Many of you may have missed the literary event of the month as it took place in a red state (albeit in a blue town). To kick off the 10th Annual Texas Book Festival in Austin, David McCullough, Salman Rushdie, Liz Smith, and Alexander McCall Smith were on hand for the black-tie gala to raise money for the Texas Public Libraries.
Oddly so was the FBI, accompanying Alberto Gonzales on the day of Scooter’s indictment; as well as two cabinet secretaries, former Texas Governor Ann Richards, author Myla Goldberg, and newsman emeritus Dan Rather.
Better still almost 1,000 very rich Texans showed up to shell out $350 a plate—and it wasn’t the food and authors they were after—it was the silent auction, which boasted much Texas literary paraphernalia, including what looked like the Elephant Folio edition of James Michener‘s Texas, and a complete 12 volumes of Lemony Snicket signed by himself.
But we went to bed early, since at the crack of dawn all rose to begin the free-to-the public part of the Festival which includes some 150 authors taking over the entire Texas state capitol building for two solid days. (And it’s some building, Renaissance Revival, built in 1988, done in sunset red granite, and built on 22 acres right in the middle of the city—worthy of any northern architecture snob). Alexander McCall Smith presided in the Senate Chamber in his McCall tartan kilt; and Bill Clinton held court in the House chamber across the hall.
Rumor has it that Clinton found himself corralled by the Festival’s founder while on Air Force One headed to the Pope’s funeral in April. First Lady Laura Bush was determined to pull out all the stops for the 10th Anniversary of this Austin event of which she is the honorary chair.
And while Smith and Clinton were at it almost 100 people showed up to hear Myla Goldberg speak at the same moment, and thousands more to watch Lemony Snicket strut his stuff down at the historic Paramount Theater. Followed during the weekend by Eli Wallach, Ted Allen (from Queer Eye), Gary Wills, Mark Bittman, Sandra Cisneros, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jane Smiley, and Simon Winchester to name but a few.
Then there’s the local literature that is celebrated at this event. Texas is the only state that can rightly claim its own literature (if not culture) and it was proudly on display in Austin. From Kinky Friedman, to Roy Blount Jr., a panel on Weird Texas and a host of small press authors.
Readings were followed by long orderly lines at the autographing tents run by Barnes & Noble, the primary book sponsor of the event since its inception. Crowds usually run to over 25,000 people at the two-day festival and this year’s star-studded anniversary event had them all smiling in perfect weather.
For my money, the Texas Book Festival, and the Texas Library Association Convention held in April every year, are two of the most underrated book events of the year. Texas IS bigger than France, and may be even bigger hearted about its libraries. The festival has raised over $1.8 million at this event over the past 10 years.
PT thanks Robert Riger, VP Associate Publisher Barnes & Noble Educational Publishing, for sharing his Lone Star State adoration.