- By Ki Gray
- Published 06/28/2008
If music festivals such as South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits festival are testament to the city’s reputation as the Live Music Capitol of the World, the Texas Book Festival is proof positive that Austin is a hotbed of creativity in the literary world as well. Founded by Laura Bush in 1995, it has grown to become a nationally important event, featuring over two thousand authors, local, national and international, in twelve years of existence. Exciting, fun, musical and educational, this all-ages event is considered to be one of the premiere literary events in the country. Located primarily in the State Capitol, the festival takes place every fall, drawing upwards of 40,000 spectators to delight in panels, concerts, demonstrations, and other activities in the House and Senate Chambers, as well as tents and stages erected on the sprawling green lawn of the Capitol grounds. Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and other high-profile politicos have given keynote addresses, and the late Governor Ann Richards was a regular as well. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Jim Lehrer, and Roy Blount Jr., and other such notables have made appearances as well. A variety of themes are represented at the festival, with panels dedicated to mysteries, biographies, photography, retrospectives, periodicals, journalism, and many other topics. A “Lifestyle” tent hosts discussions and activities including parenting, wineries, birding, and yard art.
In keeping with the interests and expectations of Austi
nites, the festival emphasizes a high level of entertainment and music, dedicating one tent to musical performances throughout the festival, and hosting events at satellite locations including the legendary Continental Club. A concert featuring Austin’s finest musicians is held on the Capitol steps. Musician authors such as Joe Ely read from their works, as do those who write books about musicians, including Kathleen Hudson and Joe Nick Patoski. Other aspects of the entertainment world are well-represented also. Actors including Eli Wallach and Marlee Matlin have appeared there, and Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi offered live cooking demos for exotic recipes. Food and cooking are also highlighted, with an entire tent equipped with cooking supplies and dedicated to cookbooks and examinations of food culture. The Texas Book Festival has raised over two million dollars for Texas Public Libraries, and their commitment to children is clear. With one tent dedicated to children’s authors, one to children’s entertainment, and one to activities for the little ones, this festival is a perfect way to combine books and literacy with a fun and exciting event. Storytimes abound throughout the festival, and activities can include hula dance, puppet shows, drawing, and sing-alongs. When children’s authors are in town for the festival, they often take part in “Reading Rock Stars,” an affiliated program that brings them to public schools to read their works.
A truly Austin event in spirit, the Texas Book Festival is a lively, creative and exciting way to explore the literary world both on a local and national level.