Austin is home to many independent businesses, but no one carries the torch of small business quite like BookPeople, a 52-year-old independent bookseller that claims the title of the largest of its kind in Texas. It still resides at just one highly praised location on North Lamar Boulevard, where it’s been since 1995, and there, it will host new and old friends to celebrate its anniversary on Friday, November 11.

Although it’s partially known for an unusually pleasant browsing experience — with a coffee shop, high effort displays for curated selections, and a truly gigantic inventory — BookPeople fits so snugly into the community by championing local and diverse authors. Most notably, it paired with the Austin Public Library in June on a banned book series, Banned Camp.

“The best part about this year is bringing those events back,” says CEO Charley Rejsek, reflecting on the revitalized calendar since pandemic shutdowns. “Everybody wants those experiences with authors that they know and love. We tried to translate them digitally, but that's really challenging. So having the events back and creating those experiences with readers and authors makes all the difference in the world.”

There’s no substitute for face-to-face connection, but the company’s Instagram page maintains its own outreach system, namely through several series including Gay Book of the Week, Sci-fi Friday, a BIPOC writer subscription box, and miscellaneous staff reviews. It puts out constant recommendations for all kinds of observances: Disability Pride Month, Voter Registration Day, Juneteenth, and more just in the past six months.

The anniversary festivities across the store’s three floors include book trivia, a raffle, a photo booth, and special merch sales. Book trivia is the main event, allowing participants to form teams to win $200 in BookPeople gift cards and $100 in CoffeePeople gift cards. The cafe will be open and serving a special-edition birthday drink.

Visitors get one raffle ticket at the door and can purchase more in hopes of winning signed books, posters, and even unreleased books. There will also be a silent art auction, selling pieces by local artists with all proceeds going back to the creator. A call for participating artists is active on the event page.

“BookPeople is definitely a community staple, and people look to us as a community gathering spot,” says Rejsek. “We, just like many other businesses, work hard to diversify our selection and the voices that we amplify, and that's just always ongoing. It never ends.”

The 52nd anniversary party will be held at BookPeople (603 N. Lamar Blvd.) on November 11, from 7-9 pm. More information about the event and BookPeople is available at bookpeople.com.

Photo by Alice Pasqual on Unsplash

Ever-popular East Austin Lit Crawl sets the scene for Texas Book Festival

Reading Gone Rogue

Austinites crawling through that last book they picked up (you had such high hopes, and yet…) have a chance to renew their vigor for reading on Saturday, November 5.

Lit Crawl Austin, a free spinoff event of the Texas Book Festival, will take participants through a series of locations where they’ll enjoy the literary equivalent of a session IPA: a short story, a conversation, perhaps even an actual beer with a new bookish friend.

The crawl calls this its “12th year of irreverent literary programming,” which ranges from straight-up silliness to political activism, culminating in a closing celebration dedicated to banned books. Four locations — Vintage Bookstore and Wine Bar, Easy Tiger on East 7th Street, Hillside Farmacy, and Saddle Up — host at least two events each across the series, lasting four-and-a-half hours from start to finish.

The adventure begins at 5:30 pm at Vintage Bookstore and Wine Bar, with a happy hour and a recording of Hopeton Hay’s Diverse Voices Book Review podcast by KAZI 88.7 FM. The crawl closes at Saddle Up, where Tony Diaz, author of The Tip of The Pyramid: Cultivating Community Cultural Capital and leader of Librotraficantes (members of a movement of “book traffickers”), has curated a collection of words from banned books and the readers they informed and inspired.

There’s no shortage of readings at the Texas Book Festival, so the Lit Crawl offers some more improvisational events. A live episode of the podcast Literary Death Match, at Easy Tiger, pits four authors against each other in a twist on a traditional reading event interrupted by critiques and comedy. Hillside Farmacy hosts a large-scale, live version of a common writing exercise, passing a paper between participants writing one line at a time. At Saddle Up, a storytelling event inspired by The Moth asks authors at the festival to speak extemporaneously on the theme “On the Edge of Dreams.”

Unfortunately, since there is some overlap, crawlers will have to make a choice between some of the scheduled events. However, there are only 10 events, and since some are recordings, they will still be available after the festival ends. As any crawl would imply, the venues are also fairly close to each other; three of the venues are lined up within a third of a mile, with Easy Tiger about half a mile south.

More information about the Lit Crawl, including a full schedule and event descriptions, is available at texasbookfestival.org. The Texas Book Festival is also free to attend.

Photo courtesy of Austin Public Libraries

Austin reopens 6 public library locations on Sundays this fall

A Less Lazy Sunday

KVUE — Starting on September 11, six local libraries will be opening on Sundays — something that hasn't been seen since Austin Public Library was forced to make pandemic-related changes in 2020.

The Central Library, four branch libraries, and the Austin History Center will soon be open to the public from noon-5 pm on Sundays.

“We are thrilled that we will be able to return to providing library services to the Austin community seven days a week,” said Austin Public Library Director Roosevelt Weeks. “We know that many in the community appreciated the convenience of being able to access their libraries on Sundays, and I am pleased that we have the capacity to bring back this service.”

Austin Public Library said it has been gradually expanding its service and hours since closing in-person services due to COVID-19.


Read the full story and watch the video on KVUE.com.

Courtesy of Academy of American Poets

Austin poet and professor honored with prestigious national award

The Write Stuff

A local wordsmith has received one of the highest honors a writer can achieve. Austin resident Cyrus Cassells has been named the 2022 Poet Laureate Fellow for Texas.

Cassells will receive $50,000 for the honor, as part of the $1.1 million worth of funding from the Academy awarded to 22 national fellows to support their respective public poetry programs during their year-long term.

Cassells is a tenured professor at Texas State University, and has received multiple awards for his work, including a Pushcart Prize, the Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim, the Lannan Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

He plans to hold a statewide poetry contest in honor of Juneteenth, inviting students in the 6th through 12th grades across Texas to submit entries describing what makes the day significant to them.

Ten winners will be selected; they'll receive a travel stipend to the state capital, where the contest will end with a public reading and ceremony at the Neill-Cochran House Museum. The space features Austin's only intact slave cabin and has long served as a venue for African American events and cultural exhibitions.

Judges for the contest include Texas poets Wendy Barker, Jennifer Chang, Amanda Johnston, and Roger Reeves, and Texas historian Martha Hartzog, according to the academy. The contest screeners and judges, along with the top three winners and seven honorable mentions will receive an honorarium, plus copies of Pulitzer Prize winner Annette Reed's book On Juneteenth and Edward Cotham Jr.'s Juneteenth: The Story Behind the Celebration.

One other Texan joins Cassells as Poet Laureate: Houston wordsmith Outspoken Bean, who has been named the 2022 official Poet Laureate Fellow for Houston.

Emanuelee Outspoken Bean is an acclaimed spoken word artist who was the first poet to perform on the Houston Ballet stage in the company's production of the popular Play. He also conceptualized and produced Plus Fest: The Everything Plus Poetry Festival. He most recently took the stage for Loveletter, the multi-disciplinary concert hosted and produced by local legend DJ Sun.

During his term as Poet Laureate Fellow, he will complete Space City Mixtape, a spoken-word and creative audio experience of Houston featuring more than 20 tracks from Houstonians telling their stories, the academy notes. Houstonians should look for him at Houston Public Library locations around Houston, as he intends to conduct bi-weekly writing sessions for the next six to eight months in order to capture stories for Space City Mixtape, which will be produced by local producer Russell Guess. Space City Mixtape is slated to be released next year.

Public Poets Laureate have been around since 1919, when the state of Colorado named the first. Fifteen other states named laureates of their own soon after. On the national level, the Library of Congress named Joseph Auslander its first Consultant in Poetry in 1937. This position was renamed the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry in 1985.

Ada Limón is the current Poet Laureate Consultation in Poetry and was named to the position last month.

Poets Laureate at every level promote and advocate for poetry, working to not only bring attention to the art form, but also using their platform to bring attention to issues of importance in their communities. The Academy of American Poets is the largest supporter of poets around the U.S. and has donated more than $4.3 million in fellowships to 81 poets since 2019.

The other poets and the communities they represent are Andru Defeye (Sacramento, California); Ashanti Files (Urbana, Illinois); B. K. Fischer (Westchester County, New York); KaNikki Jakarta (Alexandria, Virginia); Ashley M. Jones (Alabama); Holly Karapetkova (Arlington, Virginia); Kealoha (Hawaiʻi); J. Drew Lanham (Edgefield, South Carolina); Julia B. Levine (Davis, California); Matt Mason (Nebraska); Airea D. Matthews (Philadelphia); Ray McNiece (Cleveland Heights, Ohio); Huascar Medina (Kansas); Gailmarie Pahmeier (Nevada); Catherine Pierce (Mississippi); Rena Priest (Washington); Lynne Thompson (Los Angeles); Emma Trelles (Santa Barbara, California); Gwen Nell Westerman (Minnesota); and Crystal Wilkinson (Kentucky).

Photo courtesy of Meanwhile Brewing

Favorite Austin brewery opens new chapter with first-ever book fair

It's Lit

Beer with friends is fun, but beer with books is even better. For those ready to combine the two, Meanwhile Brewing is hosting its inaugural book fair “Lagers & Literature” on August 28, benefiting the Inside Books Project. The event will bring together 13 local book or book-adjacent sellers for an afternoon of impulse buys and long-sought finds.

The visiting organizations bring everything from books to toys, crafts, and opportunities to sign up for library cards. This event is one of those rare all-ages happenings that is legitimately well-suited to every age, and there will be plenty of bites from local food trucks to keep everyone going in the heat.

Some of the visiting vendors include:

  • Austin Public Library: This city institution is packing up a “one-of-a-kind zine collection display,” highlighting one of the Central branch’s more unique on-site offerings. They will also run a library card station for signing up and renewing.
  • Blue Jay Vintage: Without a storefront, Bluejay Vintage mostly works on social media and as a pop-up seller. It’s bringing hand-selected science fiction, horror, and fantasy books to broaden horizons or just offer a little browsing nostalgia.
  • Capital City Scribes: Yes, it turns out scribes still exist, in part thanks to this nonprofit keeping calligraphy alive in Austin. Someone on-site will customize bookmarks for purchase, making excellent gifts for book lovers at home.
  • Flatbed Press: The fine art printing center brings works from across its range, including etching, lithography, relief, and monotype prints. Visitors can also use this opportunity to sign up for classes, which are usually weekends or four weeks long.
  • The Harry Ransom Center: An archive at University of Texas, this organization is bringing giveaways (not something you see every day from a museum), and an “interactive exhibition display” featuring work by photographer Laura Wilson.
  • Typewriter Rodeo: This collective will probably be under high demand as they type out custom poems for free. For more poems and less waiting, Typewriter Rodeo has an eponymous book, and also does weekly poems for KUT’s “Texas Standard” program.

The more beer everyone buys, the better. A portion of bar sales goes to the Inside Books Project, which sets up incarcerated people with books by request or recommendation, and sometimes promotes writers with experience in the system. It sends more than 35,000 books every year, and notes that the most-needed books include dictionaries and thesauruses, heritage and LGBTQ+ topics, language and skill books, and games like Dungeons and Dragons. And if visitors simply can’t drink enough to donate all they’d like, they can donate books and cash, and even volunteer.

This day of fun and learning takes place at Meanwhile Brewing on August 28 from 12 pm to 4 pm. Tickets are available on Eventbrite.

Photo courtesy of Pixlr

Austin wordsmiths meet up for unique virtual sessions to ‘sit down, shut up, and write’

Writers' Block

Welcome to the 2020s. Zoom fatigue is a thing. This miracle technology is wearing us thin with obligation. Still, writers from around the world are signing up for one online work group where they don’t have to feign attention during meetings, just for a quick chat with near strangers and the comfort of working together — with cameras and microphones off.

The Austin-based Meetup group forcefully named Sit Down, Shut Up, and Write! offers its more than 2,500 members a way to stay in touch and stay accountable, even when they can’t meet in their usual coffee shops. Despite the odd limitation of getting together to work completely separately, it really works.

Member Catherine Summers writes in via email about her trial-and-error process of finding the right accountability method before this group, listing various online groups and courses.

“I had to spend an inordinate amount of time on thoughtful critiques, which became just another excuse not to write. I think it’s like going to the gym or running or yoga. Just the fact that other people show up gets you moving,” she says.

The lack of obligation to the rest of the group is the low barrier of entry that brings writers in to try the group, and what protects their productivity when cameras are off. Work time is completely each writer’s own, with unstructured conversation limited to a chunk at the beginning and end.

Most days, with meetings at least twice a day, a handful of writers log on with a host and state their goals for the session. They express apprehension perhaps, with the resignation of those who know they’re about to put in the work, regardless of whether they know how to tackle it.

“I consider myself an introvert. I don’t really enjoy being forced to talk in those types of situations,” says group founder Suzanne Link. “There’s something motivating about [someone choosing] to take an hour and 20 minutes out of your day to join me. Knowing there are other people out there — either suffering or making progress in their projects — helps me.”

Link, a screenwriter, started the Meetup group 11 years ago when she was in another collective that issued writing prompts. She’d heard of write-ins and decided to create her own group, where the freer format could be more central. She and her co-organizers, especially science fiction writer Mike Walker, had tossed around the idea of online meetings but never adopted them until the pandemic kept writers at home. Both organizers are working from home, having left non-writing jobs in the past few years to focus on making things happen on the page.

At one 7 am session, Link held space for writers to vent about work and shared some research she did on a type of perfume someone had previously written about. Someone copied and pasted a call for submissions to a literary magazine into the chat in case anyone wanted to try it. Multiple generations of women discussed living in New York, as if having an offhand early morning subway chat.

Link says the time frame for earlier sessions works because the rest of the house is sleeping and it’s too early to do most daytime chores. It’s a quiet time for working on less pressing matters. When it’s time to write, the cameras and mikes go off and the simplicity of doing what we said we would just minutes ago lingers.

As a participant in this session, this CultureMap reporter admits the following: I could have used my time more wisely. The format lends itself to the Eat the Frog school of productivity that focuses on completing the day’s single most daunting task as soon as it starts. Instead of writing for an hour, I sent some emails, did some research, and planned my week. It was helpful, although I didn’t knock out any big chunks of writing.

In the two sessions I attended, when the cameras flipped back on, everyone seemed pleasantly surprised at what they’d accomplished, the pre-meeting resignation replaced with a sense of achievement. When they came back frustrated, they had an opportunity to spell it out to the group and potentially notice a pattern in doing so.

“I pride myself on doing what I say I’m going to do if I’m saying it to somebody else,” says Link. “If I’m just saying it to me, I blow myself off all the time. And also, I really enjoy listening to what other people are working on. When they report back, ‘I typed 800 words’... or, ‘I’m just much closer on my dissertation,’ that excites me and motivates me to work on my projects more diligently.”

Walker’s afternoon session was livelier, either with more awake or more forceful personalities. Conversation turned to the delta variant, politics, and favorite British sitcoms. Somewhat apologetically, Walker explained that most of the group knows each other well enough to have a healthy debate. He pointed out that in-person groups offer more opportunities for splitting off into side conversations.

For attendees, there is some apparent value in sitting in on conversations outside each person’s regular interests or comfort zones. It’s what could inspire good writing or break someone unexpectedly out of a rut. For a writing group, there were few technical conversations about writing. For a social group, there is a lot of sitting quietly and alone. This is inherent in the “Shut Up” portion of the group, and surprisingly valuable, even at a distance.

“I think people have got a good imagination,” Walker says. “Obviously there’s nothing tangible, but people can feel that they’re not alone.”

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Shuttered Salvation Army shelter in downtown Austin will get new life

Salvation Army

When the Salvation Army shelter on East Eighth Street shut its doors back in April, Austin City Council member Zohaib "Zo" Qadri (District 9) said it was unfortunate to see as an Austin resident and leader.

"The Salvation Army kind of abruptly stated that they were pulling out without much of a notice to the residents of the shelter in the district – a shelter that largely houses or housed women and children," Qadri said. "So, you know, that was a huge disappointment for us."

Now the City of Austin has reached a compromise and solution that Qadri believes will help those experiencing homelessness. The Austin City Council on Thursday, June 8, approved a 12-month lease agreement for the former Salvation Army shelter that will cost more than $1 million.

The site will be operated by California-based nonprofit Urban Alchemy, which also provides services at the ARCH, or the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. The council also approved a contract for Urban Alchemy to add more funding, extend the ARCH program and run the former Salvation Army shelter, providing 150 beds.

Urban Alchemy will get more than $4 million.

Later this summer, City leaders will also consider a temporary emergency shelter that will provide around 300 more beds for people experiencing homelessness.

ECHO, or the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, estimates there are thousands of people experiencing homelessness in Austin. Since the city's camping ban was reinstated in May 2021, many of these individuals have spread out throughout the city or gone into hiding, making it harder to connect them with services.


Read the full story and watch the video at KVUE.com.

Tenacious D will play the best song in the world in Austin this fall

Spicy Meatball

America's favorite (only?) comedy rock duo is back on tour, and lucky for Austinites, they've announced the addition of three Texas dates this fall. Of course, we're talking about none other than Tenacious D, comprised of Jack Black and Kyle Glass.

The duo's Spicy Meatball Tour is currently underway this month in Europe, with newly extended dates including Houston (September 13), Grand Prairie (September 14), and Austin (September 15).

Supporting acts are yet to be announced, but tickets are on sale as of Friday, June 9, at 10 am. Fans can purchase tickets HERE.

According to a release, the tour dates come on the heels of the recently-released recorded version of Tenacious D’s viral, fan-favorite live cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” The single is accompanied by a video directed by longtime D collaborator Taylor Stephens, and features our dynamic duo in a glorious, romantic romp by the sea. Last month, they released their first new song in five years, “Video Games,” which has been streamed over 18 million times across all platforms in less than a month. The animated music video, created by Oney Plays, brings video game-ified versions of Black and Glass to life in classic and hilarious ways.

In addition to the single releases, Tenacious D will be the special guest at this year’s Video Game Awards, happening on June 25 at the Hollywood Bowl, where they will perform their new single.

But of course the burning question remains: Will Black perform his equally viral "Peaches" from the recent Super Mario Bros. movie? There's only one way to find out.

Full Tour Dates are below (new dates in bold font):
6/7/23 Berlin, Germany @ Zitadelle
6/8/23 Nickelsdorf, Austria @ Nova Rock Festival
6/10/23 Milan, Italy @ Carroponte
6/12/23 Zurich, Switzerland @ The Hall
6/13/23 Brussels, Belgium @ Forest National
6/14/23 Rotterdam, Netherlands @ Ahoy
6/16/23 London, England @ O2 Arena
6/18/23 Clisson, France @ Hellfest Open Air Festival
6/25/23 Los Angeles, CA @ Hollywood Bowl (Video Game Awards)
9/6/23 Charlotte, NC @ PNC Music Pavilion
9/7/23 Franklin, TN @ Firstbank Amphitheater
9/9/23 Indianapolis, IN @ All IN Music Festival
9/11/23 Rogers, AR @ Walmart AMP
9/13/23 Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall
9/14/23 Grand Prairie, TX @ Texas Trust CU Theatre
9/15/23 Austin, TX @ Germania Insurance Amphitheater

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is ridiculous and fun at the same time

Movie Review

The Transformers series has been one marked by near universal derision by the critics and (mostly) massive box office, highlighting the divide between those who watch movies for a living and those who just go for fun. Given that history, it seemed unlikely that the latest film, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, would unite the two factions.

Like the last film, Bumblebee, Rise of the Beasts is a prequel to the Transformers films directed by Michael Bay from 2007-2017 (Bay remains as a producer). Set in 1994, it features a way-too-complicated story involving something called the Transwarp device prized by three separate groups of Transformers: The Autobots led by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen); the Maximals, animal-esque bots led by Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman); and the Terrorbots, led by Scourge (Peter Dinklage). One guess as to which of those groups is the evil one.

Mirage (Pete Davidson) in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Mirage (Pete Davidson) in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.

Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) is a former soldier in Manhattan who can’t find a job and tries his best to take care of his sickly brother, Kris (Dean Scott Vazquez). Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback) works at a museum on Ellis Island, where she encounters an artifact with unusual markings. Through a series of unlikely but still fun events, both of them are dragged into the conflict between the Transformers, with nothing less than the fate of the universe at stake.

Directed by Steven Caple Jr. and written by a team of five writers, the film is as ridiculous as any of the previous iterations, and yet somehow it becomes the most entertaining entry yet. Some of this has to do with the human characters, who are given engaging scenes outside of the ones with Transformers, allowing them to be relatable instead of just pawns in the robot battles.

The trifecta of Transformer groups turn out to be actually interesting, rather than an excuse to fill the screen with CGI nonsense. The Autobots, as usual, are the main heroes, and with Bumblebee using movie quotes to talk and Mirage (Pete Davidson) lobbing wisecracks constantly, they’re rarely unentertaining. Having the animal-like Maximals on board gives a new dimension, and the seemingly unstoppable Scourge makes for an intimidating villain.

That’s not to say, of course, that the film doesn’t devolve into chaos on multiple occasions. Several of the battles, including the final sequence, seem designed to be almost incomprehensible. But Caple and the visual effects team appear to have understood that clarity makes for a better moviegoing experience, and so even as bedlam reigns, there’s a level of focus to the film that other films in the series have not had.

Even though his character isn’t fully fleshed out, Ramos brings a kind of streetwise energy to the role that makes him stand out. Fishback is not given as much to do, but she’s still highly enjoyable. Cullen, who’s been voicing Optimus Prime since the 1980s, is still a commanding presence, allowing Davidson, Michelle Yeoh, Perlman, and more to bring their own unique flair to their characters.

It may be a low bar to jump, but Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is the best film so far in the series, cracking the code of pairing humans with robots for a (semi)intelligible story. A late movie teaser will have fans geeking out over the future, but it’s best to enjoy this film for being as good as it is.


Transformers: Rise of the Beasts opens in theaters on June 9.