Grisham at Texas Book Festival: ‘Writers steal everything’
Gorgeous fall weather accompanied tens of thousands of book lovers who descended upon the Capitol grounds and surrounding venues Saturday and Sunday for the 23rd annual Texas Book Festival.
Though John Grisham’s Saturday morning discussion of his new novel, “The Guardians,” was initially hampered by lousy sound (much to the frustration of the sold-out, ticket-purchasing crowd at First Baptist Church), the charming author dove into a discussion with Talmage Boston about the novel.
Noting that “writers steal everything,” Grisham discussed hunting the daily paper for stories of injustice that he could transform into fiction. His latest novel is based in part on the case of former Clifton High School principal Joe Bryan, who spent 34 years attempting to prove his innocence in the death of his wife. Grisham read stories about the case written by former Texas Monthly executive editor Pamela Coloff that she published in the New York Times Magazine and ProPublica.
Grisham disagreed with the idea that most lawyers are as "hardened and ornery“ as the men and women he writes about. “Most folks are good, decent, fun, nice folks,” he said. “Most lawyers are decent, hardworking people. But nobody wants to read about those people.”
Grisham also said he loves writing in the first person present tense. “It’s so much easier for me,” he said. “It’s the lazy way to write a novel. The problem comes when you need to go from first person to a scene that happened 20 years ago.”
Earlier in the week, Grisham spoke with the Statesman about the Texas Access to Justice Foundation; he also appeared at the foundation’s 35th anniversary gala Oct. 25. The foundation is the largest Texas-based funding source for legal aid.
It’s incredibly important, Grisham said, for young lawyers to take on legal aid cases. “Once you do it a few times, you see the power of a law license,” Grisham said. For example, “sometimes it’s just a matter of a family on the verge of being evicted simply showing up with a lawyer that can get an unscrupulous landlord to back down."
Also on Saturday: Other marquee authors speaking at ticketed events were Malcolm Gladwell, Sean Brock and John Hodgman (musician Lyle Lovett made a surprise appearance during Hodgman’s talk).
Samantha Power, former U.N. ambassador during the Obama administration, spoke about a new memoir, “The Education of an Idealist,” to a packed audience under the C-SPAN 2/Book TV tent in front of the Capitol.
In a wide-ranging talk, Power touched on her early life in Ireland, an unlikely relationship with her Russian counterpart at the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, and what she called the “decimation” of the U.S. diplomatic and scientific corps under President Donald Trump.
Power also condemned Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria, calling it a grotesque betrayal of the Kurds in the region, longtime U.S. allies.
Poet and memoirst Saeed Jones, who won the Kirkus Prize for nonfiction Thursday night from Austin-based Kirkus reviews, appeared on two panels: one on writing about mothers, where he read a stirring passage from the award-winning “How We Fight For Our Lives,” and another celebrating the literary legacy of Toni Morrison, who died this year.
In an afternoon discussion, authors Karen Tongson and Andrea Lawlor delighted an audience with a hilarious talk about pop music and queer identity.
“There is something really gay about ’80s music in general,” Tongson said, adding: “George Michael was the crucible. Do I want him, or to be him?”
On Sunday, authors speaking included Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who returned to Austin with her newest picture book, “Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You”; Austin writer Stephen Harrigan, who just released a well-received book about Texas history called “Big Wonderful Thing”; and well-known chef Aarón Sánchez talking about his memoir, “Where I Come From: Life Lessons From a Latino Chef.”