Rivard Report: Do you have any advice for people who want to get the most out of San Antonio’s Texas Book Festival? It sounds like there will be a lot packed into one day: readings, author panels, live music, food trucks and kids activities – should we have a plan of attack for the day?
Texas Book Festival/San Antonio Edition Director Katy Flato: Study the author list [online here], see who you’re interested in and cross reference with time and location [see venue schedules here]. Make a plan of attack in terms of when you’ll need to be at each venue – but give yourself some time to relax. However, you couldn’t go wrong with just sticking with one venue instead of racing around. There’s going to be a very interesting and eclectic mix of everything at each place.
[Read our previous coverage of the book festival for more information: “San Antonio Book Festival: Andale, April – ‘Let’s Get it On’“]
RR: How about for the casual attendee – who plans to go, but doesn’t have a specific author or event in mind?
FLATO: A casual festival goer would maybe enjoy sticking with smaller venues as they’ll be less crowed with shorter lines. Every author at every panel is going to be wonderful, but if you don’t have your heart set on seeing a bigger draw (author) it would be worth your while to try the smaller venues to have an opportunity to hear some new voices on invigorating subjects.
For example, two women novelists who’ve written lovely, funny and intriguing books about small town Texas; Liza Palmer and Lynda Rutledge, will be on a panel together. They might not be as well known names like Lawrence Wright, writer for The New Yorker magazine, who will be discussing his latest work “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief,” but they’re just as fascinating.
We’ll also be overloading people with directions and signs and maps. Volunteers will have bright red T-shirts on, some are designated as “human arrows.” There’s no way that you could get lost or not know where to go. Again, incredible, enthusiastic volunteers at the heart of the festival. An information booth will be staffed at all times in the middle of Augusta Street.
RR: What has been the most challenging part of organizing the festival?
FLATO: We’re hosting three cookbook authors who are going to be demonstrating recipes in the Southwest School of Art‘s Copper Kitchen Cafe (Hugo Ortega, Maricel Presilla, and Denise Gee). Getting things lined up for the demos: ingredients for each recipe, making the facility work for each cook, and having all the tools they need has been hard to coordinate. But we’ve pretty much sorted it all out now – we were really thrilled when we finally got the recipes.
Of course none of it would be possible without our volunteers. We have an incredible team. Each activity has a volunteer chairperson in charge. We’re lucky that they’re taking on their own little fiefdoms and are doing great work. The most fun part has been pairing moderators with authors – it has given us the opportunity to bring in a lot of locals involved in the literary world who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to participate. It’s been another way to reach into our local talent pool.
RR: If you weren’t directing the festival and had to choose just three events to attend or authors to meet, what would you surely not miss?
I can’t possibly answer that! I’m so proud of all of them.
However, it so happens that I’m moderating a talk that I’m really excited about: “In Search of What Can’t Be Found: Two Journalists Hunt Elusive Legends.” Author Stephen Harrigan, “The Eye of the Mammoth,” and Bob Thompson author, “Born On A Mountaintop: On The Road With Davy Crockett And The Ghosts Of The Wild Frontier,” are sure to give interesting looks into historical journalism and storytelling. That might be the only panel that I get to hear. I’d like to dip into at least every venue, but I know I’m going to miss a lot things that I’m very excited about.
RR: What experiences within the San Antonio Public Library Foundation led you and your colleagues to organize the SA Book Festival?
FLATO: I’ve been working with the SAPLF for about 24 years. When the library opened in 1995 we started Copyright Texas, which hosted five authors two or three nights a week for two weeks out of the year. All authors were faintly connected to Texas in some way. Since then, we’ve hosted perhaps hundreds of readings and fundraisers. I also used to put on mini-book festivals at my daughter’s schools, but nothing on the same scale of this festival.
RR: Where does your passion for literature come from?
FLATO: That’s easy. I am happiest when I have a good book going. My favorite thing to do when we travel is to go into book stores. I’ve always admired writers and I’m intrigued by the writing process – particularly with journalism. This probably comes from my work at the Texas Monthly as editor, but it’s any writing, really: poetry, essays, novels. I think I understand the place you have to go to be able to write. I’m not a writer, but I’ve worked with them. I’m more of a groupie.
Storytelling in general is so important to understanding the world and understanding yourself. Any way that we can encourage people to tell their stories, to read, to learn, to be creative, to express themselves, makes for a better place. I was obsessed with reading to my children when they were little – I think it makes a huge difference for children’s learning abilities.
The irony about taking on the book festival is that I have no time to read. I’ll be happy to get back to it.
RR: Directing the festival is a return to the workforce for you after being a stay at home mom for some time now … it’s a sort of new direction for you personally. What has that transition been like?
It is an adjustment – to say the least. I stopped working at Texas Monthly in 1993. I always thought I would go back, but the commute was unpleasant and I had a baby with medical problems at the time. I ended up deciding that it was too difficult. So I put a lot of energy into volunteer work at the Library Foundation, my daughters’ school, and other non-profits.
My daughters Hannah, 21, and Malou, 18, are now both in college. It’s a little crazy to come back to work at something with a massive five-month deadline like the book festival. I went from zero to 100 on a very short runway. I’ve certainly loved being a volunteer and being home with my kids, but you can get spoiled and comfortable in a routine. It’s important to me to feel like I’m contributing to my community, learning new things and being more involved with the bigger world and issues.
Monika Maeckle (co-founder of the Rivard Report) has been a role-model in a way. She’s always learning new things and taking on new challenges. She pursues things that interest her and make her happy, like her butterfly blog and her consultancy work. Change is hard, particularly creative change – it’s more than just moving to a different place. It’s important to find things that make you happy, that make you feel like you’re contributing, let you see things differently, and meet new people.
RR: What has it been like coordinating with more than 60 authors to attend the San Antonio Edition? Many are literary “rock stars”. Did you find it difficult to convince authors to come to San Antonio?
Clay Smith, literary director for the festival, has eight years of experience with the Texas Book Festival. He has tremendous expertise and very solid connections with authors and publishers. He knows how to make all that happen, so he was our best shot at getting a good roster of authors for our first year. The brand of the Texas Book Festival in Austin aided us in getting respect and worthiness, too. He’s the one that gets to ask the authors to come and sometimes, perhaps most of the time, he’s actually dealing with publicists.
We’ve had some challenges, for sure. San Antonio is lesser known; especially to East coast publicists, SA just isn’t a “must go-to” destination or on the main line on publicity tours.
Perhaps a bigger challenge is that we’re new. Because this is our first festival, we have no track record. However, one of the great advantages is that we actually have the opportunity to feature a lot of local authors and really reflect the literary talent of SA, especially with poets who often don’t get included in larger events.
I’ve been to several book festivals that are very large. They’re exciting and vibrant, but this is a more intimate setting. There are more opportunities relax, less stress about lines and crowds, and it won’t take hours to walk to the next venue – everything is either next door or across the street.
RR: What, if any, ambassador role for San Antonio is the Festival playing for these visiting authors? How is the festival planning on showing/telling these authors about our city?
Many of the authors are staying in hotels downtown (around the Central Library). We’ve written up an unofficial – but highly opinionated – guide to SA, particularly the downtown area, Southtown and the Pearl. We’re keeping it down to places with easy access (walking distance, bus or a short taxi ride). All day Saturday they’ll be guests of the festival themselves, visiting other panels and checking out events.
The Latino Leadership for the Library (L3) Committee, this wonderful group of library foundation activists, is hosting “The San Antonio Story: Nuestras Palabras (In Our Own Words).” It’s going to be a bilingual, interactive area of the festival, in the main plaza walk, where people can learn how to start making their own stories. People can scan old family recipes, letters, learn about scrap-booking and journaling. Much like the NPR series StoryCorps, there will also be a set-up for people to record interviews of their relatives. It’s an excellent opportunity for authors and readers to meet each other and learn about San Antonio.
We want SA to leave a great impression on them. We hope they’ll be impressed and tell their fellow authors, friends, and publicists that it’s a cool event, went smoothly, and they’ll be back for more. Many authors will be in town for the entire weekend. So while you’re getting coffee downtown be on the lookout, you may be sitting next to a critically acclaimed author.
For more information about the Texas Book Festival, visit www.saplf.org/bookfestival.