The Texas Book Festival (TBF) announced Thursday that Executive Director Heidi Marquez Smith will retire from her current position at the end of March.
"This was not a surprise to the board or staff," says Smith. "I had been considering changing my role since November. I would simply like to have more flexibility with my time. I've met so many great people and organizations that I haven't had a chance to enjoy working with yet. With this new role, I'll be able to do that."
Smith took over in 2008 from outgoing Executive Director Mary Herman, just as the economy was presenting notable trouble for a number of non-profits in Austin and across the nation. Under Smith's guidance, TBF remained a vital institution, and the annual book festival, which occupies the downtown Austin corridor for two solid days, maintained its pedigree in the literary community.
“Under [Smith]’s leadership, the Texas Book Festival increased its national recognition as one of our country’s best literary festivals, and we expanded our reach and programming year-round in a way that sustains a focus on the importance of literacy,” says TBF chairman Ron Weiss in an official statement. “We are going to miss her, and are tremendously grateful for her care to leave us in a solid financial position where we can continue to grow."
"I'm especially proud of all that we've accomplished by expanding the Festival into a year-round event these past few years," says Smith. "I keep saying that wherever I am, I just keep making more work for everyone around me!"
While the immediate staff at TBF is small in number, the success of the 200+ author festival lies in the management and delegation of the ample volunteer workers that have always respected Smith's easy-going style of leadership. Juggling budgets, donors, deadlines and events, Smith always conveyed a confidence and enthusiasm that belied her immense level of responsibility.
Smith has guided TBF in the last five years to populate the Austin calendar with year-round events like author visits, readings and school visits. She has also been instrumental in expanding the non-profit outside of Austin, into San Antonio, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley.
After discovering literature late in her own childhood, Smith developed a strong passion for spreading literacy and book access to every child in Texas. TBF's Reading Rock Stars program, which connects economically disadvantaged students in Texas with popular children's authors, grew by leaps and bounds under Smith's influence. The program provides autographed copies of bestselling authors' books, which are sometimes the first book these students have ever owned.
“The vital mission of the Texas Book Festival was an attraction for me personally,” shares Smith. "I wasn't always in the best schools growing up, so it took a long time to realize how important reading was for me. I want to make sure every child in Texas has the opportunities they deserve."
For her own children, sons Patterson and Harrison, Smith's job has made her the coolest mom ever, providing access to all the best stories while they've been growing up. That love of reading is something Smith intends to foster even more in the months and years to come.
"My youngest is starting kindergarten... and school starts up at the same time things get really busy for the Book Festival," laughs Smith. "So now I'll have my days available to get work done, and then I'll be able to see my family at night. I'm going to enjoy having this kind of flexibility in the fall."
Smith says she'll still be consulting with TBF, staying busy working with all the great people she met while she was Executive Director. "It really is bittersweet knowing that I won't be in the office every day," emphasizes Smith. "It's the people — our partners and our board of directors and volunteers — who really made this job special to me."
A search committee of TBF board members is already considering candidates for Smith’s replacement, and she will be a part of the selection committee. Interested parties can submit their inquiries regarding the position to email@example.com.