Friday, October 27, 2006

An Incredible Meeting of the Minds in Austin

This is the weekend when Austin turns down the volume of its music and cranks up its intellect for the written word. For two days, Oct. 28-29, the Texas State Capitol sheds its image as the venue for hallway politics and backslapping. Instead, the doors of the pink granite icon become the looking glass that beckons Texans to step into a world of books: fact and fiction, lore and experience, as well as politics and persuasion.

For a very worthy cause – to raise money for Texas public libraries – an expected crowd of 35,000 Texans will descend upon the capitol grounds to gain a better understanding of the people behind the bylines of some of the best-selling books in the country. Austin serves as the perfect host city for such a gathering that mixes social, political, intellectual and religious perspectives like a fraternity trashcan punch. The free festival allows us to binge on a two-day marathon of soapbox opinions on history, literature, politics, and whatever else the imagination can tolerate.

The exchange of ideas compacted within 48 hours is overwhelming, but nonetheless enriching and invigorating as the public clamors to hear one snippet of a good story after another. Austin attracts great minds, and great minds love to read and explore new ideas. The Texas Book Festival does a great job of connecting the creators of those ideas with a public who consumes books with voracious enthusiasm.

Last year, the Texas Book Festival surpassed a total of $1.8 million dollars in grants the organization has awarded to more than 600 Texas public libraries. The Texas Book Festival serves as the single largest public venue to support our precious archives of literature, against a trend of decreasing public funding. The growing public support of the festival, demonstrates how much Texans still love to read, despite a growing cultural preference for entertainment via audio and video stimulation.

Today, libraries and books continue to be relevant for all age groups and language preferences. This year’s festival improves its Spanish-language programming, which promises to enhance the crowd’s diversity and cultivate a stronger connection with Hispanics. Saturday features Univision’s María Elena Salinas, the most recognized Hispanic female journalist in the United States. The same day, a panel of authors will address Chicano literature. On Sunday, two Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, Sonia Nazario and Héctor Tobar, will share their thoughts on immigration.

If you seek lighter fare, you will find it under the Bon Appetit Y’all cooking tent, where chefs and authors will fill the air with the aroma of food, or you can hear one of more than 40 children’s authors who will share their new works both Saturday and Sunday. The children’s component is important, because the kids remind us how to imagine, and their attendance and participation gives us hope for the potential of literacy.

Well-known Texas authors come out of the woodwork this year in droves. Lawrence Wright gives us an intimate view into the mindset of Al-Qaeda, Steven Harrigan takes us into space, and Gregory Curtis delves us into caves and into art that speaks to our history. And, if you think the volume of music is too low, many of this year’s featured authors will demonstrate their musical talents throughout the weekend in the entertainment tent.

The list of headline authors grows each year, along with the Texas Book Festival’s national prominence, and the stature it brings to Austin and the state. Moreover, the festival helps remind us all of the importance of reading and its influence on our culture and our future.
When First Lady Laura Bush founded the festival in 1995, she wanted to back an idea that celebrated the literary tradition of Texans and supported our libraries. Today, the Texas Book Festival successfully creates a magic atmosphere that connects readers with authors in ways that make books come alive.

The Texas Book Festival provides us exposure to a variety of ideas and topics. More than entertain us, the collection and diversity of authors that will gather this weekend in Austin will challenge each of us to sort out our own worldview, whether that be based on fact, fiction or a frivolous author’s creative point of view.

As a result, more of us are motivated to buy books and read them, and more of our libraries will receive the grants necessary to sustain our Texas literary culture.