Texas (!) Book Festival

I had the honor of speaking about my latest book at the Texas Book Festival this past weekend. I went down on Saturday support another author presenting on a panel and her room was full. I noticed immediately that my kids and I were about the only African Americans in the room. The capitol was packed with throngs of people and one glance at the list of authors let you know that the organizers of doing something right. The list was a veritable who's who of the book world, studded the names of the Literati. But as I walked through the festival and around the Capitol grounds, it became obvious that something was missing. Regular folk.
Now, Texas is what, 60% minority? But the Book Festival was probably 96% white. It looked more like the Austin Book Festival than the Texas book Festival. Very few authors, very few participants (at least those that I could recognize) were Asian, African American or Hispanic. They did have a Hispanic program somewhere off to the side, I'm told. I knew of 5 participating African Americans, including myself and the woman introducing me. Maybe there were more. I'm sure there were. There had to be. Somewhere.
I have been to quite a few festivals since I started writing, both large and small, including the LA Times Book Festival, New York is Book Country, The Harlem Book Fair, The Baltimore book Fair, The Miami Book Festival and a few others. All were more diverse than the Texas book Festival. I'm sure benchmarking could find some lessons to be learned. Almost all of these had a place to highlight emerging writers, some even setting up separate stages where they featured up and comers or Hispanic or Black authors,or those that were self published or with a small press. These stages had names such as "The Next Big Thing" and "Ripe Harvest" and such and had programming that spanned the festivals length, similar to what was going on in the cooking tent this weekend. These were hosted or sponsored by community organizations, foundations, smaller newspapers or book clubs from all over. Some had short story contests for students that got to read their work at the festival. They almost might have had an independent bookseller, respected in his/her community that people come out for, hosting signings by some of these authors in their booths. Texas is big, we could draw from all over the state. One of the most respected Indie booksellers in the country is in Dallas, Black Images. I know if proprietor Emma Rodgers asks me to come to anything, I try my dardnest to fit it into my schedule, and I know other authors with resumes far more dazzling than mine do the same.
So, what am I saying? Basically that now that the Texas Book Festival is established and we know it can attract mainstream folk, lets branch into some grassroots efforts to get the people out there, the ones whose libraries supposedly benefit from the proceeds. Folks will come out to see their favorite, more commercial authors. And that would be a good thing. Not only would the lesser known authors get exposure, but more of the statewide community would be involved. People from the rest of the country and state would get to see that Austin is a great place. In the end, more readers would have an opportunity to be exposed to books that fall on both ends of the spectrum.


Anonymous said…
I agree with you 100% (sort of). I think, though, that in order to grab black folks, need to have celebs (Eric Dickey, Zane, Terry McMillen) instead of a broader variety of writers. My people will show up for an event, but are less likely to show up for an experience....and that is a shame. I think having a connection to the book sellers (which are huge in our community) as well as other media vehicles (magazines and radio) would help drive this better. I did't hear one ad for the festival on KAZI or The Beat or any other predominantly minority focused media outlet.
Nina Foxx said…
I agree with you and they are exactly the writers I meant. Increasing coverage to include authors of theat caliber will leave publicists clamoring to get their clients in.
Don Tate II said…
Nina, I have sat on TBF panels three times. Each time I am disheartened by the turnout of...my people. The first time it came completely unexpected to me. There I sat as an African American presenting my books to a room full of white people. I have no problem with that, but I kept wondering where my people were. Each time I sat in the book signing tents, I'd get these hateful stares from the mostly white crowd, and one or two black folk would come up and purchase a book--either that or they'd be looking for something I'd be handing out free. I was advised that the next time I participate in the festival I should do my own promoting in the black community, churches, libraries and such. It can be frustrating. I did a tour of Austin libraries a couple summers ago. I was disappointed when I showed up the libraries in the black community where one or two kids showed up, and the other libraries on other communities had standing room only crowds. I don't know the answer, but I'm afraid that if something does not change, publishers are going to slow down production of books for our kids. I do children's picture books for mostly African American titles.I don't have an answer.
Andres Puello said…
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