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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.

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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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New self-guided tour showcases iconic Fort Worth Stockyards' many Hollywood ties

Tinseltown in Cowtown

A new self-guided tour showcasing the Fort Worth Stockyards’ many star-studded appearances in cinema throughout the years recently debuted in time for the 16th annual Lone Star Film Festival, which took place earlier this month in the Stockyards for the first time.

Called Stars of the Stockyards, the eight-stop, go-at-your-own pace walking tour guides folks to famous film sites where celebrities have stepped foot in front of Hollywood cameras. Visitors to the Stockyards can access the PDF tour map on their smart phones via QR codes (no app required) posted throughout the district, namely at hotels and tour kiosks.

"The Stockyards is a historic and celebrated destination for many reasons, but one that may be lesser known is its popularity as a filming location for some of our favorite movies and TV series," said Ethan Cartwright, VP of marketing for Stockyards Heritage Development Co.

The tour and corresponding QR codes are a permanent addition to the district, he said.

Stops on the map include the iconic White Elephant Saloon, a hotbed for Hollywood performances including several by legendary actor and martial artist Chuck Norris in the longtime TV series, Walker, Texas Ranger when the watering hole was portrayed as the fictional CD Bar. The White Elephant was also graced by country music superstar Tim McGraw and Academy Award-winning actor Billy Bob Thornton for their appearances in Paramount Plus’ hit series 1883.

Also in 1883 and featured on the tour is Hookers Grill, hidden in the less flashy West side of Exchange Ave. The burger shack transformed into a gambling den in the show called The Texas House of Liquor & Sport. It’s the only building in the Stockyards that preserved the façade constructed by 1883’s production team. During operating hours, customers can order at the outdoor burger window and dine at patio tables within the two-story structure.

Cowtown Coliseum is marked on the map for its appearances in the 1983 film Tough Enough, where actor Dennis Quaid played an amateur boxer. It’s also the home of the final rodeo scene in the 1992 movie Pure Country starring country music legend George Strait.

Billy Bob’s Texas, the Stockyards Hotel, and even unassuming historic cattle pens also make the list on the tour, along with notations for the Texas Trail of Fame, which features more than 240 bronze markers honoring contributors for preserving and perpetuating the Western way of life.

Veteran actors Sam Elliot and Robert Duvall, both stars in the megahit TV series Yellowstone, are among the most recent Texas Trail of Fame inductees.

For more information and to get started on the tour, go here.

Favorite Austin burger chain joins local music nonprofit for $50,000 grant campaign

Musical Tastes

In Austin, the bell of the ball is the rockstar. Black Fret, a nonprofit that creates gigs and organizes funding for local musicians, makes sure these rock stars get their spotlight at the annual Black Fret Ball, now in its ninth year, and this time with some unexpected help from a burger bar.

Staff at Hopdoddy Burger Bar (a local favorite for lovers of toppings) got to nominate their favorite artists from across the country for a total of $50,000 in grants, an initiative called “Tuned In.” The restaurant asked guests to vote on favorites and landed on a group of nine final artists, including one from Austin.

Bonnie Whitmore, an Austinite, a singer, and a bassist, makes nostalgic country and Americana with bold, feminist themes. Although her candid tone matches that of the pop stars taking over the industry from their bedrooms, she’s been an active member of the music industry for more than 20 years.

Other Texas musicians made the final nine: Gold Fighter, from Dallas, leans back into the good old days of pop punk; Piñata Protest, from San Antonio, also plays pop punk while moving the needle more into Tejano traditions; and Will Van Horn, from Houston, makes the pedal steel languidly cool and a little psychedelic. (Listeners may recognize Van Horn’s work in records by the unique and popular Houston trio Khruangbin.)

The Black Fret Ball is returning for its first in-person year since 2019, on Saturday, December 3 at ACL Live at the Moody Theater. The fundraiser will distribute grants totaling $250,000 to 20 local artists, with performances from all but two. The 2022 class of musicians includes Whitmore, rap duo Blackillac, blues guitarist Buffalo Nichols, R&B singer Mélat, and one of Austin’s most frequently booked and buzzed about bands, Quentin and the Past Lives.

Black Fret members ($750 annually) are invited to join the ball at 6 pm. See the local lineup at hopdoddy.com.

Santa Claus comes to town for a fight in Violent Night

Movie Review

When it comes to movies themed around Christmas, there are an infinite number of heartwarming films and a surprising number of horror movies. But, unless you are among those who count Die Hard as a Christmas movie, there are almost no holiday action films, and even fewer where Santa Claus is the hero at the center of it.

That makes Violent Night a unicorn of a film, one in which Santa (David Harbour) is a disillusioned, drink-addled mess whom we first meet downing beers in a bar on Christmas Eve. After stumbling through house after house, complaining all the while about kids’ obsession with video games, he makes his way to the estate of Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo).

Instead of seeing a happy family, he encounters two jealous siblings and their families, and a coordinated attack by an outside group led by a man nicknamed Scrooge (John Leguizamo) looking to steal $300 million in cash. Somewhat reluctantly, Santa uses his holiday magic – and long untapped military experience – to take on the bad guys and ensure a merry Christmas for those who deserve it.

Written by Pat Casey and Josh Miller (the team behind the two Sonic the Hedgehog movies) and directed by Tommy Wirkola, the film more than lives up to its title, splattering much of its running time with enough blood to satisfy any hardcore action fan. The creative ways in which villains are killed or maimed are numerous, including a fantastic final death and an homage to Home Alone that’s only slightly more graphic than the sequences in that classic kids movie.

Photo by Allen Fraser/Universal Pictures

David Harbour in Violent Night.

It’s surprisingly easy to accept Santa Claus as a vengeance-seeking action hero. Harbour is clearly having a ball in the role, and because he plays Saint Nick as grizzled and grumpy, there’s no disconnect between the kindly version we know and love and this more intense one. He also gets the majority of the laugh lines in the film, with a good number (though less than expected) giving a fun twist on holiday clichés.

The problem with the film is that it can’t sustain the momentum of the Santa mayhem scenes. The filmmakers try to have it both ways, pairing ultra-violence with a (dysfunctional) family story, using a cute girl who still believes in Santa as the bond between the two tones. The lack of attention paid to the dialogue of the Lightstone family is glaringly evident, especially since all of their roles, with the exception of D’Angelo, are filled by relatively unknown actors.

Anytime Santa Claus is on the screen – which is less than you might think – the film works. But any other time, it’s clear that they’re just trying to come up with something – anything – for the characters to do until they can get back to Santa kicking ass. And most of the time, what they’ve come up with is so eye-rollingly stupid or poorly written that you wonder why they included it in the first place.

Harbour is the glue that keeps the film watchable, committing himself 100 percent to the idea of the role. He doesn’t go overboard with the typical Santa elements, and the fact that he looks different from your typical Santa Claus also helps with the believability factor. Almost no one else is worth mentioning, save for maybe Leah Brady, the aforementioned cute girl who shines amid the depravity.

The potential for an alternative holiday classic was there with Violent Night, but the filmmakers focused too much on balancing the film instead of delivering on what the concept promised. If there is a next time, they should just let go of the reins and let Santa Claus go completely loose.

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Violent Night opens in theaters on December 2.