This weekend, more than 280 authors are descending on Austin for the biggest Texas Book Festival ever. These literary giants are here to impart their wisdom and general literary coolness at sessions held in and around the Texas State Capitol grounds, popular bars and even out on Lady Bird Lake — all for free. Pretty sweet deal, if you ask us.
In our comprehensive guide to this year’s fest, we took the liberty of helping plan your days (and nights!) — because, lets face it, that lengthy grid schedule can be a little overwhelming. Read on for some of the sessions we’re most excited about, as well as some insider tips, like how to tackle the shenanigans of Saturday night’s fourth annual literary pub crawl through East Austin.
Saturday, October 25
Insider tip: If you’re the early morning, exercise-type then there are two very unique opportunities to hang with authors that you really have no excuse to miss. On Saturday morning at 8 am, authors Shannon Galpin and Jake Halpern are heading up a kayak adventure starting at Congress Avenue Kayaks. On Sunday morning at 8 am, literary greats H.W. Brands, Stephen Harrigan, Lawrence Wright and Rob Spillman are leading an hour-long bike tour through downtown Austin. In fact, even you non-morning folks should consider getting out of bed to join in on at least one of these. More info on the kayak tour here and bike tour here.
10 am: If you wake up bright-eyed and ready to dive right in with a hard-hitting session, then you should probably be at the C-SPAN tent first thing Saturday morning. John Dean, who served as legal counsel to President Nixon during the Watergate scandal (and recently authored The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It) is talking scandals, journalism and the Nixon presidency with Douglas Brinkley and Luke Nichter, co-authors of The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972. DCist and New York Times Magazine contributing writer Robert Draper is moderating. (Nixon, 10 am-10:45 am, C-SPAN2 / Book TV Tent)
10:45 am: If you can make it to the Capitol Rotunda in time, we can’t think of a better panel to follow a discussion of Nixon’s presidency than a discussion about empathy. Leslie Jamison (The Emapthy Exams) and Jon Kolko (Well-Designed: How to Use Empathy to Create Products People Love) talk about how empathy is our greatest tool in business and in life. The Empathy Exams is the kind of book that makes you want to rush out and buy copies for everyone you know, so we’re excited to hear what Jamison has to say. (All of the Feels, 10:45-11:45 am, Capitol Extension Room E2.016)
11 am: Down the street at The Contemporary Austin at the Jones Center, native Texan and longtime surfer Kenny Braun is celebrating the release of his gorgeous new book Surf Texas — a stunning, black-and-white photo essay that examines not only the enduring fascination of finding that perfect wave, but also the beauty of the Texas coast, from Galveston to South Padre. (Surf Texas, 11 am-12 pm, The Contemporary Austin at the Jones Center, 700 Congress Ave.)
Insider tip: All weekend, The Contemporary is full of sessions that visually explore the beauty and history of Texas. Enjoy stunning photo essays on surfing on the Texas Gulf Coast to a photo and poetry tribute to the Texas Hill Country to an exploration of the incredible array of lush homes in the Texas Hill Country. The Contemporary is the place to hang around if you’re looking to find and fall in love with some stunning hardcover photography books. Plus, you’ll feel extra cool showing them off in your living room, because, you know, you’ve met the authors and all.
11 am: As you wander to your next session, or maybe even break for lunch (we've got our eyes on the beer battered cod fish and chips from the Fry Baby trailer on East 11th Street between Colorado and Congress), swing by the music tent to hear performances from the Austin Opera. Coming up on an exciting new season, our bet is they're going to put on a mighty fine show (and we're looking forward to the chance to catch some opera magic for free).
11:30 am: A hot time slot for foodies and mystery fans. In the House Chamber, famous Italian Chef Lidia Bastianich discusses what her mother and grandmother taught her about cooking (Lidia Bastianich on Cooking, 11:30 am-12:30 pm, House Chamber) while over at the Central Presbyterian Church, renowned mystery writer Walter Mosley reads and discusses his latest work, Rose Gold: An Easy Rawlins Mystery (Rose Gold, 11:30 am-12:30 pm, Central Presbyterian Church). Both sessions are sure to be popular, so arrive early and prepare to wait in line.
Insider tip: Foodies, you can avoid the long lines and still get tips and advice from famous chefs. In addition to author sessions, famous cookbook authors are preparing dishes from all over the world at the Central Market Cooking Tent throughout the weekend. Kate Payne's mayonnaise (Saturday, 2:30-3:30 pm), Dean Fearing's BBQ shrimp taco with pickled onion and mango salad (Saturday, 4-5 pm), and David Sterling's Sikil p’aak (Sunday, 11 am-12 pm) all sound delicious.
12:30 pm: We’re pretty pumped to hear badass writers Molly Bloom, Colson Whitehead and Doug Swanson talk about the drama and the appeal of poker. Plus, it's moderated by the always super-cool Rob Spillman, editor of Tin House magazine. While the headliners are always fantastic, in our opinion it’s these kind of unique conversations that make the book fest so special. (Ante Up, 12:30-1:30 pm, Capitol Auditorium Room E1.004)
12:45 pm: Eimear McBride’s novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is unforgettable, narrated by an eloquent stream of consciousness and full of vivid imagery. The New Yorker called it “blazingly daring.” Austinite Elizabeth McCracken’s story collection Thunderstruck is ridiculously powerful, full of humor, heartache and wicked-smart descriptions. If you haven’t read McCracken or McBride’s books yet, we’re not sure what you’re waiting for. In the meantime, don’t miss out on hearing these two brilliant, buzzed-about writers chatting. (Mutual Appreciation Society, 12:45-1:45 pm, Capitol Extension Room E2.028)
2 pm: BuzzFeed Books editor Issac Fitzgerald and illustrator/graphic journalist Wendy MacNaughton are the folks behind Pen & Ink, a beautiful collection that features the tattoos of writers, musicians and ordinary people along with the stories behind them. We can't wait to hear them share some tat tales. (Tattoo Tales, 2-3 pm, Capitol Extension Room E2.016)
4 pm: We’re hoping that Austin-based event planner and ultimate hostess Camille Styles shares — among other things — how her Instagram feed is always so damn perfect and full of photo shoots of parties we would love to be attending. (Entertaining with Camille Styles, 4-5 pm, Texas Tent)
7 pm: The fourth annual Lit Crawl on the East Side promises to be full of all the usual mayhem, revelry and literary shenanigans. We’re especially excited to see an epic battle of words between authors Marie-Helene Bertino, Scott Chesire, Mira Jacob and Marlon James during Literary Death Match over at The North Door. Check out the full schedule and map here. Our advice? Just go where the night (and the booze) leads you.
Insider tip: Wear comfortable shoes and pace yourself — you don’t want to miss the after party, hosted by local indie press A Strange Object. It starts at 10:30 pm at The North Door and is free and open to all.
Sunday, October 26
11 am: S, a collaboration from novelist Doug Dorst and filmmaker J.J Abrams, is as meta as it gets — it’s both a piece of literature and a physical object, a profound and genre-bending piece of art. And Michael McGriff and J.M Tyree’s Our Secret Life in the Movies is a dual narrative, flash fiction riff on classic and cult cinema that is whip-smart and gives us an entirely new way of exploring cinema through literature. They’re the perfect guys to be engaging in what is sure to be a super smart conversation about how the new era of literature is blurring lines between fiction, film, photography and pop culture. (The New Era of Interactive Fiction: Alternative Approaches to Storytelling, 11 am-1:45 pm, Capitol Auditorium Room E1.004)
11:15 am: Teachers and educators take note: This session is right up your alley. Psychologists David Feldman and Lee Kravetz's book Supersurvivors looks at the science of thriving successes that occur in the wake of trauma, while Michael Sokolove's Drama High tells the story of how an extraordinary drama teacher leads students at a struggling high school to produce award-winning, nationally recognized performances. We're excited to hear these three discuss the importance of role models, and, no, we're not just saying that because one of the authors is this writer's dad. (Role Models, 11:15 am-12:15 pm, Capitol Extension Room E1.026)
12 pm: If you were hooked by Dorst, McGriff and Tyree's discussion earlier in the morning about the intersection of film and literature, then listen in as Phillip Meyer and Smith Henderson keep the conversation going by chatting about the craft of adaptation. (Found in Translation, 12-1 pm, Kirkus Reviews Tent)
12:30 pm: Another session worth waiting in line for? Norman Lear, the activist and American TV producer of shows like All in the Family, Sanford and Son and The Jeffersons. We feel like whenever you're given the chance to hear from a ninetysomething legend, you're a fool not to. (The Producer, 12:30-1:15 pm, House Chamber)
2 pm: Reggae artist Ziggy Marley wrote a children's book (I Love You Too), and he reads from it on Sunday. In case he decides to sing too, we're making an extra point to swing by the Children's Tent at 13th Street and Colorado. (Ziggy Marley, 2-2:30 pm, Children's Read Me a Story Tent)
3:30 pm: There's sure to be a lengthy line for this session too, but we're betting it is worth the wait to see director Richard Linklater discuss the movie everyone has been talking about, his 12-year masterpiece Boyhood. He's joined by renowned photographer Matt Lankes, Boyhood producer Cathleen Sutherland and actor Ellar Coltrane. (Boyhood: Twelve Years on Film, 3:30-4:30 pm, House Chamber)
Insider tip: Bring a tote (or three) and go nuts buying books. Because it's a chance to buy signed copies, it's never too early to start your holiday shopping, and most important, a portion of the book sale proceeds go toward keeping this incredible weekend of literature free.