Speeches by authors remain the heart and soul of the First Edition Literary Gala, which benefits the year-round literacy programs of the Texas Book Festival. Every fall on the night before the free fest that takes place in and around the State Capitol, these practiced storytellers entertain and enlighten their most devout audiences during a black-tie affair.
Their presentations are the only things, too, that silence the wonderfully chatty guests at the Four Seasons Hotel. Depend on the emcee — this time silver-tongued Jake Silverstein, formerly of Texas Monthly, now with the New York Times Magazine — to tame the roar with some timely humor in order to make way for the authors.
Jacqueline Woodson, known for her youth writing, but an author for all ages, squeezed all sorts of wisdom about books, libraries and writers into just a few minutes. Presidential historian Michael Beschloss, frequent contributor to NBC and PBS, reminded us of our highly unusual political times, while also referring to the roles of U.S. presidents in wartime, the subject of his latest book.
Vanessa Brantley-Newton and Celeste Ng added their fresh insights, but it was Luis Alberto Urrea who had the audience in stitches with a memorized anecdote from “The House of Broken Angels” that focused on an old woman trying to smuggle a parrot into the U.S. from Mexico.
Meanwhile, the table chat at this event remains among the brightest in town. I was seated with the family of festival CEO Lois Kim, each member as accomplished and poised than the next. In the lobby before dinner and during the necessary lulls, I caught up with authors, readers, editors, photographers, illustrators, archivists, movie directors and generous backers of the fest.
Conclusion: Austin nurtures an unusually magnanimous literary community.