Last weekend I attended the Texas Book Festival in Austin, both as a booklover and an author. My literary long weekend started on Friday with a visit to the O. Henry Museum (left), a Queen Anne-style cottage where the writer lived with his wife and daughter for two years in the 1890s. Among the items on display in the house is a pair of wicker chairs his wife purchased with money he gave her to attend the World’s Fair in Chicago — an act that later inspired his story “The Gift of the Magi.” I then stopped by Book People, a terrific independent bookstore.
I spent Saturday and Sunday at the festival, which takes place on the picturesque grounds of the state capitol (right) and in nearby streets. Highlights were hearing Jon Katz (Izzy & Lenore) speak about his beloved border collies, seeing Shannon Hale (Rapunzel’s Revenge) delight an audience of young readers, and watching Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, the authors of Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, prepare their root beer bundt cake (alas, no samples for the audience). I was also delighted to have the chance to meet in person Kathy Patrick, a Texas gal and author of The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life.
I also stopped by the O. Henry Room at the Capitol Visitors Center (left). The center was once the General Land Office Building, where O. Henry was employed as a draftsman. He set some of his stories in the building (which he described as looking like “a displaced medieval castle”), including “Bexar Scrip 2692 (Murder at the Land Office).”
Sunday was Novel Destinations day, and I spoke about the book and showed slides of author houses during a 45-minute presentation in the Lifestyle Tent. I was introduced by Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, an arts writer at the Austin American-Statesman, who shared her own literary tale of visiting a pub once frequented by Jack Kerouac during her days at Columbia University in New York City. Thank you to the many enthusiastic literary travelers who showed up to hear behind-the-scenes stories and anecdotes from Novel Destinations.
One of my Austin highlights was stopping by Scholz Garten, where O. Henry sang in a quartette and indulged in a few pints from time to time. I followed his lead, all in the name of research, of course. Books, beer, blazing sunshine, and meeting fellow bibliophiles made for a perfect weekend. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt