In spite of overcast skies, the 21st annual Texas Book Festival attracted large crowds on both Saturday and Sunday. For the first time that I remember, the House and Senate chambers were not used. Sessions were held in nearby churches (First Methodist, First Baptist, and Central Presbyterian), Omni Austin Hotel, Paramount Theatre, and large outdoor tents. Capitol Extension rooms were also used, but many of those sessions reached their room capacity. The children’s area was relocated to Congress Avenue. The C-SPAN2 tent was moved to just south of the capitol grounds, so traffic noise was no longer a problem.
Saturday, November 5
Our Great Big Backyard with Laura Bush and Jenna Bush Hager
This first session of the weekend started about 15 minutes late, which is unusual for this festival. Former First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna read the first few pages of their latest children’s book, Our Great Big Backyard. They noted how important it is to get children outdoors. Laura still takes an annual hiking vacation with friends who were in the audience. Twin sister Barbara and numerous Secret Service agents were in attendance, too. Their favorite children’s books were Little House on the Prairie (Laura) and Little Women (Jenna).
On the Razor’s Edge
Carl Hiaasen discussed his newest book, Razor Girl, with Clay Smith, former TBF literary director. He described the book’s plot which somehow involves a giant Gambian pouched rat. When writing fiction, he starts with a cast of characters and a general idea, but does not plan his plot lines in detail. Carl claimed to get many of his ideas from real-life news stories, but I suspect he also has a vivid imagination.
Protecting the Presidents
Clint Hill began his Secret Service career in 1958. He was assigned to President Eisenhower and accompanied him on a tour of 11 countries. He even followed him on golf outings. When President Kennedy won in 1960, Clint was assigned to Jackie. At first he did not want that assignment, but he came to like her very much. She was quite popular, and so crowd control was a big problem. Clint accompanied the President and First Lady to Dallas on November 22, 1963. He was the agent who hopped onto their limo after the shots were fired. After the assassination, he stayed on as her agent for another year. In 1964, he was back at the White House to guard President Johnson. He joked that it was quite a transition since LBJ was so unpredictable. Clint was promoted to Agent in Charge in 1967. Due to his previous assignments, Nixon questioned his loyalty, and so Clint protected Vice President Agnew instead. He was at the White House when Nixon resigned. In 1975, Clint retired from the Secret Service at age 43.
The Art of the Campaign
This panel discussion with Mary Beth Rogers and Josh King was moderated by Paul Steckler. Mary Beth was the last person to run a successful campaign to put a Democrat—Ann Richards—into the Texas governor’s office. She read from the afterward of her book, Turning Texas Blue, noting that campaigns are “messy, chaotic, and often brutalizing.” Josh King also read from his book, Off Script, from a chapter called “The Summer of Trump.”
Southern Comfort, Samuelsson Style
Chef Marcus Samuelsson was promoting The Red Rooster Cookbook, which includes stories and recipes from his Harlem restaurant. After September 11, he took himself out of the grid and decided to move to urban city middle America. He champions the hiring of women and people of color. Some of his words of wisdom: “To be a chef is to get to know yourself.” and “It is important to tell the story of culture through food.”
Sunday November 6
Looking Back with Lois Lowry
Twenty years ago, popular children’s author Lois Lowry wrote a memoir called Looking Back. She has now revised and expanded this book of old photographs accompanied by essays. Lois showed some of the photographs and talked about how her memories are woven into her books. She is quite the storyteller. Her talk was as wonderful as her books.
The Making of Donald Trump
David Cay Johnston has been investigating and writing about the 2016 Republican presidential candidate for many years. He recently wrote a book called The Making of Donald Trump because “most Americans do not understand who Donald Trump is.” With moderator Evan Smith, he discussed his investigations into Trump topics such as tax returns, business dealings, contractor disputes, and groping accusations. David said he was a registered Republican, but he was certainly not a Trump supporter. Neither was the audience.
Penning the Presidents
Historians and friends H.W. (Bill) Brands and Douglas Brinkley both live in Austin. Bill noted that he originally decided to write biographies to entice students to learn about history. Douglas loves writing biographies and traced his love of history to his family’s summer vacations. Bill’s most recent book, The General vs. the President: McArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War, is about the conflict between Harry Truman and Douglas McArthur. Although Truman was not popular when he was president, both authors agreed that historians are now impressed with how Truman dealt with the aftermath of World War II. Douglas Brinkley’s current book is called Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America. He noted that FDR carried on, and actually surpassed, Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy of conservation. For example, most of Texas’ state parks were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid-1930s during FDR’s presidency. The two authors also discussed the legacy of the Obama presidency and the potential impact of Donald Trump’s campaign on future elections.
Kelly Clarkson and the Magical Lullaby
Superstar Kelly Clarkson has written a children’s book called River Rose and the Magical Lullaby. She described herself as an avid reader, mostly because her mom was a teacher. Kelly read the entire book out loud, and to the audience’s delight, even sang the book’s lullaby. This was a fun session—she has a great sense of humor!
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