A section of Augusta Street will be closed one Saturday in April – but not for road work or construction. The streets connecting the Central Library and the Southwest School of Art campus will be transformed into a book fiesta. Saturday, April 13 marks the first annual San Antonio Edition of the Texas Book Festival.
"Sometimes you hear about literature and you forget about fun," said Clay Smith, literary director of the book and reader gathering. Smith should know. For eight years he helped organize the mammoth Austin Book Festival which takes place each October and draws tens of thousands of fans. A good book festival is more than a display of literary prowess, said Smith, adding that sparking conversations among authors, readers, children and parents is a primary objective.
Authors of local, national, and international stature will mingle with readers young and old. The festival, in partnership with the San Antonio Library Foundation and at least 175 volunteers, will host activities for kids, booths, food trucks, live music, speakers, author Q&As and – of course – book readings. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., all festivities are free.
Managing the herds of authors and volunteers will be Katy Flato, festival director and longtime library and literacy advocate. Flato has served on the Library Foundation's board for 24 years and along with San Antonio Library Foundation president Tracy Bennett, spearheaded the wildly successful, since discontinued Copyright Texas, a series of fundraising events at which well-known readers and writers participated in readings that raised thousands of dollars for the Library Foundation.
"We hope to make it one for the books," said Flato, adding that the festival aims to serve avid, well-read readers and book lovers and future avid, well-read readers and book lovers.
The festival is partnering with SA Reads, Gemini Ink, the Children's Museum and other literacy/literature groups to ensure that children attending traditionally underserved school districts have the chance to participate. Free books and t-shirts will be provided for school children along with activities like a pop-up book making workshop.
San Antonio is the only city outside Austin that's hosting a Texas Book Festival. The Capital grounds will host the 18th annual two-day book fest in late October with 250 authors. Organizers in Austin are expecting to draw more than 40,000 visitors this year.
The literary line-up aims to be simultaneously local and far reaching, said Flato. From National Book Award finalist Domingo Martinez's "The Boy Kings of Texas," personal memoirs about growing up on the border, to San Antonio Express-News Columnist Gilbert Garcia's look at "Reagan's Comeback: Four Weeks in Texas Politics That Changed American Politics Forever," to Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright's investigative look at scientology, "Going Clear," the Festival aims to reflect San Antonio's rich, diverse cultural heritage but also reach far and wide to bring in some of the best authors on the planet to delve into the timeliest of topics. Check out the complete author line-up confirmed to attend the event [PDF].
Former San Antonio City Councilwoman, mayoral candidate and author María Antonietta Berriozábal spoke at Thursday's press conference to highlight the importance of giving local authors a voice. She'll be discussing her life, work and "the underside of the history of San Antonio" through her book, "Maria, Daughter of Immigrants," during the festival.
“This book is San Antonio’s book,” she said. "This (festival) is important for all the books being written in (our) community.”
The local poetry community will be well represented, said Smith. "The love of poetry in San Antonio is really invigorating and kind of astonishing," he said, attributing much of that to the influence of Mexican and Latin American culture in the city, communities that are especially passionate about and proud of their poets. "This is not very well reflected in the Austin festival."
Texas Book Festival Executive Director Heidi Marquez Smith was pleasantly surprised to find such vigor in the local community to support a literary event. She hopes that expansion of the festival into the Alamo city will also mean expansion of the Reading Rock Stars literacy program, which brings celebrated authors and free books to economically disadvantaged schools and students.
"Many of these kids have never held a new book in their hands," she said. Through events and programming throughout the year, an estimated 100,000 Texans are reached – a number that's sure to grow exponentially after the San Antonio edition gains support and awareness.
The festival's official poster features Austin photographer Joel Salcido's "Toro Obscuro," (Obscured Bull) taken in 2002.
"It was chosen, I think, mainly because of its symbolism," Salcido said. This photograph is part of a series Salcido is compiling that illustrates the bull's experience throughout history.
"Humans chose (to paint) the bull when they painted the first cave paintings (in Lascaux, France)," he said, "That painting was one of the first forms of communication." Books are, after all, pure communication.
"The bull is a force to be dealt with," he added. "The same force that this (book festival) will become with time."
Organizers are still looking to add 75 more volunteers. Want to help? VIP tickets are still available and donations are always accepted – $1,000 VIP sponsorship, allows you to skip lines, meet the authors, and enjoy other perks. For more information, visit saplf.org/bookfestival.