Google+ Back to mobile

Back of the Book

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.


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.


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.


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.

All in the Lansdale Family

9780316188456Joe Lansdale is kind of like a genre-fiction Ted Williams–he’s been remarkably consistent over his long career, and he’s way out in left field. Lansdale has won eight Bram Stoker Awards, one of the horror genre’s top honors, and has published a nearly endless list of horror, fantasy and mystery novels, short stories and screenplays. He’s also contributed to comic books, cartoons, and just about any other format you can think of that uses words to tell dark, twisted stories. He even contributes to the Observer from time to time.

Lansdale’s work is often… err… unique. Who else would imagine an epic, profane battle between Elvis, JFK, and a mummy named Bubba? But his stories also delve into deeper issues. His Hap and Leonard series, for instance, explores government corruption, racism and poverty in East Texas through the crime-fighting partnership of white, blue-collar Hap and black, gay, Vietnam vet Leonard. Like many of Lansdale’s tales, the duo’s 10-book story is at turns violent and hilarious.

As strange as his work can be, Lansdale has been making moves beyond the sometimes-claustrophobic world of genre fiction. In a New York Times piece last year, Texas Monthly‘s Christopher Kelly held Lansdale up as a writer who can transcend category to capture the attention of a larger audience. According to Kelly, Lansdale is at the vanguard of a trend in which so-called genre writers are garnering increasing critical and commercial validation in the larger literary world.

Lansdale’s creative gifts must be at least somewhat hereditary. His daughter Kasey has a blooming career of her own as a country singer-songwriter, and also works as a literary editor. She released a new album, Restless, back in August, and her latest editorial effort, Impossible Monsters, features the work of her father and notables including Neil Gaiman and Charlaine Harris.

Both Lansdales will be at BookPeople at 7 pm on September 12. Kasey will discuss Impossible Monsters, while Joe will talk about his latest, a suspenseful romp through the early Texas oilfields called The Thicket, which continues his transcendence of the genre label.

OppAt the risk of indulging a bit of log-rolling, we wanted to draw some attention to sometime-contributor (and Fifty Years of the Texas Observer editor) Char Miller’s new review of Observer managing editor Brad Tyer’s recently published book, Opportunity, Montana: Big Copper, Bad Water, and the Burial of an American Landscape, an examination of industrial degradation, landscape restoration and environmental justice in Big Sky Country.

In bringing to life this “buried history of Americans’ attachment to progress and estrangement from consequences,” Tyer makes it clear that the “slow death of Opportunity is Missoula’s cost of living,” an unequal power dynamic that has been applied as well to communities surrounding other Superfund sites, among them California’s Stringfellow Acid Pits, Tar Creek, Oklahoma, and New York’s Love Canal.

Miller, formerly of Trinity University in San Antonio, and author of a shelf of books about water issues and environmental science, including the recent On the Edge: Water, Immigration, and Politics in the Southwest, is currently chair of the Environmental Analysis Department at Pomona College in California.

Check out the entire review here.

1 6 7 8 9 10 12