By Charles Ealy, Special to the American-Statesman
About 1,000 people packed the sanctuary Saturday at the First Baptist Church in downtown Austin to hear Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks talk about his debut collection of short stories, “Uncommon Type,” with Pulitzer Prize-winning Austin writer Lawrence Wright.
It was the highlight of a day of events at the Texas Book Festival, which was held at the state Capitol and surrounding grounds, with about 300 authors in attendance.
The day kicked off with Barbara Pierce Bush and Jenna Bush Hager sharing stories about their new book, “Sisters First,” with book festival co-founder and former first lady Laura Bush on hand in the House Chamber. The day also included a session with Dan Rather, author of the new book “What Unites Us” and the recipient of this year’s Texas Writer Award.
But it’s safe to say that Hanks was the biggest, last event of a day jam-packed with cooking demonstrations, children’s events and multiple panel discussions on politics and other current events.
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Hanks was genial and gregarious during his talk, revealing that he owns about 140 typewriters. Yep, you read that right. He has a typewriter obsession, he says, and there’s a typewriter in each of the 17 stories in his new collection.
Why so much love for a rather technologically obsolete office machine? Hanks says he loves the idea of permanence – of putting ink on paper, and that most of his typewriters are from the 1930s to the 1960s. But he also says he loves the percussive sound of the keys hitting the paper, signifying that he’s headed for the end of something and helping him along the way.
Of his typewriter collection, he says with a laugh, “It’s easier than collecting player pianos.”
He talked about his love of the late Nora Ephron, the author and screenwriter of such Hanks hits as “You’ve Got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle.”
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He says he complained about a scene between a father and son in “Sleepless in Seattle” and came up with new lines for his father character. Later, Ephron told him he was contributing to the movie as a writer.
And that started the idea that he might be a writer. But the writing didn’t come quickly. Instead, he thought about it for many years before attempting his first short story.
Hanks read a part of one of his short stories in the collection, “A Special Weekend,” which features Kenny Stahl, a thinly veiled autobiographical character based on himself. It deals with the 10-year-old who goes on a day trip with his mother in a sporty car, and his dad and his mother are divorced.
As Hanks dryly noted after reading part of the story, “Mom and Dad found the loves in their lives,” and he says his mother “found it on her third marriage.”
Wright noted that nostalgia played a prominent role in some of the stories, but Hanks said that of the 17 stories, 12 are contemporary. “I write from a lack of cynicism” rather than relying on nostalgia, he said, adding that he’s interested in “strange moments of serendipity where our lives change … with great connections that we don’t expect.”
“I’m a softie, without a doubt,” he said.
And in that regard, Hanks neared the end of the session by reading a note from a member of the audience, who proposed to his date. The proposal came from a man named Ryan McFarland, and the object of his affection was a Nikki Young. The spelling of the names wasn’t confirmed at press time, but both came up on stage, with McFarland kneeling and Young crying in joy.
Yep, Hanks is a softie.
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