Every year, thousands of people descend on Austin for a weekend of festival fun. But this isn’t another music festival the Capital of Texas plays host to — it’s the Texas Book Festival, an annual tradition since its conception in 1995.
This year’s iteration featured writers and critics from around the world, including multiple New York Times best selling authors, a former US Senator and one of the most famous game show contestants in history.
The Texas Book Festival is held each year in the State Capitol. As it has grown in popularity, it has begun to spill over into downtown Austin.
This year’s two-day event, on October 26 and 27, featured talks from authors of all genres — from political nonfiction and young adult to mystery, and even from shows such as HBO’s The Wire.
While most of the panels were held in smaller meeting rooms in the Capitol, some of the more popular writers were hosted in the Senate chamber. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who represented Texas in the US Senate for 18 years, was one such attraction. Despite her obvious background, the Republican mostly avoided political topics and instead spoke about how women can be effective leaders.
Ken Jennings, who became the highest-winning gameshow contestant in history, after winning 74 consecutive games of Jeopardy in 2004, was on hand to discuss his new book, which explores the validity of famous anecdotes we all heard from our mom when we were growing up.
For example, Jennings explained that there is no truth to the myth that people have poisoned Halloween candy or the notion that a swallowed piece of gum will be stuck in your stomach for seven years. But getting your feet wet on a rainy day may actually lead to a higher risk of catching a cold.
Jennings always kept his head level when discussing the content of his book but never hesitated to make a lighthearted joke. As Jennings reminisced about his time on Jeopardy, he recalled Brad Rutter — the person who beat Jennings in a tournament and who lost alongside Jennings to an IBM computer — as someone who, like the computer, had “never felt the love of a woman.”
While the Texas Book Festival still keeps reading and education at the core of its mission, it doesn’t hesitate to cater to other demographics. Alongside the book vendors and authors signing their work were attractions such as a cooking tent, a music tent and an area for kids that included children’s authors.
While the entire event was programmed with a particular interest in Texas culture, this regional twist was most noticeable outside the Capitol building and its panels. Not only did the state’s notoriously unpredictable climate send some attendees searching for shade with an unseasonably warm October afternoon on Saturday, but Texas’ culture was proudly represented as country or tejano musicians played to a crowd adjacent to food experts speaking on the best kinds of tequila or how to cook the perfect breakfast taco.
However, the most memorable moments of the weekend came after the heat had dissipated and attendees began taking advantage of Austin’s famous nightlife. Although not technically part of the schedule, the Festival helped host a pub crawl on Saturday night that took participants to bars and attractions along the city’s East Side.
As they traveled from bar to bar people were treated to a variety of events, many of which took a tongue-in-cheek jab at the festival participants. One bar hosted a “Battle of the Sexes” game where participants had to guess which famous author wrote a sexist excerpt provided by the judge, while another brought in the creator of Comedy Central’s “Drunk History,” resulting in audience members reenacting scenes from Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” as they battled their own inebriation.
However, the highlight of the night was not at a bar, but in a cemetery. R.L. Stein, the author of the famous “Goosebumps” children’s horror series, read an excerpt from one of his books with the Texas State Cemetery as the backdrop. Despite the dark atmosphere and content, Stein’s demeanor and storytelling ability made for a fitting end to a day that was equally lighthearted and engaging.