An Observer Staff Guide to the 2017 Texas Book Festival
Seven author events our reporters and editors are excited to see.
Even the most avid reader might feel a little overwhelmed this Saturday and Sunday by the embarrassment of riches that is the Texas Book Festival. The state’s biggest literary event — almost all of which is free and open to the public — boasts more than 250 authors, 20 venues and 50,000 bibliophiles. Where to begin? Our reporters and editors have put together a hand-picked list of favorites to help you decide. Head over to the full schedule for more, and stop by the Observer booth in the exhibitor marketplace to say hello.
A couple of short story panels jump out as being particularly worthy of attendance this year. On Saturday from 12:30-1:30 p.m. in the Ahora Si tent, Natalia Sylvester will moderate a panel titled “Ficcion Nueva Latina” consisting of Sarah Rafael Garcia (SanTana’s Fairy Tales) and Observer friend Christine Granados, who will read from and discuss her recent collection, Fight Like a Man and Other Stories We Tell Our Children. Sylvester will then teleport to the Capitol for a 1:30 p.m. panel called “Sneak Peak of 2018 Books” with Elizabeth Crook, Sarah Bird and Francisco Cantú; teleport with her.
Then on Sunday morning at 11:30 a.m. in the Capitol, this year’s Observer short story contest guest judge, Deb Olin Unferth, will read from and discuss her new collection, Wait Till You See Me Dance, alongside Mary Miller (Always Happy Hour) and Elizabeth Crane (Turf).
—David Duhr, fiction editor
Olio, a collection by Tyehimba Jess that won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for poetry, is supposed to mirror a racist relic of American performance art: the minstrel show. Described as “part fact, part fiction,” the collection explores a caricature created for the pleasure of mostly white audiences, culling details from the lives of overlooked black performers who traveled the country from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Jess reads from the collection Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in the Capitol.
—Michael Barajas, civil rights reporter
When I finished Nate Blakeslee’s American Wolf, I was surprised to find that I felt a sense of shame. How did I know so little about these incredible creatures? American Wolf is about the decades-long conflict over the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone, a fight that is less about science and wildlife management than people’s fierce and polarized opinions about wolves. In a deeper sense, as the title implies, the book is concerned with individual wolves and one in particular, O-6, a charismatic female pack leader whose dramatic day-to-day life is brought to life in minute detail.
Blakeslee, a former editor of the Observer and a friend of mine, reconstructs the comings and goings of O-6 and her pack with the help of the vast field notes of wolf obsessives. He and Stephen Harrigan will talk about American Wolf on Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Texas Tent.
—Forrest Wilder, editor
On Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in the Capitol, two acclaimed writers will share new books of literary journalism that tell stories of communities finding hope in the face of oppression. Alexis Okeowo, staff writer at the New Yorker, connects separate narratives of people fighting extremism in Africa in A Moonless, Starless Sky, and print and radio journalist Helen Thorpe shares the story of refugee teenagers starting new lives in Colorado in The Newcomers.
—Sophie Novack, public health fellow
The Observer’s own Melissa del Bosque in her new true crime thriller Bloodlines follows a group of FBI and IRS agents as they unravel a Mexican drug cartel’s money-laundering scheme through American quarter horse racing. Del Bosque weaves in the politics and corruption in Mexico and America’s insatiable desire for illicit drugs, which fuels the drug war violence, to illustrate the complex nature of the drug war.
You’ve got two chances to see her, both at 3 p.m. in the C-SPAN2/Book TV tent: on Saturday with scholar Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera and former federal agent Hipólito Acosta, and on Sunday with fellow border journalists Roger Hodge and Lauren Markham.
—Kolten Parker, digital editor
I tore through Lisa Ko’s fast-paced debut The Leavers, which centers around the sudden disappearance of an undocumented Chinese woman in the Bronx, in three days. The book is told from the perspective of her son as he searches for his mother years later after being adopted by white parents. The Leavers was inspired by the real-life story of Xiu Ping Jiang, whose son was adopted while she spent more than a year in immigrant detention, but its exploration of identity and family feels entirely new. Ko will join Rakesh Satyal (No One Can Pronounce My Name) on Saturday at 11 a.m. in the Capitol.
—Rose Cahalan, managing editor
The American farming system is in crisis. The average age of producers who grow corn, wheat and other staples is 58, and each year farms are shuttered for lack of an heir to take over the family operation. At the same time, young, prospective farmers looking to fill the gap struggle to gather enough capital for land and modern equipment. At 10:30 a.m. on November 4 in the Capitol, Raj Patel and Mas Masumoto will discuss their anthology, Letters to a Young Farmer. They’ll ask listeners to think about how their food is produced and to consider a new path forward.
—Christopher Collins, rural reporter