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Michael Barnes

SafePlace Lunch, Kirkus Prizes, Serve: Gourmet Gadgets and Goods and Austin Film Festival

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Lynn Meredith and Kathleen Sebelius at Kirkus Prize ceremony.

Lynn Meredith and Kathleen Sebelius at Kirkus Prize ceremony.

CHARITY: ‘The first 18 years of my life were Outward Bound.’ That funny conclusion was reached by Jeannette Walls, author of “The Glass Castle” and speaker at the SafePlace lunch at the Hyatt Regency Austin. A media star who lived on Park Avenue, Walls once spotted a homeless woman in New York and realized it was her mother. After she tracked her down and asked to help, Walls came out, through her memoir, as somebody whose youth had been hair-raising. Walls is a fantastic public speaker — her humor sneaks up on you — who lifted the spirits of the 40-year-old SafePlace backers and staff. They’ve witnessed a big surge in public attention since the Ray Rice wife-punching incident. The annual lunch also includes a speech from a survivor of domestic violence, which I’m always tempted to skip. The details can be harrowing. Poet and songwriter Brooke Axtell told her story with clarity and grace. It was important to hear it.

Armand Marie Leroi and Jerry Hall at Kirkus Prize ceremony.

Armand Marie Leroi and Jerry Hall at Kirkus Prize ceremony.

BOOKS: The setting was nothing less than spectacular. See the winners of the first-ever Kirkus Prize in Joe Gross‘ blog. Here’s the social scoop: The three $50,000 awards were given out with much excitement at the Four Seasons Residence penthouse of Lynn and Tom Meredith. On hand were former Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who professed her love for Austin and is now splitting her time between Washington D.C. and Kansas. Nearby was model and actress Jerry Hall, whose friend, Armand Marie Leroi, was a finalist for nonfiction. I was delighted to meet Sarah Bagby, who runs the Watermark Books and Cafe in Wichita. She’s pals with my sister, Valerie Koehler, who owns Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston. (Indie booksellers stick together.) Kirkus Reviews editor Clay Smith kept ’em in stitches while creating suspense for these fine and generous new prizes in fiction, nonfiction and youth books.

Bob and Brooke Gentry with BA Snyder at Service: Gourmet Gadgets and Goods.

Bob and Brooke Gentry with BA Snyder at Service: Gourmet Gadgets and Goods.

FOOD: Came for the gadgets, stayed for the urban analysis. Serve: Gourmet Gadgets and Goods, a jaunty shop on Third Street, is packed with retail provocations. Despite being located amid the fast-changing and often disrupted landscape of the Second Street District, it has thrived for two years now, which owners Bob and Brooke Gentry toasted with frozen margaritas and savory snacks. Almost immediately, Bob and I engaged in a fruitful discussion of urban foot traffic and how much it affects his business. He told me that tourists, usually in a holiday shopping mood, are among his mainstays. He has been helped by the new Starbucks in the W Austin Hotel and has high hopes for the nearby JW Marriott and a nearly completed office tower. What would help even more, I’d judge, is development on the north end of Block 19 along West Third Street. Pedestrians don’t like empty lots. They are drawn by activity. Here’s hoping.

MOVIES: Festival gives peek at Oscar hopefuls. From Charles Ealy‘s story in the Statesman: “The Austin Film Festival and Conference, which kicked off Thursday and continues through Oct. 30, features more than 180 films — both shorts and features — and several Oscar hopefuls this year. It also includes retrospective screenings, multiple panels on screenwriting, an awards ceremony and conversations with some of the most renowned directors and writers of Hollywood and beyond. Oh, yes, and there are a few parties, too. The highest-profile films this year are the 1800s Western “The Homesman,” starring Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank; “The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch; “Wild,” with Reese Witherspoon; and “Rosewater,” the directorial debut from Jon Stewart and starring Gael García Bernal.” http://shar.es/1mNgK1