was Arson screens at 9:15 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 25, at Texas Spirit Theater at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum; and at 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 29 at the Rollins Theatre in the Long Center for the Performing Arts.

 

One of the great things about the Texas Book Festival is that it doesn’t play favorites with well-known writers. Many first-timers debut at the Festival, and we’ve compiled this itinerary for readers who want to check out new writers before they become household names. Say hello—they’ll be grateful—and pick up a copy of these debuts so you can brag to your friends that you knew about them before they were cool.

Also, see the Observer‘s Texas Book festival Foodie Itinerary here.

SATURDAY, OCT. 26
RutaAt 10 a.m. in the Lone Star Tent, join Justin St. Germain, Domenica Ruta and Eric Lungden, grouped as part of “Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers Program.” Lungden’s new novel, The Facades, features a vanishing wife, a husband who delves into the underbelly of a ruined city, and a potentially insane architect with unexpected answers. St. Germain’s mother/son memoir, Son of a Gun, follows the author as he confronts people from his past to reconcile unanswered questions surrounding his mother’s horrific murder. Ruta’s memoir, With or Without You, is a gritty coming-of-age-with-a-drug-addicted-mother tale.

Heller At 11 a.m., debut novelists Ayana Mathis and Peter Heller will be in Capitol Auditorium Room E1.004 for “Vintage/Anchor Books Presents: Writers on Reading.” Chosen for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is Mathis’ impressive debut, in which 15-year-old Hattie flees to Philadelphia with twin babies in tow, and eventually has nine more children whom she raises with little compassion. The children are the focus, and their 12 narratives weave together to create one story of life with Hattie. Heller’s The Dog Stars tells the story of Hig and his dog Jasper as they struggle to survive in a world devastated by a flu epidemic. After catching a chance transmission on the radio of his Cessna, Hig follows a mysterious voice to a land both far better and far worse than he could ever have hoped. Also: free books and tote bags at this event.

24At 12:30 p.m. in Capitol Extension Room E2.016, sit in on “A Conversation With Robin Sloan,” whose debut, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, is sharp and surprising. For protagonist Clay Janning, the titular round-the-clock establishment is just the starting point of a citywide conspiracy.

At 1:30 p.m., UT’s Michener Center presents Domenica Ruta (in her second Festival appearance) and Fiona McFarlane in Capitol Extension Room E2.028. Ruta and McFarlane are both Michener grads. McFarlane will be debuting The Night Guest, a chiller in which widowed Ruth takes in Frida, who claims she’s a care worker sent by the government. Mystery ensues. Ruta will present her memoir With or Without You.

Another debut memoirist, David Berg, will participate in the “Violence in the Family” panel with Justin St. Germain at 1:45 p.m. in Capitol Extension room E2.030. Berg, a longtime Houston defense lawyer, recently published Run Brother Run, an exploration of his brother’s murder by notorious hitman Charles Harrelson.

Amy Brill and J. Courtney Sullivan go “Behind the Novel” at 2 p.m. in Capitol Extension Room E2.010. Brill’s debut, The Movement of Stars, inspired by a 19th-century female astronomer, follows a young Quaker girl who dreams of discovering a comet. Sullivan’s most recent novel, The Engagements, tells the story of four marriages intertwined with the development of the diamond industry in America.

snapperB-b-bird is the word in Capitol Extension Room E2.012 when Brian Kimberling talks about Snapper during the “Popular Ornithology” panel at 2 p.m. Kimberling’s study of songbirds was the main inspiration for his debut novel. Protagonist Nathan, who (surprise!) studies birds, falls in love with a mysterious woman named Lola. Snapper is packed with hilarious characters including Texan Uncle Dart, whose Lone Star swagger takes him to Indiana with “profound and nearly devastating results.”

At 2:30 p.m., mosey over to the Lone Star Tent for “Behind Closed Doors: Fictional Family Secrets,” where Bronwen Hruska will talk about her debut, Accelerated, which was inspired by real-life pressures to medicate her children. She will be joined by veteran author A.M. Homes. 

At 2:45 p.m. in Capitol Extension Room E2.030, join Carson Mell and Stephen Elliott for “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll.” Mell will present Saguaro, The Life and Adventures of Bobby Allen Bird, an illustrated novel, and filmmaker Mell’s debut. Though Elliot isn’t a debut author, his novel Happy Baby was recently adapted for the big screen.

At 3:45 p.m., debut writer Lea Carpenter and veteran authors Aminatta Forna and Bob Shacochis will be featured on the panel “What We Talk About When We Talk About War” in Capitol Auditorium Room E1.004. Carpenter’s debut novel, Eleven Days, is as timely as it is emotional: a mother’s son, a Navy SEAL, goes missing during the raid for Bin Laden. Publishers Weekly called it “the sweet pitch before the violin screeches.”

SUNDAY, OCT. 27
IdahoCome back to Capitol Extension Room E2.030 at 11 a.m. for “Idols,” with authors Shawn Vestal and Manil Suri. The excellently titled Godforsaken Idaho is Spokesman-Review columnist Vestal’s debut short-story collection, which confronts rugged lives, legacies, and Mormon faith in the Northwest. Join Vestal and Suri, author of The Death of Vishnu and most recently The City of Devi: A Novel for a discussion of gods, apostates, and more.

Catherine Chung and Daniel Wallace discuss folklore in fiction at “Once Upon A Time,” which starts at 12:30 p.m. in Capitol Extension Room E2.030. Chung’s The Forgotten Country takes off from family folklore holding that every generation loses a daughter—a prediction that haunts young Janie, who dedicates herself to keeping her little sister safe from the myth … or the reality. Wallace is the author of Big Fish. 

three scenariosMore altered realities are in store at 12:30 p.m. at Capitol Extension Room E2.026, where Kelly Luce and Manuel Gonzales discuss “Everyday Magic.” What features sex-change operations, toasters, and is set in Japan? Luce’s Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail. If you like the fantastical, you’ll be sure to find something that touches and disturbs in this debut short-story collection. The banal and the bizarre come together in Austin local Manuel Gonzales’ The Miniature Wife, a debut collection of supernatural short stories largely set in Texas: A writer contemplates life as the hijacked plane he’s been trapped on circles above Dallas—as it has for 20 years; a man wages full-blown war with his wife—whom he accidentally shrank to Barbie size. Both Luce and Manuel should rivet any surrealist.

At 1:30 p.m. in Capitol Extension Room E2.030, discuss the “Known Unknown” with debut writer Mario Alberto Zambrano, Aurorarama author Jean-Christophe Valtat, and Nina McCogingly, author of Cowboys and East Indians. Zambrano’s debut, Loteria, has been compared to Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street and Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao for its focus on Mexican-American life. In Loteria, 11-year-old Luz is taken into state custody after her father is incarcerated. No one can get her to speak, but she writes journal entries based on images inspired by the colorful Loteria cards from her Mexican bingo game. The effect is a snapshot portrait of her childhood.

Finally, Stephen Graham Jones, author of Flushboy, Austinite Neal Pollack of Matt Bolster mystery fame, and Chris L. Terry will be featured at the “On The Fringe” panel in Capitol Extension Room E2.030 at 2:30 p.m. Terry’s debut, Zero Fade, chronicles eight days in the inner city, tackling what it’s like to be a young black man growing up in ’90s hip-hop culture, where a bad haircut can ruin a reputation.

Yesterday the Observer published San Antonio author Gregg Barrios’ op-ed regarding Latino and Latina representation at this year’s Texas Book Festival, upcoming Oct. 26-27. We let TBF Literary Director Steph Opitz know that we’d be happy to host a response, and today she provided the following:

Dear Gregg,

I really appreciate that you’ve raised the issue of diversity at our Festival. I, too, am disappointed that there is not more diversity in this year’s line-up. It is important to the Festival staff and board, and it is personally important to me that the Festival grow in diversity. It’s important to me that small presses are represented. It’s important to me that Latino and Latina writers feel they have a strong presence at the Fest. It’s important that all Texans, of any ethnic background, feel that they have a place. It’s important for poets to have a stage here. Many of the authors you suggested were invited to participate, but declined for various reasons. I suspect that my late hire date, resulting in late invites, prevented many authors from attending because their fall schedules had already been solidified. In any event, there’s really no excuse.

I also want to point out that, as an organization, we’re really working on these goals across the state, not just at the Festival weekend. We sponsored LibroFEST in Houston earlier this month; most of the authors you name have been to the Texas Book Festival and many were recently celebrated at the San Antonio Book Festival, which was under our umbrella at the time; we’re constantly fundraising for Texas libraries ($2.5 million and counting!); and, our Reading Rock Stars program, where we bring authors into the schools, features bilingual authors and books from some of the publishing companies you suggested we include. I realize this deviates from the point of your piece, but it is a big part of our organization—because we are not just a festival.

It is good to know that you’re someone who pays close attention to these aspects of our Festival. I would love to sit down with you after this week and hear your suggestions for 2014. It’s extremely important that we all keep each other accountable for encouraging, fostering, and promoting diversity of all kinds.

Warmly,

Steph Opitz
Literary Director
Texas Book Festival

The Texas Book Festival in Austin has become one of the premier literary events in the country, and with over 40,000 bibliophiles expected to flood the Capitol to take in panels, readings, and signings, the experience can be a bit overwhelming. It’s hard to decide where to begin when there are more than 230 authors to see and hear, not to mention the live music and food vendors. That’s why we’ve created a series of streamlined itineraries to help you have a seamless Festival experience, grouping the events by category so you can dive right into the good stuff. We’ll be posting these itineraries in this space over the coming week, so check back daily for latest.

Today, we start with events of interest to foodies.

SATURDAY, OCT. 26

Austin-Breakfast-Tacos-Mando-Rayo_090046On Saturday, October 26, at 10 a.m., start the morning in the Cooking Tent for breakfast tacos with Jared Reece and Mando Rayo, authors of Austin Breakfast Tacos. Pick up a copy of the book and get ready to take a taco taste-tour of Austin’s best tortilla-tucked breakfast treats. Each entry includes the history behind the food and profiles of the people who make it, from authentic Mexican fare to Torchy’s contemporary creations.

At 11:30 a.m., hang around the Cooking Tent for the Texas Holiday Cookbook and author Dotty Griffith. Griffith has compiled classic Texan recipes, from fried turkey and green bean casserole to flan and enchiladas, that will make delicious additions to any dinner table this holiday season.

from scratchWhat food lover hasn’t found herself addicted to the Food Network? From 1 to 2 p.m. in the Lone Star Tent, journalist Allen Salkin presents From Scratch: Inside the Food Network and talks about how a lowly cooking channel became a pop-culture phenomenon. From Scratch is nonfiction, but reads like juicy fiction as Salkin traces Julia Child’s legacy to the modern faces of food, from disgraced Paula Deen and “Deep Fry” Guy Fieri to culinary artistes Tom Colicchio and Mario Batali.

If you’re a ’cue enthusiast, these next events amount to meat heaven. From 1 to 2 p.m., back at the Cooking Tent, check out Back by Popular Demand: The Salt Lick Cookbook, with recipes from Austin’s favorite non-snob BBQ purveyors. At 2:30, the meat appreciation continues with Tim Byres’ new cookbook, Smoke: New Firewood Cooking. This Texas chef and current co-owner of Dallas’ SMOKE restaurant teaches indoor and outdoor cooks how to impart smoky flavors into foods beyond your traditional smoked meats. Vegans beware, though—the recipes are indeed meat-laden, with recipes like Clay Pot Smothered Rabbit and Chorizo in Fire-Roasted Oysters.

Saturday’s last events take place during happy hour, a fine time to get your mixology fix. From 3 to 4 p.m. in Capitol Extension Room E2.106, join Lucinda Hutson, author of Viva Tequila!, a celebration of the agave spirit, from history and culture to food and drink recipes that celebrate Mexican cooking with a tequila-soaked twist.

At 4 pm in the Cooking Tent, David Alan talks cocktails from his new book, Tipsy Texan: Spirits and Cocktails from the Lone Star State. Tipsy Texan treats Texas booze culture, but the real treat here is the use of local, fresh ingredients to create Texas twists on classic cocktails (for instance: an Old-Fashioned sweetened with toasted pecan syrup). Take advantage of Alan’s expertise—he’s a charter officer of the Central Texas Bartender’s Guild and cocktail competition champion—and check out Tipsy to step up your game.

Austin BeerAt 4:15 p.m., the women behind the popular beer blog “Bitch Beer” will be in Capitol Extension Room E2.010 to talk about local brews as well as their new book, Austin Beer: Capital City History on Tap. The book explores the history of beer in Austin and recent developments in local beer culture, but don’t worry, this is no textbook. The Bitch bloggers are known for their hilarious-but-informative style, and the book has a built-in drinking game.

Diana Kennedy has been crowned the “Julia Child of Mexico,” and at 4:15 p.m. she’ll be in Extension Room E2.016 to discuss the new reissue of her classic book, My Mexico, a leisurely stroll through some favorite places, recipes, and memories gathered from a lifetime exporing that vibrant country.

Now go get get some food, go home, grab some sleep and come back to the Capitol on Sunday for another afternoon full of food and cooking events.

SUNDAY, OCT. 27

In the Cooking Tent at 11 a.m., join renowned food blogger Addie Broyles as she discusses The Austin Food Blogger Alliance Cookbook, a compilation of favorite recipes from Texas bloggers that showcase the diversity of Texas food culture.

At 12:30 p.m., still in the Cooking Tent, the Beekman Boys showcase The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook. The Beekman Boys, aka Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Dr. Brent Ridge, are city-slickers turned farmers, and the Heirloom Cookbook is inspired by communal living. Home cooks are encouraged to join the conversation on the Beekman website, where you can post pictures and alterations of the book’s recipes. If you’re the type of foodie who posts you daily dish to Facebook, this cookbook might be for you.

BBQIt wouldn’t be a Texas festival without plenty of barbecue. At 2 p.m., stick around the Cooking Tent for Barbecue Crossroads with Houston food-writing eminence Robb Walsh. Crossroads is a road-trip through the South, with plenty of BBQ stops along the way.

Finally, at 3:30 p.m., (you guessed it, still in the Cooking Tent), cleanse your palate with Joe Yonan, author of Eat Your Vegetables, which aims to prove that veggie-eating-for-one doesn’t have to mean limp tofu burgers or wilted lettuce wraps. Yonan tells solo cooks how to scale down recipes, tackle the leftover problem, and cook vibrant meals for one.

Now go out to dinner to digest the day, prefereably with a friend.

It’s always nice to see Texas writers getting a little national love. College Station resident and young-adult author Kathi Appelt‘s latest novel, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, has been announced as one of five finalists for the 2013 Young People’s Literature National Book Award.

The novel, aimed at children 8-11, is a tale of two brother racoons, Bingo and J’miah, who work for the mysterious Sugar Man. The narration evokes story-time on grandpa’s porch with colorful exposition like, “just because the Sugar Man is old and sleepy doesn’t mean he can’t spin an alligator over his head and toss him into orbit.” Don’t resist the urge to read the story in a slow Texas drawl.

This isn’t Appelt’s first rodeo: Her last novel, The Underneath, was a 2008 National Book Award finalist as well as a Newbery Honor Book. Observer contributor Robert Leleux reviewed The Underneath in 2009, calling it an “elegant, sad-eyed novel” and “a prose poem to the woodlands of East Texas.”

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp trades those piney-wood forests for swamps, but Appelt’s imaginative lyricism continues to find a fertile home wherever she lets it take root. Texas-size congrats to Kathi Appelt.

And congrats as well to Austin’s Lawrence Wright, whose Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief is nominated for a National Book Award in the nonfiction category. Leleux reviewed that title for us as well, so let’s give Robert a shout-out for good taste in topics.

 

Any novel that inspires a 70-year-old woman to write her first Amazon book review might be worth noting, especially when the book in question is a satirical war novel that takes place at a football game. But Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk has been receiving praise from more than just the enthusiastic online elderly: It was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award and received the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. The New York Times called it an “inspired, blistering war novel” that comments on “class, privilege, power, politics, sex, commerce and the life-or-death dynamics of battle.” The Observer took note as well, with contributing writer Steve G. Kellman reviewing the novel earlier this year—a review reprinted at the National Book Critics Circle blog

The author behind this impressive debut will be visiting St. Edward’s University as part of the The Marcia Kinsey Visiting Writers Series on Monday, Oct. 21.

The Marcia Kinsey Visiting Writers Series welcomes writers to the St. Edward’s University campus to share their work with Austin’s community. Past visiting writers include Marie Howe, Observer contributor Mary Helen Specht, Owen Egerton and Doug Dorst. All events are free to the public. The 2013 schedule is available on the Visiting Writer’s website.

Fountain’s reading will take place at 7:30 in the John Brooks Williams South Building’s Carter Auditorium on the St. Edward’s campus. Copies of the novel will be available for sale and refreshments will be served.

 

 

Three Austin writers will be receiving the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation’s 2013 Illumine award on November 8, 2013.

Stephen Harrigan will be honored for fiction, Nobel Prize winner Dr. Steven Weinberg for nonfiction, and Cynthia Leitich Smith for young-adult literature. Tapestry Foundation President Carmel Borders will receive the Luminary Award for literary patronage. The winners will be recognized at a dinner at the Austin Hilton Downtown.

Michener faculty fellow Stephen Harrigan is the author of nine books, including the New York Times best-selling novel The Gates of the Alamo. His most recent work, The Eye of the Mammoth, is a career-spanning collection of nonfiction essays. Regarding the latter, Publishers Weekly called “Harrigan is a masterful storyteller, cataloguing scenery and character beautifully, often with great humor…These pieces convey a deep and rewarding connection with place.”

Dr. Steven Weinberg—called “a true intellectual as well as a brilliant theoretical physicist” by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins—has been recognized with multiple prizes for his work in physics, but it’s general-audience novels such as Lake Views: This World and the Universe that earned him the Illumine award. Dr. Weinberg holds the Jack S. Josey-Welch Foundation Chair in Science at the University of Texas.

Cynthia Leitich Smith is a best-selling author of children’s and young-adult novels including the Tantalize series, a gothic fantasy set in Austin. The series has already earned her recognition as a Spirit of Texas author by the Texas Library Association and the nickname “the Anne Rice for teen readers” from The Bloomsbury Review. 

All three writers are among the featured authors at the next weekend’s Texas Book Festival in Austin. Check this space soon for the Observer‘s festival coverage.

USA. Schererville, Indiana. 1965. Sparky and Cowboy (Gary Rogues).
“Sparky and Cowboy (Gary Rogues), Schererville, Indiana,” 1965. Silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 in. Courtesy of the San Antonio Museum of Art.

The 1960s played host to some of the most extreme cultural and social shifts of any decade in American history—shifts infamously illustrated in part by a decidedly tense alliance between counterculture legends of two disparate breeds: hippies and outlaw biker gangs. Between Hunter S. Thompson’s 1966 debut Hell’s Angels and the 1969 stabbing of Meredith Hunter by Hell’s Angels security at a Rolling Stones concert in Altamont, the image of America’s motorcycle gangs limped out of the Sixties in a less-than-flattering light.

The San Antonio Museum of Art is currently featuring a different view via “The Bikeriders,” an exhibit of Danny Lyon’s photographs from his 1963-67 stint in the Chicago Outlaws motorcycle club. Widely considered a revolutionary in the world of photography, Lyon was both an observer and a participant in the lives of his subjects, pioneering a style that became known as photographic New Journalism.

According to David Rubin, curator of contemporary art at SAMA, the exhibit was built around “a gift [of Lyon's photographs] from a generous donor.” Rubin says the 50 photos on display in “The Bikeriders” represent “one of the first times that a documentary photographer photographed from the inside, where he’s really … part of the culture that he’s photographing.”

Lyon was heavily influenced by Robert Frank and his seminal 1959 book, The Americans, which was based, in Rubin’s description, on the “Jack Keroac On The Road idea.” Lyon took the grainy, black-and-white, road-trip approach of The Americans to a new level by fully integrating himself into the subculture of biker gangs. Rubin says Lyon’s work in turn has had a major impact on subsequent photographers, including Nan Goldin in the 1980s and contemporary Korean-American artist Nikki S. Lee, who is known for physically transforming her appearance to fit into different ethnic and social groups.

Hunter S. Thompson, Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey and Tom Wolfe have all written about  the infamous 1965 party where Hell’s Angels and Kesey’s Merry Pranksters collided at Kesey’s ranch in La Honda, California, lodging the event into countercultural memory. SAMA’s show of Lyon’s photos approaches biker culture through a more Midwestern lens, offering a radically different perspective.

“The Bikeriders” is on display through Dec. 1.

Check out SAMA’s page on the exhibit for more details.

President John F. Kennedy mingles with the crowd in front of Fort Worth’s Hotel Texas before delivering a speech on November 22, 1963.
Courtesy of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Special Collections.

November 22, 1963 became one of the darkest days in American history—and in Texas—when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated during his visit to Dallas. This November, the tragedy’s 50th anniversary, Americans will have opportunities to pay tribute to JFK and revisit the era with a number of national and statewide events.

The University of Texas at Arlington’s Special Collections will contribute to the occasion with Howdy, Mr. President! A Fort Worth Perspective of JFK. The free exhibit comprises rarely seen photographs from The Fort Worth Star-Telegram photographic collection at UTA documenting JFK’s arrival in Fort Worth during his reelection campaign, as well as the local aftermath of his death.

Just an hour before the shooting in Dallas, the president noted to his assistant that “… everything in Texas is going to be fine for us.” Despite the circulation of anti-Kennedy political flyers the night before his arrival, the Dallas crowd that received Kennedy was a warm one, as had earlier crowds in Houston and San Antonio.

The exhibit opened September 9 and will be on display until February 8, 2014. Selected photos from the collection can be seen here.

For more still on Kennedy’s Texas visit, keep an eye out for Dallas 1963, by Observer contributor Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis, publishing Oct. 8.

Historical fiction, journalism, oral history and a dose of Mark Busby’s imagination come together in Cedar Crossing, Busby’s latest novel.

When Jeff Adams, a college student, is given an assignment to research family history, he discovers that his grandfather witnessed a mysterious triple lynching in the Trans-Cedar Bottoms area of Henderson County, west of Tyler in northeast Texas. As Adams begins to piece together his family’s recollections, the story becomes more complicated, but at its core it remains a tragic example of Trans-Cedar race relations and area citizens’ inability to accept the love between a white man and a young black woman.

The novel’s setting—East Texas at the turn of the century and in the 1960s—is the perfect backdrop for a story with civil rights and race relations at its heart.  Cedar Crossing gives Busby, a scholar of the American West, the chance to explore how family feuds and the South’s troubled past can turn a historical event into a part of Texas mythology; even today, the Trans-Cedar Tragedy remains shrouded in mystery, despite making contemporary front-page headlines for months. For Cedar CrossingBusby researched original historical documents and, like his protagonist, gathered oral re-tellings regarding the tragedy. 

Busby’s other books include Fort Benning Blues and Larry McMurtry and the West: An Ambivalent Relationship. He is also a past president of the Texas Institute of Letters.

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