“To read stories and hear voices that represent all the richness of the human experience is simply a matter of seeing our world truthfully, seeing our truths in it, and having others see them, too.”
Every year, the Texas Book Festival (Nov 5-6, 2016—this weekend!) brings more than 40,000 book lovers of all ages to the State Capitol grounds in Austin for a full weekend of programming with over 250 authors, including author readings and presentations, panel discussions, book signings, cooking demonstrations, live music, local food, YA authors, children’s activities, and exhibiting vendors from across the state.
Since the Festival‘s beginnings, the Writers’ League of Texas has participated as an exhibitor. Each year we look forward to this wonderful opportunity to support Texas authors and meet members, readers, and writers from across the state and nation. At our booth, visitors can meet our staff and volunteers, learn about membership, raise a glass to toast our book award honorees, and buy books from members who are signing their books (view the signing schedule here).
This year, we wanted to do a little something extra to highlight the diversity of Texas authors and their work. In partnership with Austin SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), we’re having a special diversity-focused book signing and giveaway at 4 pm on Saturday. Drop by to meet three incredible Texas authors — Chris Barton, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Natalia Sylvester — and get a free signed copy of one of their books while supplies last.
We interviewed these three authors about the importance of diversity in literature and events like the Texas Book Festival.
Scribe: Why is it important for readers—regardless of their age—to read about diverse characters and their experiences?
Chris Barton: The more that we read stories unlike our own, and the more that we learn about people whose experiences have been fundamentally different in some significant way from the lives we’ve lived, the less likely we are to see ourselves as the norm, the default. That opens us up to new information, new points of view, new arguments, new hopes, new dreams, new ideas. And that’s how we grow as individuals and move forward as a society.
Cynthia Leitich Smith: Anyone can be a hero that everybody cheers! We all need to see ourselves reflected in the pages of books, and our society is dependent on the empathy that diverse characters can foster. But beyond that, we need diverse characters and stories because they’re entertaining, informative, and inspirational. They grow us as people. And many of the best writers are from diverse communities, offering insider insights through fiction (and nonfiction) that illuminate us all.
Natalia Sylvester: There are so many reasons, but for me what it essentially boils down to is this: We exist, we are part of this world, too, and all we’re asking for is to not be erased. To read stories and hear voices that represent all the richness of the human experience is simply a matter of seeing our world truthfully, seeing our truths in it, and having others see them, too.
Scribe: What do you love most about the Texas Book Festival?
CB: I love the sense of optimism I always have by the end of the weekend. Nothing makes me more hopeful about the future of our state than two days spent among a multitude of Texans seeking out and celebrating and getting inspired by the written word.
CLS: Honestly, I love that we started the entire book festival movement. I love that when it came to connecting books to readers through community, the Texas Book Festival was the groundbreaker. The leader. I feel about it the way a lot of Texans felt when—in a journey spanning from the dawn of time to humanity’s trek in the stars—the first word spoken from outer space was “Houston.”
NS: I love getting to know the authors behind each book. As readers, we fall in love with an author’s words and ideas, but we don’t often get to see who they are, off the page. Hearing them speak about their work, their influences, and their processes is fascinating to me, as both a writer and a reader.
Scribe: We love giving book recommendations at the Writers’ League! What is one diversity-related book that you’d recommend? Bonus points if it’s Texas-related!
CB: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by former (and future, I hope) Texas Book Festival author Isabel Wilkerson. It’s a diversity-related book in the sense that if your family did not participate in that migration of African Americans from the Jim Crow South to the rest of the United States, you’re going to learn a lot about a foundational shift in the histories of millions of American families — families whose experiences were possibly extremely different from your own. As for the Texas connection, when reading about that latter journey, I was stunned to realize that Jim Crow extended all the way out to El Paso. I had never considered far West Texas to be part of the South, but in that sense, it certainly was — and this was just one of the many ways in which Wilkerson’s book was an eye-opener for me.
CLS: Shame the Stars by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, a novel mining the struggle between Tejanos and white Texans during the Mexican Revolution. Informative, gripping, and empowering—a must-read for every Texan.
NS: It might feel like an obvious pick, but for good reason: Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands should be read by everyone, especially Texans. If we’re ever to truly understand our history and our present, we need to see it from all sides and perspectives. Anzaldua challenges the notion that there are two sides to everything and a border between them. Our world is far more complex, and only when we’re able to see past the invisible borders we put up do we begin to truly embrace one another and coexist.
Chris Barton‘s most recent books for young readers include THE AMAZING AGE OF JOHN ROY LYNCH (currently on the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List), WHOOSH!, and 88 INSTRUMENTS. He’s also the author of THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS (winner, Sibert Honor) and SHARK VS. TRAIN (a New York Times bestseller). You can visit him at www.chrisbarton.info.
Cynthia Leitich Smith is the New York Times and PublishersWeekly best-selling YA author of the TANTALIZE series and FERAL series. Her award-winning books for younger children include JINGLE DANCER, INDIAN SHOES, and RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME. She is also well published in children’s-YA short fiction and nonfiction. Her website at www.cynthialeitichsmith.com was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer’s Digest and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her Cynsations blog at cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com was listed as among the top two read by the children’s/YA publishing community in the SCBWI “To Market” column.
Born in Lima, Peru, Natalia Sylvester came to the U.S. at age four. As a child she spent time in South Florida, Central Florida, and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas before her family set roots once again in Miami. In 2006, Natalia received a B.A. in creative writing from the University of Miami. A former magazine editor, Natalia now works as a freelance writer in Austin, Texas and is a faculty member of the low-res MFA program at Regis University. Her articles have appeared in Latina Magazine, Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and NBCLatino.com. CHASING THE SUN is her first novel. It was named the Best Debut Book of 2014 by Latinidad, and was chosen as a Book of the Month by the National Latino Book Club. Her second novel, EVERYONE CARRIES THEIR OWN WATER, is forthcoming from Little A in 2018.
Thanks, everyone! See you at the Festival!