Texas Book Festival Responds to Latino Representation Op-Ed

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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

  • Guest

    It’s more than “fostering diversity.” It’s the simple and radical reflection of a changing state. Texas is it’s richest and most interesting when engaging with, defending, denying, accepting, arguing with, and re-defining its cowboy myth. And nothing is going to bring that on like the Latino demographic change over happening right now. Whether Texas is afraid of its shadow or not is what will make next generation’s great stories.

  • Guest

    It’s more than “fostering diversity.” It’s the simple reflection of a changing state. Texas is it’s richest and most interesting when engaging, defending, denying, accepting, arguing with, and re-defining its cowboy myth. And nothing is going to bring that on like the Latino demographic change happening right now. Whether Texas is afraid of its shadow or not is what will make next generation’s great stories.

  • Vicente Lozano

    It’s more than “fostering diversity.” For that I can turn on NPR. It’s the simple reflection of a changing state. Texas is it’s richest and most interesting when engaging with, defending, denying, accepting, arguing with, and re-defining its cowboy myth. And nothing is going to bring that on like the Latino demographic change over happening right now. Whether Texas is afraid of its shadow or not is what will make next generation’s great stories.

  • Billie Duncan

    I think Steph Optiz missed some important points that were brought up in Barrios’ op-ed. She says, “It’s important that all Texans, of any ethnic background, feel that they have a place.” Actually, it’s important that all Texans, of any ethnic background, actually see that there IS a place for their voices (at the festival). She did not address the fact that poetry has apparently been relegated to an afterthought, and that small presses are underrepresented–possibly because many of our small presses (of any ethnic background) publish poetry. Also, it is not about “encouraging, fostering, and promoting diversity” but about acknowledging and reflecting the diversity we already have.

  • divalicias

    I’m confused by this response. How can you have a literary festival with so many cookbooks featured, but no poetry? How can it be a Texas Book Festival with no Latino/Latina writers and publishers? It’s as if the organizers of the event just wiped an entire cultural voice off the map of Texas. And we’re supposed to accept that this is just an oversight? This “explanation” is really hard to swallow, even with all those recipe books on offer.

  • Vicente Lozano

    After knowing more about the festival’s late start, I can see an unfortunate confluence between a new Festival Director and an esteemed critic who speaks, I believe, out of 40 years of frustrated experience watching Texas lag in its representation of Latinos.

    Gregg Barrios has lived nine amazing lives: Air Force enlistee, Warhol Factory witness, Hollywood scenester, award winning playwrite…and (of course) Tejano. He was an integral part of starting a film subculture during the 1970s in Austin, as well.

    With Gregg and others, there is probably a frustrated desire to cram more of these lives and experiences into Texas literature, and, please God, to go beyond cute, glossy Lone Star regionalism too often used to mug before a national audience.

    On both sides there is a lot of good faith to work with going forward.