On April 8, Ruthless Good: The Great Austin Scavenger Hunt will dispatch dozens of teams from the Long Center to crack clues, solve trivia challenges, and discover photo-worthy landmarks and locales. But the rolicking hunt’s true aim is problem solving on a much grander scale–bolstering equitable community-wide access to health, education and work.
The Smart Life
I love a good lifestyle blog and thought the space could use some more color. I pledge not to bore you with souped-up photos of my daily outfits or horribly executed but beautifully photographed DIY projects. However, reflections on family life, women's issues and volunteer pursuits are all fair game. Read on for juicy slices of the Smart life.
A particularly moving scene in the film Hidden Figures takes place not at NASA but in the public library of Hampton, Virginia. Mathematician Dorothy Vaughn steers clear of vocal civil rights protests on her way into the library. Yet her visit is cut short when a white librarian warns her: “We don’t want any trouble in here,” as she considers a computer programming text on a shelf. Vaughn’s only seeking knowledge — a book that can’t be found in the colored section — yet she and her young sons are brusquely escorted out by a guard.
The scene distills so many dimensions of the enduring obstacles to equality in America, from restricted access to career-propelling information to the threat of rebuke for daring to challenge the social order. It got me thinking about the incredible barriers to adult education and career advancement that continue to persist, helped by complex systems of discrimination and segregation.
I was honored to stand with Austin’s writing community and writers across the country for an evening of rapid-fire readings designed to renew our energy and help us find the language and stories we need to fight for a free, just and compassionate society. Participating writers included Sarah Bird, Elizabeth McCracken, Cyrus Cassells, Sasha West, Tammy Gomez, and Chaitali Sen.
Hi, I’m Maya, and I’d love to tell you about the I, Too, Arts Collective. This is a new non-profit initiative being launched by author Renée Watson to preserve and build on the legacy of poet, Langston Hughes. I was so excited when I heard that Renée was doing this, because, like so many people, I have enjoyed the poetry of Langston Hughes since I was a little, little kid. In fact, I still have my very first book of poetry, which is called My Black Me: A Beginning Book of Black Poetry, which features four or five Langston Hughes poems whose lines I return to and whose themes and ideas I explore in my own writing.
Mary Helen Specht, author of Migratory Animals (Sept. 7 at noon at Holy Grounds)
I’m a sucker for debut novelists, so if I could break away from my desk midday, I would hustle over to Holy Grounds Coffee, located inside St. David’s Episcopal Church, to hear from Mary Helen Specht, author of Migratory Animals. The moving, if melancholy, story grapples with notions of home, family and belonging. See event details here.
Christina Soontornvat, author of The Changelings (Sept. 10 at 3 pm at BookPeople
Local author Christina Soontornvat is a generous supporter of fellow writers. I had the pleasure of getting to know her a bit during the Writing Barn’s Perfecting the Picture Book I course this summer. As a teacher, Christina brings great enthusiasm, attention to craft and sensitivity to her critique of student work. I’m excited to hear more about her own writing process when she takes the mic at BookPeople this month. See event details here.
I read picture books to my daughter for nearly five years before I gained a deep appreciation for the form. Sure, I read them daily and with enthusiasm (mostly). But I read them the same way I would read a chapter book or an illustrated dictionary. That is, I read them as if the pictures were servant to the text, secondary and utilitarian.
If I referenced a picture at all, it was to capture Zora’s attention with quick questions like: What color is her shirt? or How many ducks do you see?
Then I attended one of Carmen Oliver’s picture book seminars offered through The Writing Barn in Austin. Oliver, author of Bears Make the Best Reading Buddies, teaches the art of picture book writing, but her seminar was just as valuable as a picture book appreciation primer.
A recent visit to Chicago for BookExpo America transported me back to 2005, when I visited the offices of historic black newspaper The Chicago Defender. At the time, I was a grad student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, visiting to interview then-editor Roland Martin about his plans for reviving the paper at its 100th anniversary.
Martin peered over a sleek silver laptop, surrounded by books and papers, and opined in an authoritative staccato about newspaper lifecycles and the coming convergence of print, radio, television and web media.
With his signature mix of substance and swagger, Martin recast the 18,000-circulation daily — known at that point for delivering yesterday’s news tomorrow — as a formidable American brand on the cusp of ascent.
June is a big month in this literary town. Austin’s African American Book Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary on the 25th. Swing by the Carver Museum and Library (1161 and 1165 Angelina St, 78702) between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. to take part in the program, which promotes literature by and about African Americans. The festival features young adult author Sharon Flake and also provides a platform for new, emerging and self-published authors to pitch and sell their work.
I produced a short video to celebrate the festival’s big milestone and explain why it’s worthy of our community’s support. “Our festival is important because it brings readers and writers together,” founder Rosalind Oliphant says. “It creates a space for conversation, for dialogue, for creativity, and hopefully in those discussions we’re expanding our thinking, our creativity, and our activism.” Click below to learn about the origin and impact of the small and mighty event.
Please join me on Saturday, April 23, 2016 at the John Henry Faulk Central Library, 800 Guadalupe St., Austin, TX for the New Fiction Confab.
This exciting event features several of the most notable authors who published new work in 2015 and 2016. They’ll lead writing workshops, read their work, and engage in conversations in Austin libraries. Don’t miss this chance to discuss contemporary fiction with the authors shaping America’s literary landscape!