An Interview with Clay Smith of the San Antonio Book Festival

“Texas writers are given such a limitless gift by writing about–or being from– this place.”

-Clay Smith

We can’t believe it’s already April! The schedule for the 2017 San Antonio Book Festival is out now, and we couldn’t be more excited about this year’s lineup. The festival will be held on Saturday, April 8, from 9 am to 5 pm at the beautiful downtown Central Library and Southwest School of Art. A program of the San Antonio Public Library Foundation (SAPLF), SABF celebrates national and local authors and their contributions to the culture of literacy, ideas, and imagination.

This year, as in years past, we’re excited to feature our members at our exhibitor booth. You can find us in the Festival Marketplace at Booths 35-36. The list of WLT members who are signing and selling their books at our booth can be found here on our website.

To learn more about the San Antonio Book Festival, we talked with literary director Clay Smith about planning this year’s program as well as the literary landscape of Texas.

Scribe: Can you share a few thoughts with us about the Texas literary landscape — what makes it unique, and what opportunities can be found here for writers, readers, publishers, and booksellers?

Clay Smith: Texas writers are given such a limitless gift by writing about–or being from–this place. Not just the myths of Texas (and its actual history that inspires those myths), but Texans have a strong sense of themselves and a strong sense of what they think Texas means. That’s a real gift to a writer that I don’t think all American states offer to their writers.

Scribe: What have been your favorite aspects of developing this year’s SABF programming?

CS: The best part of this job is considering which aspects of and issues in our culture people are really thinking about and finding authors who write in thoughtful ways about those topics. So we’ve got events about terrorism, immigration, the environment—hard-hitting topics like those. But we’re also featuring a lot of thoughtful poets and fiction writers who help us re-imagine our world. The joy of the job is mixing those writers together and letting San Antonians engage with our writers, make up their own minds, and be in conversation with other readers about these big ideas.

Scribe: Can you tell us about one or two pieces of programming that are new or different from years past?

CS: This is our first year to bring The Moth to San Antonio (its first time in the city), so that’s been a really wonderful process. The approximately 100 writers who are chosen by us to appear at the Festival are chosen for very specific reasons (namely, because we think they are doing excellent writing and have something unique to say about this world), but the five storytellers chosen by the producers of The Moth aren’t necessarily writers. They are people who have figured out how to tell stories from their lives that are funny or poignant or some mix of those qualities, and I think The Moth is a great addition to this year’s programming. The Moth takes place on the Friday night before the Festival, April 7, at the Majestic Theatre. The Texan-Off, a contest based on former TexasMonthly.com editor Andrea Valdez’s book How to Be a Texan, is going to be a lot of fun, too. We’re asking native Texas writers and a few non-native ones to be contestants to see who has the best Texana knowledge.

Thanks, Clay!

Visit the San Antonio Book Festival website for more information and the schedule of events.

Clay Smith is the Literary Director of the San Antonio Book Festival. He is also the editor-in-chief of Kirkus Reviews and former literary director of the Texas Book Festival. He was elected to the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle in 2015 and has written for the New York Times Book Review, among other publications. He is a graduate of the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at NYU and began his journalism career at the Austin Chronicle and talks about books regularly on the public radio program “Texas Standard.”

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