Texas Book Festival offers political discourse and more children’s programming

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Political discourse. Author Panels. A massive children’s tent. These are only some of the offerings book lovers can expect at the 2018 Texas Book Fest.

Every year at the state Capitol, famous authors and Texan readers gather under tents to buy books and discuss their favorite stories. Including panels, interviews and book signings, the festival is completely free and open to the public.

“The festival was founded by Laura Bush who was a former librarian to bring together Texas authors and also to strengthen literacy and support Texan libraries,” said Julie Wernersbach, the literary director for the festival.

The festival’s profits go in part to grants for Texas libraries and Reading Rock Stars, which aims to increase literacy by sending children’s authors and illustrators to low-income schools with free copies of their books. The festival also helps introduce new authors to the book-loving community.

“(Being with other authors) was very surreal,” said Natalia Sylvester, author of “Everyone You Know Goes Home” and “Chasing the Sun.” “Every moment I thought, ‘I sat in that chair in the audience and now, I’m sitting up here with the other authors.’”

The festival will also serve as a forum for Texans to discuss pressing and difficult issues in politics and American life. At the heart of the festival will be the C-Span tent, where discussions on economics, voter suppression and undocumented life in the United States take place.

“(The festival is) about the books and writers and the topics of the day,” Wernersbach said. “We’re bringing together the top writers in this country who are writing about the big issues.”

The program’s vision is to inspire Texans of all ages to love reading, according to the festival website.

“Meeting a lot of writers who I look up to or I learned about online and seeing them in real life is really just a great experience, and I’m really grateful for it,” Sylvester said.

If a UT student wanted to do more to support literacy in Texas, they could also help out by staffing the tents and stands, registering authors and students or volunteering as a sign language interpreter.

“We have a significant amount of UT students who volunteer,” volunteer coordinator Laramie Stroud said. “Till the last minute, we’re taking volunteers.”

Another event which UT students can look forward to is the Lit Crawl, a night of “literary shenanigans” in spaces around the city of Austin.

“I think that if you were to show up you would find something that you would be interested in,” Stroud said. “There are just so many opportunities to explore and learn in one of the premier literary festivals in the nation.”

One of the new features of this year’s festival is the Kirkus Reviews Tent, which will combine all of the children’s programming. The tent on Congress Avenue and 11th Street focuses on getting the books that children will love into their hands.

“Children’s programming in Austin has grown and there are so many families who are looking for things to do with their young readers,” Wernersbach said.