A collection of hardcover books, seen lengthwise from the bottom so their pages, but not their spines are visible. They seem to form a strong wall.

Saving Lone Star Literary Life

A literary website that has connected bookish Texans since 2015 nearly closed this year. Then one of its readers saved it.


Out in West Texas, a pair of aspiring novelists and enterprising small-town newspaper owners, Barbara Brannon and Kay Ellington, were dismayed by the number of publications that were dropping book sections, cutting critics, and otherwise decimating literary coverage, especially in the Lone Star State. By the 2010s, “93 percent of the state’s newspapers offer no regular books coverage of any kind,” they told the Writers’ League of Texas.

Both newswomen worried that Texas authors in particular just weren’t getting enough attention—though plenty deserved it.

Out of that gaping hole emerged, fittingly on Groundhog’s Day 2015, a new literary venture: Lone Star Literary Life, an online newsletter aimed at Texas readers, writers, and librarians.

“Texas is second only in population to California, Florida is third and New York is fourth. We should be the 800-pound gorilla of literature,” Ellington said of their effort in a 2017 panel discussion.

Initially, it was only a side project for Brannon and Ellington, a dynamic duo who have now published several novels (a series all about The Paragraph Ranch) while still stubbornly championing small-town papers too. (Their company, Paragraph Ranch LLC, now owns three around Lubbock: the Texas Spur, in Spur; the Caprock Courier in Silverton; and the Floyd County Hesperian-Beacon.)

Over the next nine years, Lone Star Literary Life grew, creating a network of 6,000 loyal subscribers, including Texas librarians, indie booksellers, publicists, and authors. 

Kristine Hall (Courtesy)

In 2018, school librarian Kristine Hall took over and Lone Star Lit coasted through the pandemic when many Texans were home reading—and writing. But the upstart venture nearly died in April 2024, a victim perhaps of its own business model of providing substantive but low-cost (or free) services to readers and authors across Texas. It had become popular but not profitable enough to sustain a team of employees large enough to support it without burning out. 

Here’s the saga of how independent women business owners and book lovers in Texas founded that small company, expanded it, and now aim to save it. 

From its beginnings, Lone Star Lit was ambitious. The Texas-centric newsletter offered announcements on book events, a statewide bookstore directory, and coverage of Texas authors’ latest work, whether from big publishers, boutique operations like Dallas’ literary powerhouse Deep Ellum, academic presses, and even self-published work. 

Early on, Hall, who already ran a blog she called Hall Ways, joined the operation. Hall formed a network of bloggers who agreed to help cover the book launches of Texas authors in what was dubbed Book Blog Tours, for which authors paid small but affordable fees meant to support the company’s operations.

She and other contributors at Lone Star Lit also helped boost book tourism by expanding their statewide directory to 300 bookstores and publishing an annual list of the Top Texas Bookish Destinations. That list has included predictable big-city entries like Austin and Houston, as well as Abilene, home to the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, and the Lower Rio Grande Valley, which hosts both the McAllen Book Festival and the Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival

When Hall first joined Lone Star Lit, she still worked as a long-term substitute school librarian for Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, which hadn’t yet become the center of Texas’ war on books. She immediately embraced her role as a book promoter.

By December 2018,  Ellington and Brannon, both “newspaper people” at heart, decided to sell their newsletter and Hall took over as the owner, manager, publisher, and frequent contributor.

“When our team took over the Texas Spur in 2018, it was with full expectation we could manage both projects, but community newspapering turned out to be much more demanding than [we] anticipated—in a good way,” Brannon told the Observer. “We were fortunate—as is the community of Texas book lovers—that Kristine was eager to step up. We’ve continued to cheer her on since then!”

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For the next six years, Hall continued to grow Lone Star Lit, though as a part-time librarian and mother of five (and later grandmother of two) she sometimes struggled to find a work-life balance. 

As efforts to ban books escalated in school districts near Hall’s home and beyond, the controversies seemed only to galvanize Lone Star Lit readers, who wanted to know what they could do. “With the banning of the books, I think people are looking for a way to support the Texas literary community. People want to be able to do something, but they don’t always know what to do,” Hall said.

Over the nine years of Lone Star Lit’s life, more independent booksellers and literary festivals popped up in unexpected places. The massive Texas Book Festival and the San Antonio Book Festival remained the biggest—drawing national and Texas talent—while the Hill Country town of Boerne built a beautiful new library, and librarians there turned their lovely town square into a festival venue. The town of Winnsboro in East Texas created a book festival too, and a brand new one just popped up in the Austin suburbs called “Bees and Books.”

Hall considered herself a book booster, an amplifier. “I hear about stuff and I share it. I hear about bookish job opportunities and I share them,” she said in an interview this month. “I subscribe to a ton of newsletters.”

But at times, Hall told the Observer, there seemed to be an overwhelming amount of interest in Lone Star Lit. Sometimes it was too much. “I am Texan and I always had a passion for books,” she said. “I’m still very passionate about it. I’m just tired.”

By early 2024, Hall announced that she was ready to retire. Suddenly, the lights of Lone Star Lit seemed ready to go out. 

But readers responded (as they often do) to Hall’s posts with detailed comments and long emails. To her surprise, some of those emails contained offers to buy the business that she figured no one else would be crazy enough to want to run.

By late March, she’d whittled down the list to four finalists, finally selecting Amy Kelly, a former middle school teacher and Lone Star Lit fan who had for years been writing about YA books on her own blog. “I feel like all of my experience so far has led to this because I am so passionate about the freedom to read and the fact that stories save lives,” Kelly told the Observer.

By May 1, Lone Star Lit will be under new ownership. At least for now, all of the standard features—the book calendar, the list of indie bookstores, the book blog tours, and newsletters—won’t change, Kelly told Hall in their April handover meeting. 

Kelly said she wants to “continue and carry the torch to highlight indie bookstores and Texas authors and librarians.  

Back in Lubbock, Brannon, the original Lone Star Lit co-founder who remains a loyal reader, was busy putting out her newspapers this week when she got a call from the Observer sharing the news that Lone Star Lit would go on.

 “You know something I don’t know,” she said. “And I’m glad.”

Disclosure: Lise Olsen, a Texas author herself, has been featured in Lone Star Literary Life.