San Antonio Book Festival: Lifting authors from book jackets into your Library

The quotes on the back of the book are from Dan Rather, Ken Burns, Jim Lehrer and Bob Schieffer. Pretty impressive for a story about a San Antonio family.

harnessmaker_cover_smThe lives of everyone are interesting, but most take their untold stories with them to their graves.

The Kallison family, however, was fortunate to count a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist among its offspring – Nick Kotz. His book, The Harness Maker’s Dream: Nathan Kallison and the Rise of South Texas, was published by TCU Press in 2013.

The harness maker, who had emigrated to Chicago to escape persecution in the Ukraine in 1890, sensed the automobile would soon begin to dramatically impact his business. Nathan Kallison and his wife Anna were uncertain what direction to head until an older couple assured them that, in San Antonio, “the weather is mild, and there are more horses than people.” So, in 1899, the family moved to South Flores Street and opened a saddlery shop, increasingly expanding to cater to the diverse needs of South Texas farmers and ranchers.

As I struggle to encompass the families of the Coker Settlement into the confines of a book, I picked up Kotz’s book last week to see how someone who devoted years to honing his journalistic skills handles a regional story of one family while making it applicable to the experiences of others. Although I am not yet finished, the San Antonio Public Library Foundation is giving me the opportunity to hear from Kotz firsthand on Saturday.

play-ballAs part of the San Antonio Book Festival, Kotz will appear on a panel with Ignacio Garcia, author of When Mexicans Could Play Ball: Basketball, Race and Identity in San Antonio, 1928-1945, with Gilbert Garcia of the San Antonio Express-News serving as their moderator. The topic they will discuss from noon to 1 p.m. in the Auditorium of the Central Library is Our Town: Stories that Shaped San Antonio.

More than 90 authors will be featured during the one-day Book Festival, and, amazingly, it’s admission-free. Decision-making about which sessions to attend is the dilemma. But this year, mapping out strategies is simplified by the user-friendly schedule on the Library Foundation’s website and a great free app. Go to Event Base in your app store; download it; then click on the “San Antonio Book Festival” tab.

Just happened to have written recently about two other authors appearing during the festival – Mary Margaret McAllen and Duncan Tonatiuh. And, from several years ago, a post about the wonderful tales Jake Silverstein spins in Nothing Happened and Then It Did.

And, although there is a small fee, the Literary Death Match sounds as though it should be a stimulating way to end the day. The Library Foundation website describes the event:

Literary Death Match marries the literary and performative aspects of Def Poetry Jam, rapier-witted quips of American Idol’s judging (without any meanness), and the ridiculousness and hilarity of Double Dare. Each episode of this competitive, humor-centric reading series features a thrilling mix of four famous and emerging authors (all representing a literary publication, press or concern — online, in print or live) who perform their most electric writing in seven minutes or less before a lively audience and a panel of three all-star judges.

After each pair of readings, the judges — focused on literary merit, performance and intangibles — take turns spouting hilarious, off-the-wall commentary about each story, then select their favorite to advance to the finals.The two finalists then compete in the Literary Death Match finale, which trades in the show’s literary sensibility for an absurd and comical climax to determine who takes home the Literary Death Match crown.

It may sound like a circus — and that’s half the point. Literary Death Match is passionate about inspecting new and innovative ways to present text off the page, and the most fascinating part about the LDM is how seriously attentive the audience is during each reading. We’ve called this the great literary ruse: an audacious and inviting title, a harebrained finale, but in-between the judging creates a relationship with the viewer as a judge themselves.

litarary-death-matchHey, when a musical group with a name like Cryin D.T. Buffkin and the Bad Breath performs, you know you don’t want to miss it.

Postcard from San Miguel: What borders mean to children


Art from Duncan Tonatiuh’s Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote

I was not a real Mexican, and I was not a real American.

Benjamin Alire Saenz

That’s how author Benjamin Alire Saenz recalled his feelings as a young boy growing up in Mesilla, New Mexico, and crossing weekly into Ciudad Juarez for flat-top haircuts. Staring at the giant flags fluttering over the bridge:

I wondered if the American eagle was that much different than the Mexican one.

kentucky-clubSaenz is the author of Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club, a collection of short stories winning a PEN Faulkner Award for Fiction. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, Saenz chairs the Creative Writing Department at the University of Texas at El Paso.

“Juarez Doesn’t Stop at the Border” was the title of the powerful keynote address he delivered two nights ago at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. The visibly affected crowd quickly rose as one the second he finished the final sentence of the emotionally charged presentation. It was the topic on everyone’s lips the next morning as attendees flocked to the bookstore to purchase recordings to share with others.

Saenz’s talk was preceded by an introduction to Duncan Tonatiuh, the artist/author who designed the conference posters. Although Tonatiuh is young – he graduated from college in 2008 – he already has several award-winning books to his credit.

In an article in USA Today, Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, labels Tonatiuh’s Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale “propaganda.” But the author of the fable, in which the coyote stands in for those who smuggle immigrants into the United States from Mexico, believes he has created a bedtime story to which many children in North America can relate.

At the Writers’ Conference, Tonatiuh screened a short video made for him by a fourth-grade class in Austin, Texas.

Many a Kleenix was lifted up to dab away a tear.

It appears Tonatiuh’s book provides a key for teachers to encourage children of immigrants to open up and discuss their experiences.

Perhaps Pancho Rabbit serves as an even more valuable tool for helping children of American-born parents understand and empathize with the issues confronting some of their classmates.

Oh, I’m sorry Mr. Krikorian. Is that “propaganda?”

Update posted on March 19, 2014: Duncan Tonatiuh will be appearing from 11 to 11:30 a.m. in the Children’s Book Tent at the San Antonio Book Festival on Saturday, April 5.