SA Book Festival: Cultural Myths, Legends, and Rural Inspiration

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A festival attendee gets an early morning read in before the large crowd arrives. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A festival reads on a tablet at the 2016 San Antonio Book Festival.

San Antonians primed for non-fiction, fiction, literature, poetry, natural sciences, politics, and children's books will be flush this Saturday, April 7, with the arrival of the sixth annual San Antonio Book Festival from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Central Library and Southwest School of Art.

“Our minds are primed for story,” said author and educator David Bowles, who will speak at the festival. “We hunger for narrative.”

The subjects of arts and culture, and literature and poetry, are well represented among the festival's many offerings. Highlights include fables, myths, and legends of Mexico, a biography of singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, and a book of photography focusing on the small towns of Texas.

The Myths of Mexico

Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico by David Bowles

In the Central Library's third floor Festival Room at 3:45 p.m., Bowles' session will focus on the "myths of Mexico” and his new volume Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky.

His book ties together thousands of years of stories, from the civilizations that predate us on the lands that would become Mexico and Texas, to the mysteries of the borderlands that know no national boundaries.

Bowles learned “border legends” from his Mexican-American grandparents and other family members, such as La Llorona, or the “Wailing Woman” of lore, who might be related to the ancient Aztec vengeful spirit once called zohuaehecatl, he said. Factors like religious colonization and shifting borders have worked to “decouple present folklore from [its] indigenous past,” he said, and he works in part to reunite the myths of various cultures.

“They are us,” Bowles said of the old stories. “They show us what we all have in common.”

Joni Mitchell

Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe

In writing Reckless Daughter, Joni Mitchell biographer David Yaffe learned a remarkable thing about the musician, who is much appreciated for the poetic lyricism of her songs. “For somebody who writes such beautiful lyrics, she had very little interest in poetry,” Yaffe said.

She considered herself “illiterate,” he said, having read mostly comic books, but fellow musician-poet Leonard Cohen considered her “born right out of the god’s head,” Yaffe said.

“That’s one of the mysteries of genius,” Yaffe said, “that somebody could become that great without reading that much,” a fact that particularly surprises him as a writer and educator, he said.

Mitchell is known for her searing forthrightness, which makes her an interesting biography subject, Yaffe said. “That level of honesty scares most people. Obviously some people really love her for it, but it’s also terrifying. It makes you confront things that make you uncomfortable."

His book offers insight into the many songs based on Mitchell's personal trials and triumphs, Yaffe assured, and will appeal both to those who know a lot about her, and those who might be merely curious, "and want to read a story about a powerful woman, or read a story about the ’60s.”

He knew going into the project that her songs are legendary, he said, but he was looking for “the ‘figure in the carpet,’ so to speak,” quoting author Henry James, and focused on the stories and details most people don’t know about.

Yaffe will share stories and details from his eight years of interviewing Mitchell at 3:45 p.m. in the Swartz Room on the Central Library’s second floor.

Hometown Texas

Longtime journalist Joe Holley has focused on the stories and details most people don’t know about for much of his career as a columnist for the Houston Chronicle. In his earlier career as the editor of a small newspaper, “facing a deadline without a story" to fill space, "I’d hit the road,” he said.

“I knew I could pull up into any small town in Texas, and sit around the courthouse square café and come away with some kind of story,” Holley said. “Each of these towns has a personality all its own, which has intrigued me for a long time.”

Familiar with Peter Brown’s photographs of the rural Midwest and Texas panhandle, Holley approached the photographer with an idea to collaborate.

The result is Hometown Texas, an adventure among the small towns of Texas in images and stories.

Hometown Texas by Joe Holley, with photographs by Peter Brown

Many small towns across the nation are in decline, and Texas is no different, Brown said. But despite their towns and ways of life dying around them, he said, “the people are tenacious, they continue to live and produce in their lives.”

The stories they offer can be uplifting as well, Holley said. He hopes that readers will take to the road themselves in search of small-town magic. “When you go into these places after you know their story and their history, you see them differently than when you’re just driving through or stopping at the Dairy Queen and having a chocolate malt,” he said.

One of Brown’s goals is to “get people out of airplanes and back on the ground and exploring,” which can be “fun and inspirational,” he said.

In fact, the book can be used as a sort of road map, Holley said. At a recent party, “a woman told me she had used the book as a travel guide, based on what Peter and I had explored.”

Those curious to learn more about the "between places" of Texas can hear Brown and Holley talk about their adventures with moderator and Rivard Report contributor Rick Casey at 11:15 a.m. in Rogers Hall at the Southwest School of Art’s Santikos Building.

A festival map and events schedule are available on the festival's website. All sessions are free and open to the public.

 

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