For two days each year, hordes of book lovers flood the Capitol to attend free readings and panel discussions by hundreds of authors from Texas and around the world — and, of course, to get their books signed — at the Texas Book Festival. Wednesday Lidia Agraz was announced as the new Executive Director of the literary extravaganza.
Agraz, a longtime supporter of the arts in Austin who has held leadership positions in both the corporate and nonprofit worlds, spoke to us about her enthusiasm for the Festival: “I think the number one thing is that I’m very passionate about is the arts. My second passion is education. I love to read, I love language.”
She emphasized that the Texas Book Festival's reach extends far beyond the two-day event that most visitors will see, encompassing “educational programs throughout the state that promote literacy and the love of reading.”
Agraz looks forward to participating in one such program, Reading Rock Stars, which brings children’s authors to public schools in underserved areas of the state. On past trips, authors have read aloud in classrooms, talked about their writing process, and given children signed copies of their books. Agraz brightens as she describes one such interaction: “You can see the joy! It’s kind of like a kid getting an iPod or something. These kids were just so excited.”
About those iPods. Agraz cites technology as an area of future growth for the festival, describing it as both “a challenge and an opportunity.”
“[E]ven computers are kind of a thing of the past . . . Now, the young people and children are getting their information and their entertainment on very small devices. I think a challenge for the festival will be to continue to celebrate the authors and the art of writing, but at the same time to use other methods of sharing that . . . we want to make sure that we reach out to young people, and the way to communicate with them is different than having a hardback book.”
Agraz, who once chaired the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is also sensitive to attracting young bilingual readers. “I personally believe that if you can read in your primary language it will be easier to learn on your second language. I definitely think that the Festival will reach out to that population,” she said, noting that the most recent Reading Rock Stars trip to the Rio Grande Valley featured bilingual books such as Mara Price’s Grandma’s Chocolate/El Chololate de Abuelita.
Ultimately, Agraz’s goal for the Texas Book Festival is to share not only literacy, but the love of reading. “If technology helps us to do that, we'll do that. If having bilingual books will help us to do that, we'll do that.”
The 2012 Texas Book Festival is scheduled for Oct 27-28 this year. Visit the website for further information.