Annual Austin book festival celebrates diversity within the industry


Jess Hernandez

Texas Teen Book Festival attendees browse for books before the festival starts on Oct. 7 at St. Edward’s University. Books were sold throughout the day by BookPeople so festival attendees could have them signed and personalized by their favorite authors.

Jessica Hernandez, Staff writer

AUSTIN – Jared Suarez had to fight back tears. As the Houston resident listened to Texas Teen Book Festival panel on immigration, he immediately went back to when he first moved to the United States.


“I went to a really nice panel that nearly made me cry because it was focused on immigration,“ Suarez said. “It is something that’s very personal to me and getting to relate to authors on that level was an incredible experience.”


Authors moved listeners and readers through the power of literature as they told their stories of finding acceptance within themselves and others even when all odds were against them at the Texas Teen Book Festival (TTBF) on Oct. 7.


More than 40 authors were featured at the festival and thousands of attendees showed up to the event in Austin at St. Edward’s University.


Writing workshops, interviews, in-depth discussions about book publishing, signing lines, author panels and book sales took place throughout the day. The festival was put on by one of Austin’s beloved bookshops, BookPeople, the Texas Book Festival and volunteers from the Austin area.


Panels headed by authors of books featuring immigration, characters of diverse backgrounds and the pursuit of happiness in a world where minorities are often swept aside and overlooked were the highlights of the day for many festival-goers.


First-time attendees, including Suarez, saw themselves in the authors and the books that were featured at the festival and hopes to see even more diversity at TTBF in the future. Suarez traveled from Houston alongside two friends for their first time in Austin and at TTBF.


This year’s festival was more diverse than ever with its closing and opening keynotes by Marie Lu, author of the Legend series and Warcross, and Jason Reynolds, author of Ghost and Long Way Down.


Lu and Reynolds are two of the young adult book industry’s biggest names and attracted audience members from all over the country with their words of wisdom about writing bestsellers and including parts of themselves and their past experience in everything that they write.


Long-time friends and second-time TTBF attendees Maggie Brister and Margaret Patterson enjoy traveling to book festivals together and see them as an opportunity to meet their favorite authors and spend time with each other while attending an event that they both love.


Brister lives in Kansas City, Mo. and Patterson lives in Houston.


“When Margaret and I went last year, we saw a lot of fantasy authors and this year’s lineup included a lot of contemporary authors so it’s really nice to see diversity in not just the authors but also in the types of books that are being featured as well,” Brister said.


We Need Diverse Books, an organization dedicated to spreading awareness about the necessity of diverse books in the book industry, was featured at the festival and even hosted an essay contest that awarded 20 winners with free books, the chance to have their work read aloud at the closing keynote and the opportunity to attend a closed discussion about diversity in publishing, writing, selling and everything in between led by authors Adam Silvera, Dhonielle Clayton and I.W. Gregorio.


“They’re taking a step in the right direction,” Patterson said. “Last year, the panels were more focused on the genres, which is always great to listen to, but this year they had panels dedicated towards diversity that sparked conversations that really needed to be had.”


Attendees of all ages hope to see even more diversity in the future and were very pleased with the steps that were taken in order to make it one of the main focuses of the festival.


Because many young adults and children attend events such as TTBF, festival coordinators recognize they must attempt to educate their audiences on other cultures and groups of people in order to make them more aware of their actions and their perspectives in the future. Many authors shared their stories of moving to other countries at young ages and learning to celebrate their differences no matter what other people may think about them.


“When you start introducing books with diverse characters and stories to younger generations early on, they’re going to grow up without racism, prejudice, and they’re going to be more open to believing that there are other kinds of people in the world that may not be exactly like them,” Suarez said. “Before, we didn’t have that. It’s teaching them [young adults] to accept and embrace that there’s more to this world than just what they see. That’s something that was executed very well at the festival. I asked a question during a panel and mentioned that I just arrived in the country about a year ago and more than 10 people came up to me and said things like ‘Welcome, welcome to America,’ and it was the nicest thing that could have happened.”


While books are the main reason that book lovers are inclined to attend book festivals, meeting new people and getting to be around people that share their interests is another major reason why festival attendance has increased over the years.


“When you go with a group of people, typically you all get scattered in a matter of minutes,” Suarez said. “Nothing goes as planned and you all end up in different places, but it’s always for the better. Getting to meet new people that share the same interests is one of the best parts of book festivals like TTBF.”


As the attendance at TTBF grows and the push for diversity within the book industry and the country in general increases with each passing moment, festival attendees plan on returning to next year’s festival and hope to see another great author lineup with panels that will inspire readers to tell their own stories and read what makes them want to understand the world around them in a new light.