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Texas Book Fest 2020: Our writers recommend these authors

American-Statesman staff
Austin American-Statesman

More than 125 authors and creatives are part of this year’s virtual Texas Book Festival. Here we share recommendations that touch on a just a fraction of the lineup. See the full lineup and schedule at

Yaa Gyasi: “Homegoing” was one of my favorite pandemic reads this year. I couldn’t put it down. The book spans several centuries, with each chapter following a new generation from two diverging branches of one family tree. I’ve never read a novel like this one before and I still think about it all the time — even though I finished it back in March — which for me is the mark of a truly good story. I can’t wait to hear Gyasi speak about her new book, “Transcendent Kingdom,” at the book festival. It’s been on my to-read list since I learned it was coming out this fall. (noon Nov. 12) — Sarah Asch

Bryan Washington: I added “Memorial” to my to-read list as soon as I found out it was coming out in late October. I am always drawn to stories about young people during moments of profound transition, and I am excited to get the chance to read this story. Washington appears on a “Texas Debut Novelists” panel at the festival. (10 a.m. Nov. 15) — S.A.

Kacen Callender: Though I have not had a chance to read “Felix Ever After” yet, I am always in for a good YA book, and Callendar’s tackles issues that I don’t often see depicted in fiction. “Felix Ever After” is a coming-of-age story for a queer, Black, transgender high school student, and I have had several people recommend it to me. (11:30 a.m. Nov. 1) — S.A.

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Brit Bennett: “The Vanishing Half” is next on my to-read list, and I cannot wait to dive in. Bennett’s acclaimed novel tells the story of identical twin sisters, one who lives in her hometown with her Black daughter and the other who now lives a life where she passes as white. The book tackles topics from race to family to sisterhood, and I have it on good authority from my own sisters that this is a book I should not miss. Bennett appears in conversation with Dalia Azim. (10 a.m. Nov. 12) — S.A.

Kathy Valentine: Yes, she became a big-time rock star in the 1980s with Los Angeles band the Go-Go’s, but Valentine cut her teeth playing in Austin rock clubs as a teenager in the 1970s. “All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ’n’ Roll Memoir” digs deep into her experiences in both of those eras, and addresses the challenges she faced as a woman in an industry too often dominated by men. Valentine appears in two festival conversations. (11 a.m. Nov. 8 and 1:15 p.m. Nov. 12) — Peter Blackstock

Matthew McConaughey: This is less a personal recommendation — nothing against the guy — than an acknowledgment that Austin’s most stellar star wrote a memoir, and this year’s virtual fest will probably be best remembered for his 45 minutes of folksy conversation with fellow ATX-tied celeb Ethan Hawke. This one requires a ticket. (4:40 p.m. Nov. 7) — Eric Webb

Michael Ian Black: Comedian and actor Black certainly knows funny, but I’m intrigued to find out how he tackles vulnerability in “A Better Man.” The book is written as a letter to his son and promises a “heartfelt meditation on masculinity.” Probably best to laugh while you dismantle the oppression of patriarchal norms. Owen Egerton moderates the conversation. (noon Nov. 8) — E.W.

Jonathan Lethem: However you came to Lethem — me, anthologies like “Men and Cartoons” and “The Disappointment Artist” and novels like “Motherless Brooklyn” — you’re probably a nerd, if you’re a fan. His brainy and referential (not a dig) writing is a genre lover’s delight, whether steeped in comic book lore or evoking paperback noir. His new novel, “The Arrest,” is about what happens when modern conveniences just … stop working. He appears on a speculative fiction panel with Cory Doctorow and TJ Klune. (2:30 p.m. Nov. 12) — E.W.

Ellis Cose and Kimberly A. Hamlin: It’s the 100th anniversary of both the ACLU and the 19th Amendment, so why not hear what the authors of “Democracy, If We Can Keep It: The ACLU’s 100-Year Fight for Rights in America” and “Free Thinker: Sex, Suffrage, and the Extraordinary Life of Helen Hamilton Gardener” have to say about where our civil rights stand? I imagine this is one of several Schrödinger's panels; whatever happens on Nov. 3 will determine the version of this conversation that ends up in our reality. (1 p.m. Nov. 10) — E.W.

Liliana Valenzuela: The poet and translator (and longtime writer for Ahora Sí, the Statesman’s former Spanish-language publication) this year published “Codex of Love: Bendita ternura,” a poetry book that “at times reads like a song and other times like a prayer.” Valenzuela appears on a “Literary, Lyrical, Latinx” panel with Gris Muños, Matt Sedillo and Edward Vidaurre. (12:45 p.m. Nov. 11; also moderating a discussion with novelist Julia Alvarez at 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 6) — E.W.

P. Djèlí Clark: Are you a fan of “Lovecraft Country”? Try “Ring Shout,” Clark’s spooky novel set in the American South in the 1920s. Maryse Boudreaux fights the Klan, who are not just racist — they’re demons. (4 p.m. Nov. 10) — Sharyn Vane

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Natasha Trethewey: The longtime U.S. poet laureate unpacks her mother’s murder along with the buried trauma of her childhood in her memoir, “Memorial Drive.” Trethewey’s raw honesty and maestro’s command of language make her book a heartbreaking, essential read. (noon Nov. 11) — S.V.

Kevin Kwan: The “Crazy Rich Asians” author (who went to high school in Clear Lake, outside Houston) gives us a frothy modern take on E.M. Forster in “Sex and Vanity,” his latest comedy of wealthy-people manners. New cast of characters, same luxury brands and impossibly chic scenarios. (5:30 p.m. Nov. 12) — S.V.

David Chang: The celebrated Momofuku chef and “Ugly Delicious” impresario’s memoir delves into his restaurant background but also his mental health struggles. Chang’s fellow James Beard Award winner, pastry chef and memoirist Lisa Donovan joins the conversation. (10 a.m. Nov. 13) — S.V.

Isabel Wilkerson: Pulitzer Prize winner Wilkerson spent more than a decade researching and writing “Caste,” about the hierarchy that governs our world. “Caste is the bones, race is the skin,” she argues in a book that was longlisted for the National Book Award. (noon Nov. 14) — S.V.

Tracy Deonn: First in a series that draws from the Arthurian canon, “Legendborn” follows Bree to college, where she witnesses a demon attack within her first days on campus. Tremendous world-building and plenty of magic add up to an immersive, addicting read. (2:30 p.m. Nov. 1) — S.V.

Aiden Thomas: Yadriel wants to show his family he has what it takes to be a brujo, even though they struggle to accept his true gender. When he accidentally summons the wrong spirit in an effort to bring back his cousin, there’s mystery afoot in Thomas’ National Book Award-nominated debut “Cemetery Boys.” (4 p.m. Oct. 31) — S.V.

Nic Stone: I’ve been a massive fan of Stone’s ever since she keynoted the Texas Teen Book Festival in 2018. She excels at both reflecting reality and offering hope to her young readers. She returns this year with “Dear Justyce,” the follow up to her New York Times-bestselling “Dear Martin,” which shows how quickly the forces in a young Black teen’s life can divert him down the wrong path. (1 p.m. Nov. 1) — S.V.

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Ibi Zoboi with Yusef Salaam: Zoboi and Salaam team in “Punching the Air” to tell the story of teenage artist and poet Amal, sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Salaam, one of the “Exonerated Five” whose story Ava DuVernay tells in “When They See Us,” has spent years working for prison reform. (5:30 p.m. Nov. 1) — S.V.

Kelly J. Baptist: “Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero” centers on 10-year-old Isaiah. He copes with the considerable challenges in his life by disappearing into his father’s journal, which is full of stories about a superhero version of Isaiah. Baptist’s affecting debut novel marks her as one to watch. (9 a.m. Nov. 3) — S.V.

Don Tate: Austin’s Tate (a former American-Statesman staff member) spotlights the often-surprising history of the Harlem Globetrotters in his illustrations for the new non-fiction picture book “Swish!” Those who grew up knowing only the flashy striped uniforms and buckets of confetti will learn lots. (8 a.m. Nov 4) — S.V.

Mikaila Ulmer: Austinite Ulmer is only 16, but she’s already launched her Me and the Bees lemonade business, raised money for bee research through her nonprofit, and landed on Time’s list of the most influential teens. She tells her sting-to-success story in “Bee Fearless: Dream Like a Kid.” (8 a.m. Nov. 5) — S.V.

Derrick Barnes: “King of Kindergarten” author Barnes celebrates Black boys in “I Am Every Good Thing,” his newest picture book. His subjects are “cocky and considerate,” “humorous and humble,” and worthy just as they are. (7 a.m. Nov. 6) — S.V.

Texas Book Festival

Keep up with all things Texas Book Festival, from author updates to the schedule and participating vendors, at Lit Crawl Austin also will be virtual this year, and you can find details about that on the website, too.

Author discussions and panels will stream via the Crowdcast platform, and almost all events are free.

This year’s dates are different, like everything in 2020, with events spread over two weeks:

Oct. 31 and Nov. 1: Young adult writers

Nov. 2-6: Children’s programming

Nov. 6: First Edition Literary Gala (virtual) with emcee Michael Ian Black, Julia Alvarez, Natasha Trethewey, and Nick Hornby

Nov. 6-15: Adult authors

Author Yaa Gyasi's latest work is "Transcendent Kingdom."