Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Everyone speaks at least two languages, according to photographer Beowulf Sheehan. Taking author photographs has become a career for him in part because people first relate to books through “the language of the visual,” he said.
“When a book is published and we wish to create excitement about [it] … the first means of appealing to that person’s curiosity are visual – the cover and the author portrait,” Sheehan said.
The San Antonio Book Festival, running Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., appeals for a similar reason, in that it offers avid readers a chance to see – and even interact with – 100 of their favorite authors in person.
The experience of reading a book, said Clay Smith, editor of Kirkus Reviews and the festival’s literary director, “can feel so intimate and unique that when we as readers are moved by something a writer has created, we want to know more about that writer. … There’s an inherent curiosity by readers to meet the writers who’ve moved them. And we at the festival think that’s a connection that ought to be encouraged and celebrated.”
The seventh version of the annual festival takes place in and around the Central Library and Southwest School of Art, rain or shine. With 12 indoor and outdoor, tented venues for a plethora of author presentations and other activities, “We have a layout plan in [case] of heavy rain,” said Lynette Montemayor, public relations representative.
Here is a glimpse at just a few of the festival’s featured authors:
Sheehan’s book is like a festival in itself, with 205 photographs of 200 writers from 35 countries made over 15 years, he said, including such well-known figure as Salman Rushdie (who wrote the introduction), Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, J.K. Rowling, Margaret Atwood, Joan Didion, Elie Wiesel, Philip Roth, Neil Gaiman, Jesmyn Ward, Malcom Gladwell, Zadie Smith, Ian McEwan, and Gloria Steinem.
“My job is to help people see those who create the stories as beautiful,” Sheehan said, and to reflect something of the essence of their work in their portrait.
For example, Sheehan photographed Gaiman out in the backwoods of his estate in upstate New York, “with these leafless trees going on endlessly behind him,” Sheehan said.
In one of the Norse myths Gaiman catalogs in his new book Norse Mythology, which renders the ancient myths in a novelistic arc, the god Loki summons giants and trees to attack and kill the other gods. “And when you see these trees” in the Gaiman photo, “they look like they are about to reach out and grab you. Very ominous,” Sheehan said.
“But the strength of Neil’s presence in the foreground, with his broad shoulders, mitigates any danger,” while preserving the otherworldly quality of Gaiman and the myths he relates.
Beowulf Sheehan will present at 2:15 p.m. in the Central Library 3rd floor Festival Room.
Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author Lawrence Wright begins his new book God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State at Buc-ee’s, which he identifies as “the largest convenience store in the world – a category that only Texas would aspire to.”
Wright, a Texas native, stopped at Buc-ee’s on his way from hometown Austin to visit the San Antonio missions, a trip that forms the first chapter of the book. At Buc-ee’s he notes Kevlar snake boots, rope signs, and “anything shaped like the state,” while the missions portray a different, subtler side of South Texas.
Wright and his friend and fellow author Stephen Harrigan (The Gates of the Alamo) first visit Mission Espada, where a small wedding is being held, and “Already in February we could feel the breath of July,” he writes. Wright notes the Moorish origins of the chapel’s archway, as a means of introducing the colonial history of the region, even as he and Harrigan bike up the Mission Reach of the River Walk to note modernity’s effect on the reconstructed waterway.
That the Mission Reach has linked four of the five UNESCO World Heritage Site missions is important, Wright said. “It’s nice they’ve all been linked up with this wonderful trail. They’ve become like a bracelet. … I think that helps to string the history together as well.”
The book moves through many different modes of storytelling, he said. “It’s a memoir, it’s a history, it’s a travelogue, it’s a critique” of the state he abandoned after high school, returning only to write for a fledgling Texas Monthly magazine after entertaining life in New York, Los Angeles, and briefly in Atlanta.
Now, the self-professed “rustic” feels a life in those other places would have been inauthentic and counterfeit. “I would not be home,” he writes in the last chapter of the book, as he and wife Roberta pick out cemetery plots with Harrigan and his wife, Sue Ellen. They plan to lie on Republic Hill along with last man on the moon Eugene Cernan, a NASA astronaut who etched his daughter’s initials in the moon dust and was buried at the highest point in the graveyard “to be as close to the moon as possible.”
God Save Texas is filled with informational gems like that, mined by a Texan bearing witness to his changing state. As he and Harrigan uncovered stories behind ubiquitous Texas stereotypes, the challenge of the book was “to get people to see freshly what they thought they knew,” Wright said.
Lawrence Wright will present at 10 a.m. in the EY Tent in the Central Library Plaza.
San Antonio native Raymond Villareal is a huge vampire fan, he confesses, and a part of him surely hopes most of us become fans, too, if we’re not already.
Villareal’s novel A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising has been optioned by 21st Century Fox for a potential movie series, to be handled by the creators of hit alternate-world television show Stranger Things.
Villareal’s tale is different from other vampire-themed stories, he said, in part because it exploits his experience as an attorney dealing with civil and criminal cases. In his work he gained insight into how the laws affect people, he said. “They can either help people or hurt people. It was eye-opening because I never had that perspective before.”
The book’s title plays on historian Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which relates American history from the grassroots perspectives of the early labor, civil rights, suffragettes, and other movements.
Villareal’s vampires are an underclass, fighting against oppression. Regarding civil rights, “I thought the vampire genre was a pretty good metaphor” for classes of people that have always been around but suddenly get noticed at certain points in history, and others “don’t know whether to understand them or hate them.”
Spoiler alert: There is no big, violent vampire uprising in the story, as the title portends. The story is for anyone who enjoys good fiction, he said, “but also wants to learn something about the way the laws work,” while being “excited and scared.”
Raymond Villareal will present at 11 a.m. in the Whataburger Geektown on Giraud Street.
Eleven-year-old Merci Suárez would like a new bicycle, in part to keep up with her fancy private school cohort, according to Merci Suárez Changes Gears author Meg Medina. But Merci’s family doesn’t have the means, a gap that she begins to notice more and more as she nears her teen years.
The story is “a look at what its like to be 11 and stepping into the world of adults and adult concerns for the first time,” Medina said.
What she shares with other authors of children’s books and young adult fiction, Medina said, is “this ability to remember the emotional truth of different ages. The facts change — we have different toys, different games, the world changes — so being 11 now isn’t like it was 30 or 40 years ago, but the emotional truths are always the same.”
“The outrage of growing up basically is what you’re trying to capture,” Medina said.
The child of Cuban immigrants, and now living in Richmond, Virginia, Medina said she welcomes a visit to San Antonio.
“When I’m visiting communities that are majority Latino, it feels like a return to family … very warm and welcoming and familiar,” she said. She writes stories for such communities because “when we look at children’s book publishing in general, most books feature white children. A very small number feature characters of color or are written by people of color or marginalized communities … far fewer than what is actually represented in the community.”
The effort is “especially important now when the narrative is so fraught,” she said “With so many negative stereotypes that are floating in the ether,” she aims to represent the children of such communities with “respect, and love, and accuracy about what our families are.”
Meg Medina will present at 10 a.m. in the H-E-B Coates Chapel of the Southwest School of Art.
More than 100 authors will be present for 76 talks, panels, signings and discussions during the daylong festival. A complete schedule in downloadable PDF form, is available here.