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Photo courtesy of Defend the Dream

There’s much to discover at the library, and now Austin Independent School District kids are getting a specially dedicated space, thanks to the Defend the Dream Foundation.

Derrick Johnson, a former Texas Longhorn who played with the Kansas City Chiefs and garnered prestige in both positions, started Defend the Dream in 2012 to connect low-income and inner city youths with better resources and opportunities. He moved back to Austin in 2019, and committed to supporting the nonprofit even further.

On September 15, the foundation will present Austin’s first Discovery Den to Oak Springs Elementary School in East Austin near Airport Boulevard. Defend the Dream has been installing Discovery Dens in other schools for years, transforming school library spaces into well-stocked, football-themed reading areas with bright colors and lots of seating.

The low-tech, low-convolution goal is to create a comfortable and engaging space to encourage reading. In this case, it’s nearly $58,000 of donations for a “multi-functional space,” with donated furniture, bookshelves, and new flooring. In addition to a more exciting atmosphere, this donation covers more than 1,000 new books, selected for diversity, in an effort to modernize the current library selection.

In April of 2022, Defend the Dream announced a partnership with Horns with Heart, another nonprofit that uses the social and media pull of University of Texas student-athletes to promote community outreach and charity. The latter organization will help build the dens and assign reading ambassadors to keep up the activity.

“When I moved back to Austin a few years ago, I wanted to continue my work with Defend the Dream and help those in need be able to reach their full potential,” said Johnson in the April press release. “Partnering with an organization that supports my Alma Mater, UT, was a no brainer. Horns With Heart really pinpoints the heart of what I believe in - people helping others in their own community.”

Defend the Dream will continue with similar projects across the district after the Oak Springs Discovery Den is handed off on September 15, from 9 am to 10 am. More information about Defend the Dream is available at derrickjohnsonfoundation.org.

Courtesy of Texas Book Festival

Texas Book Festival uncovers full literary lineup for 2022 event

On the books

With less than two months before the Texas Book Festival makes its fully in-person return this fall, the anticipation is building like your favorite thriller novel. After announcing the keynotes earlier this summer (including Omar Epps, Angie Cruz, Sandra Brown, David George Haskell, Michaela Goade, and more), the TBF released its full author lineup on Wednesday, September 7.

Taking place on November 5 and 6, the 27th annual Texas Book Festival will feature nearly 300 national and Texas authors, including debut and bestselling writers, celebrated chefs, and more. Scattered along Austin's iconic Congress Avenue and surrounding the State Capitol, the event is a unique opportunity for attendees to both connect with favorite authors and meet new stars of the literary world.

As always, this year's lineup stretches across all genres, from cookbooks to thrillers and everything in between. Newly announced authors include Top Chef finalist Chris Scott and James Beard Award recipient Vishwesh Bhatt, University of Texas at Austin's own H.W. Brands, New York Times bestselling author Xochitl Gonzalez, and many, many more.

A few new highlights to add to the radar include:

  • Gabino Iglesias, award-winning author, will present The Devil Takes You Home, a genre-defying thriller about a father desperate to salvage what's left of his family — even if it means a descent into violence.
  • Culinary legend and 16-time James Beard Award recipient Jacque Pépin will present Jacques Pépin Art of the Chicken, chock-full of recipes, humorous stories, and his own paintings.
  • Grammy-nominated Margo Price will debut her memoir, Maybe We’ll Make It, a revealing look at loss, motherhood, and the search for artistic freedom.

While the festival always attracts talent from across the country, the event also showcases the incredible homegrown talent from right here in the Lone Star State. Texas authors featured at this year’s festival include Robert Draper, Simran Jeet Singh, LaToya Watkins, Will Hurd, Leon and Tiffany Chen, May Cobb, Alex Kiester, Katherine McGee, Amanda Eyre Ward, Amy Kim Kibuishi, Lise Olsen, Evan Griffith, Natalia Sylvester, and (you guessed it) many more.

Don't leave the kids behind, either! Young adult and children's programming will be as robust as ever, featuring numerous YA and children’s book authors such as Maggie Stiefvater, Aiden Thomas, Natalia Sylvester, R. M. Romero, Carole Boston Weatherford, Michaela Goade, David Bowles, David Levithan, and Mac Barnett.

"We are eager to present authors and exhibitors in person again, for the biggest Texas Book Festival since 2019,” says TBF Literary Director Matthew Patin in a release. “An incredible slate of debut, emerging, and established literary talent from across the state and nationwide will be in Austin this November. And we’re looking forward to connecting audiences with writers they’ve long been fans of, and with those they’ll be lifelong fans of soon.”

For a full list of 2022 authors and to learn more about each one (read: to memorize their photos so you can spot them in the inevitably crowded festival atmosphere), head to the Texas Book Festival website.

Courtesy of Harry Ransom Center

Austin's Harry Ransom Center debuts fall exhibit with dazzling director's reception

Portrait of the Artist

Members, donors, and friends of The Harry Ransom Center gathered on August 27 for a first look at the museum's fall exhibition, The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson. Featuring more than 150 immersive photographic portraits of some of the leading literary figures of our time, the exhibition is drawn from Wilson’s latest book, The Writers: Portraits (Yale University Press, 2022).

Wilson has published six books of photographs and text, including Avedon at Work, Grit and Glory, That Day: Picture in the American West, and From Rodin to Plensa. Her photographs have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and London's Sunday Times Magazine, among others.

Celebrating the exhibition opening on August 27, visitors browsed the artist's stunning photographic portraits of renowned authors such as Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, Zadie Smith, Tom Stoppard, Texas' own Larry McMurtry, Gabriel García Márquez, and many more. The power of each portrait is in its intimacy, capturing each writer in their personal setting — Smith in her kitchen, for example, or McMurtry sipping from a glass on his patio, a tall cactus in the background. The papers of many of the writers portrayed are collected at the Ransom Center.

At the director's reception, guests enjoyed light bites and custom cocktails before Harry Ransom Center Director Stephen Enniss gave opening remarks. Enniss also introduced Laura Wilson, who then signed copies of her book, which contains hundreds of additional portraits.

The exhibit will be on display through January 1, 2023, and copies of The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson are available for purchase at the Ransom Center gift shop. Additionally, Austinites will get a chance to celebrate the exhibit with actors Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, and Andrew Wilson on Saturday, September 24. In honor of their mom, the brothers will host a ticketed afterparty following the Celebration of Film Gala on the same evening.

Tickets to the Afterparty are $100, or are included with the purchase of a ticket to the gala, where Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep will help celebrate the Center's 65th anniversary. The star-studded evening marks a major milestone for the center and will help further its mission to deepen the understanding and appreciation of literature, photography, film, art, and the performing arts.

The exhibition, The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson will be on view at the Ransom Center through January 1, 2023.

Courtesy of Harry Ransom Center
The exhibition, The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson will be on view at the Ransom Center through January 1, 2023.
Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

Hollywood legend Meryl Streep joins UT Austin museum for 65th anniversary gala

"That's All"

When the Harry Ransom Center (HRC) first announced its upcoming 65th anniversary gala back in June, they promised a "star-studded" evening with Robert De Niro as the evening's special guest. As if that is not star-studded enough, the Hollywood heavyweight will be joined by yet another screen legend, Meryl Streep, for what is sure to be a truly unforgettable evening.

In a release on August 29, the museum on campus at the University of Texas at Austin announced the Academy Award-winning actress will join the event to share some words about De Niro. Esteemed film critic and historian Leonard Maltin will also attend, acting as master of ceremonies.

Taking place at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center on September 24, "A Celebration of Film" will support preservation and access to historical film materials archived at HRC. The event will mark the museum's 65th anniversary while honoring De Niro's ongoing support with a special endowment.

De Niro's archive, which is housed at HRC, will be featured in a new exhibition examining his early years at the American Workshop, in acting instructor Stella Adler’s classes, and in plays and films that marked his initial successes and learning experiences. De Niro first donated his archive to the HRC in 2006, including annotated screenplays, correspondence, production records, film stills and behind-the-scenes photographs, posters and publicity materials, props, costumes, videotapes, and motion picture film.

The HRC’s extensive film collection tells the stories of Hollywood producers, directors, writers, and actors from the silent era and Golden Age of Hollywood through the rise of independent filmmakers and into the age of blockbusters and the new millennium.

The gala supports the museum's mission to preserve and provide access to historical film materials. In an effort to expand access to this unique celebration, the HRC will also hold its first-ever ticketed after party, immediately following the gala.

Featuring cocktails, nibbles, and live music, tickets for the event are $100 and provide an accessible option for Austin film fans to support the HRC. Actors and native Texans Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, and Andrew Wilson will be honorary event co-hosts in tribute to their mother, whose work is featured in the HRC's fall exhibition, “The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson," which opened on August 27.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit hrc.utexas.edu/gala for the gala and hrc.utexas.edu/afterparty/ for the Post-Production Afterparty.

Meryl Streep will join Robert De Niro at a gala to mark the Harry Ransom Center's 65th anniversary.

Photo by Brigitte Lacombe
Meryl Streep will join Robert De Niro at a gala to mark the Harry Ransom Center's 65th anniversary.
Photo by Spencer Selvidge

Stunning Skyspace on UT Austin campus reopens with immersive programming

Sky's the Limit

One of Austin's favorite art installations is back and better. After a brief summer closure, James Turrell's Skyspace, The Color Inside, is slated to reopen on Monday, August 22.

Welcoming more than 75,000 people each year, The Color Inside is a freestanding, naked-eye observatory located on The University of Texas at Austin campus. The pre-programmed light sequence fills the space with brilliant washes of color at each sunrise and sunset, causing the sky to appear in unimaginable hues.

Part of Landmarks, the public art program at the University of Texas at Austin, the installation is located at the William C. Powers Student Activity Center. With a limited summer schedule at the activity center, the installation — along with the Landmarks companion program, Songs in the Skyspace — had to close temporarily. Songs in the Skyspace will likewise resume, kicking off with a performance by violinist Shawn LeSure on August 28.

The monthly series fills the beautiful space with music from across genres, representing a diverse mix of voices and instruments. Along with LeSure, this season’s lineup will feature a capella group Voices of Afrika, singer/songwriter Jelly Ellington, and a newly commissioned work from celebrated composer Nathan Felix.

And in equally exciting news, the space will welcome all new, wellness-focused programming starting in November. Led by sound and energy healer, Sonic Starchild, Wellness Wednesdays will feature sound bath meditations inside the Skyspace with singing bowls, chimes, and gongs. The immersive experiences will run select Wednesdays in November during the sunset light sequence.

A full list of Skyspace programming for 2022-2023 is below:

Songs in the Skyspace
August 28: Shawn LeSure
September 18: Voices of Afrika
October 16: Jelly Ellington
February 19, 2023: Nathan Felix

Wellness Wednesdays with Sonic Starchild
November 2: Sound Bath Meditation
November 9: Sound Bath Meditation
November 16: Sound Bath Meditation
November 30: Sound Bath Meditation

Supported by Austin’s independent classical station, KMFA 89.5, Skyspace and its companion programming is free and open to all, but reservations are required. Visitors may book tickets online at turrell.utexas.edu.

Photo courtesy of KUT

Austin mourns the passing of iconic radio personality John Aielli

Chosen from the Best

An Austin icon has passed away. Longtime KUT and KUTX radio personality John Aielli died on Sunday, July 31 at the age of 76.

“John was an Austin treasure and an indelible part of so many lives here in Austin. His unique perspective on the world made being with John a joy,” said KUTX 98.9 program director Matt Reilly in a releases. “Our lives are less interesting with him gone. God speed, we love you John, and we’ll remember you always with a smile on our faces.”

Aielli boasted more than half a century on the air, starting out at KUT 90.5 in September 1966. His first role was a part-time announcer between classical pieces, but his extensive knowledge of classic music soon led to him programming the music himself. Within just four years, he had his own time slot, “Eklektikos,” inspired by the Greek word eklektos, which means "chosen from the best."

The station marked Aielli’s 50th anniversary on the air with year-long festivities in 2016, including a community concert and a special John Aielli bobble head thank-you gift during membership drives. During the celebration, Aielli said, “I’m curious by nature. I enjoy talking to people and observing things about life, so radio is a wonderful medium to be in. And to be the guy that gets to talk behind the microphone – it’s a privilege and a challenge.”

Aielli was the inspiration behind a popular hashtag #ShitJohnAielliSays, which collected his famous one-liners, as well as a tribute Twitter handle @ShitJohnAielliSays.

Both “Eklektikos” and Aielli won 15 “Best of” awards from Austin Chronicle since 1990. Over the years, Aielli's interviews included a veritable hall of fame of musicians, writers, actors, and local community leaders, including Joan Baez, Rufus Wainwright, soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Michael Chabon, Alan Furst, Dan Rather, Matthew McConaughey, and yoga master Swami Satchidananda.

Until 2013, KUT was a dual service, programming both news and music, spinning tunes through KUTX 98.9. For more than 30 years, Aielli led KUT and KUTX's biggest public event, the annual Holiday Sing Along, conducting huge crowds in singing songs of the season.

"He was such a joy to work with, and so important to what the stations have become," KUT and KUTX general manager Debbie Hiott said in a message to staff.

Listeners are invited to share their memories of Aielli on KUTX's social media channels.

John Aielli passed away on July 31, 2022.

Photo courtesy of KUT
John Aielli passed away on July 31, 2022.
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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

H-E-B unveils merch for super fans, plus more hot Austin headlines

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. H-E-B unveils merchandise for brand super fans, available exclusively at one store. Kerrville was chosen to launch the company's new line of H-E-B-branded merchandise in celebration of its 117th anniversary.

2. Austin bar transforms into a magical winter wonderland this holiday season. Don your favorite elf socks and meet the lovely citizens of “Tinseltown.”

3. Draft 'Vision Plan' for Zilker Park unveils land bridge and more possibilities. Austinites are invited to comment on a vision plan that will inform the future of Zilker Park.

4. Austin ranks among world’s 100 best cities in prestigious new report. Austin is the No. 43 best city in the world, according to a new study. (And yes, we beat Dallas.)

5. Austin airport launches new SkySquad travel assistants in time for the holiday rush. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is keeping lines moving during a period of heavy travel with a new team of airport assistants.

Steven Spielberg opens up personal history in The Fabelmans

Movie Review

For over 40 years, director Steven Spielberg has been delivering some of the most popular blockbuster movies of all time as well as a bevy of Oscar-quality dramas, a combination that’s unique to him. For his latest, The Fabelmans, he’s decided to go more personal than ever, telling a thinly-veiled version of his own childhood.

Sammy (played mostly by Gabriel LaBelle) is one of four children – and the only son – of Mitzi (Michelle Williams), a concert pianist, and Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano), a computer engineer. From an early age, Sammy is enthralled by the art of filmmaking, first remaking a train crash sequence from The Greatest Show on Earth, and gradually moving on to more adventurous stories.

Burt’s advancing career, which moves the family from New Jersey to Arizona to California, causes stress for various members of the family, most notably Sammy and Mitzi. Sammy must deal with anti-Semitic bullies, while Mitzi falls deeper into a mental health crisis. Sammy’s movies continually offer a respite for the family, though, giving him a creative outlet and the rest of them a chance to forget their troubles for a while.

Written by Spielberg – his first writing effort since 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence – and Tony Kushner, the film is heavy on emotions but presented in a way that those feelings don’t always translate. Spielberg is no stranger to depicting fraught family situations in his long career, but in showing ones from his own family, it feels like he pulled back, not wanting the scenes to be overwrought or schmaltzy.

The result is a story that isn’t as universal as some of his other films. As the film is told from Sammy’s perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in his pursuits and various discoveries as he gets older. The mindsets of the rest of the family are less clear, even though his parents and sisters are ever-present. Mitzi’s state of mind is a concern from the start, but it’s not always treated as such by other important characters.

Just as Sammy’s movies are an escape for his family, so too are they some of the best parts of the film. Sammy figuring out the process and secrets of filmmaking is informative and often thrilling, especially if you’re a cinephile. Spielberg has been considered a master for so long that watching him revisit the days when he was learning as he went is catnip for movie lovers.

In addition to being a dead ringer for a teenage Spielberg, LaBelle is a fantastic actor. It’s no easy feat to carry a movie on your shoulders, and LaBelle makes the assignment look easy. Williams’ performance will likely be more polarizing; she employs a very mannered speech pattern that works in some situations, but not all. The film also includes memorable short appearances by Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, and David Lynch.

Spielberg has provided the moviegoing public with such pleasure over the years that he deserves to have a movie that’s mostly for him. The initial viewing of The Fabelmans left this critic wanting, but perhaps it will gain more traction on a second screening.

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The Fabelmans is now playing in theaters.

Photo by Merie Weismuller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Gabriel LaBelle in The Fabelmans

Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta acquires award-winning California resort

tilman goes laguna

Fans of Tilman Fertitta's nationwide hospitality brands are in for a treat. The Billion Dollar Buyer has just secured an award-winning, 30-acre resort in sunny Southern California.

Fertitta has purchased the acclaimed Montage Laguna Beach Resort Hotel, a premier beachfront property in the sunny SoCal getaway destination. Notably, the Montage Laguna Beach Resort Hotel is one of only six hotels in the U.S. to score the Forbes Triple Five-Star hotel status. The Montage has also been included among Travel + Leisure’s Top Hotels in the World.

Image courtesy of Montage Laguna Beach

Fertitta's newest purchase overlooks the ocean in Laguna Beach.

“I am truly thrilled to acquire this world-renowned property and add one of America’s most iconic trophy resorts to our luxury hotel portfolio,” Fertitta noted in a statement. “I have been traveling to Laguna Beach for over 30 years. It is one of my favorite places to visit and one of the most beautiful areas in the world. The Montage is a stunning oceanfront property and one of the premier hotel brands in the world.”

Press materials didn't list the property purchase price, but Law360 reports that the deal is in excess of $660 million.

The Craftsman-style resort sits on a coastal bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Impressive amenities are highlighted by the 20,000-square-foot Spa Montage, which offers eucalyptus steam rooms, dry redwood saunas, ocean air whirlpools, fireplace lounges, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a movement studio, and a lap pool.

More outdoor fun includes two pools and direct beach access, a museum-quality fine art collection, and more than 20,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, per press materials.

Every resident space — the 260 guestrooms, including 60 suites, beach bungalow-style rooms, and multi-bedroom villas — boast stunning views of the Pacific.

Dining destinations offer chef-driven interpretations of coastal California flavors inspired by region. The property is designated and included in the distinctive Legend Collection of Preferred Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

“We are thrilled that Tilman is the new owner of this one-of-a-kind property and welcome him into the Montage family,” said Alan Fuerstman, founder, CEO, and chairman of Montage International. Mary Rogers, the Montage's GM added, “The staff is thrilled to be working with Tilman. Everyone here at the property is tremendously excited about his purchase and look forward to continuing to provide a world-class experience to all of our guests."

Aside from his palatial Post Oak Hotel in Houston, Fertitta also owns 14 other hotel properties around the country, including the award-winning San Luis Resort in Galveston, plus five popular Golden Nugget casino and hotel locations.

Another feather in Fertitta’s luxury portfolio cap is the iconic Huntting Inn, one of the most charming and historic locales in East Hampton, New York.

No stranger to California, Fertitta's presence there includes Catch Seafood and Catch Steak, Mastro’s Ocean Club and Mastro’s Steakhouse, Morton’s The Steakhouse, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, The Palm, and more — all part of his 60 brands and more than 600 concepts nationwide.