Storytellers and Reading Lovers Assemble!: 2021 Texas Book Festival Successful Online

Ella Lilly, Staff Writer

Whether it was in-person, virtual, or a hybrid mix, the Texas Book Festival has brought together authors, book lovers, and Austinites alike to create meaningful conversations and connect over books since it was founded in 1995 by former First Lady Laura Bush. The literacy festival features a variety of sessions from reader’s favorite authors, venues—most notably the State Capitol—food trucks, and activities for families. It has featured many authors over the years, including Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Cisneros, Elizabeth Strout,and Margaret Atwood.

Communication and advertising coordinator Ke’ara Hunt started working for the festival in January. She’s passionate about the festival and spreading love for it.

“[People come] to meet their favorite authors and their favorite writers,” Hunt said. “They’re just huge, huge storytellers, and they enjoy meeting other people who share a common interest.”

The festival is free to attend, and the organization itself is a nonprofit. In 2020, they connected with more than 75,000 people virtually through social media by streaming author conversations, story times, and more. 

“I love that our mission is to maximize the amount of books we can share through sessions and the amount of people there,” Hunt said.

Even though the festival was altered during COVID-19, it was still able to reach thousands through Zoom sessions and Q&As. Within the overall festival, there’s also the Teen Texas Book Festival that is directed towards young adults and teen readers. 

“There’s so much content that is specifically for teenagers, and it’s just a time for them to kind of meet their favorite authors and to share any ambitions in terms of literature or writing that they would like to pursue in the future,” Hunt said. “They can get that motivation and encouragement to go towards those career avenues.”

English teacher Lauren Williams provides an extra credit opportunity to her students if they attend a session at the book festival. They then have to write a paper on the contents of the author’s talk and what they took away from it.

“What’s pretty impactful is not only the opportunity to see some of your favorite writers that you may have read back in elementary or middle school, but really just the opportunity to hear new voices and to be exposed to different voices,” Williams said. 

Over the years, she’s attended many authors’ sessions that introduced her to new works of literature she wouldn’t have normally picked up. She loves being able to share her love for the festival and experience powerful talks with her students and even their families. 

“When we got to listen to Tim O’Brien, the author of ‘The Things They Carried,’ speak, that was definitely such an engaging experience,” Williams said. “It was cool to not only just look up and see my students, but also to see their families there, too, because some turned it into a family event.”

Sophomore Lyssa Lashus took part in Williams’ extra credit when she logged on to award-winning author Sandra Cisneros’ session on her latest book, “Marita, I Remember You.” While she attended the session virtually this year, she hopes to attend in person next year for the complete experience.
“It’s really interesting to hear all the different perspectives of writers, especially if you’re interested in writing, because you get to learn their strategies and kind of what’s going through their head as they write stuff,” Lashus said. “It’s kind of like the Wizard of Oz, peeking behind the curtain.”

Hunt said the festival was an exceptional success. She thought having content online made the event more accessible, but she looks forward to providing more of the traditional festival experience next year.

“We were able to basically have something for everyone,” Hunt said. “For those who couldn’t make it out physically to our festival, we had all of our content online…and to those who just really missed that traditional customer experience in person, we were able to have those two dedicated days at Symphony Square and Austin Public library, where they can actually come out and meet those authors, do book signings, and meet each other to kind of get that old festival back. And hopefully next year we can do more in person.”