Before election day: Texas Book Festival and UT leadership awards

It’s hard not to talk about the election. But perhaps it’s a good thing that reporters — other than political columnists and editorial writers — traditionally don’t do so.

So we instead hark back to a few days before the fated one.

Gigi Edwards Bryant and Sarah Bird at First Edition Literary Gala for Texas Book Festival.

In Austin, the Texas Book Festival is homecoming for the tribe of readers. Like minds wander from venue to venue near the Texas States Capitol, absorbing speeches and panels, chatting up authors, buying ever more printed material.

I spend four hours on Saturday and four hours on Sunday signing copies of “Indelible Austin: Selected Histories” at the Waterloo Press booth inside the exhibition tents along Colorado Street. Heavy rain on Saturday and high winds on Sunday kept guests guessing when it was best to stroll around.

One sub-tribe of readers can be classified as introverts, so they startle when you unexpectedly say “hi” to them. Virtually every one of them, however, immediately smiles and welcomes the social interaction. After working this event for a couple of years, I can spot in advance the talkers, the browsers and the buyers. Business came in waves and we gave a lot of exposure to the Austin History Center, whose friends group runs Waterloo Press.

Friday, we raced back to town to catch the festival’s First Edition Literary Gala. The draw here is the conversations to be had in the lobby, on the terrace or around the dinner tables squeezed into the Four Seasons Hotel banquet room. We lucked out by sitting next to the charismatic leader of a statewide arts group on one side, and a tax lawyer with an interest in Austin culture and politics on the other.

The speakers — chef-cookbooker Marcus Samuelsson, actor-author Ethan Hawke, artist-illustrator Greg Ruth, actress-writer Diane Guerrero and journalist-novelist Carl Hiaasen — all held their own despite the chattiness of the crowd. A fair number of guests decamped to the lobby during the live auction, which more than one labeled a “buzz kill.”

Hey, this is one of our favorite weekends out of the year and, unlike a certain competing music festival in the woods, the rain did little to dampen the mood.

University of Texas Community Leadership Circle Awards. This is one of the coolest things that UT does. Under Gregory Vincent, the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement recognizes local heroes at well-attended receptions. I was not able to make the one Monday night at the Emma Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, but I can share some reports from friends.

The Limón family at the Community Leadership Circle Awards ceremony.

“Tonight was a special night for our family,” writes Lonnie Limón, whose family I profiled a few years back. “I was very honored to accept the Joe and Theresa Lozano Long Legacy Award from the University of Texas on my family’s behalf. With over 80+ cousins in the audience, the night was even more special when cousin John Treviño Jr. was awarded the Special Recognition award for his service to the University of Texas.”

Gregory Vincent, Lonnie Limón, Teresa Lozano Long and Joe Long at the MACC.

Limón spread the love around the rest of the big family, which counts some 3,500 members, mostly in the Austin area.

“Little cousin Ethan Limon Smith also stole the show with his wonderful performance of De Colores on the accordion with the St. Julia choir,” he writes. “And last, cousin Vidal Limon performed his acclaimed song ‘Acabame De Matar.’ Such a wonderful experience to share with so many cousins. We are only as good as the sum of our parts. Congrats to the other special honorees, Mark Madrid, Josefina Villicana Casati, and the Young Hispanic Professional Association of Austin.”

Casati, who edits the ¡Ahora Sí! for the American-Statesman, also posted her reaction to her award.


Sharon Roberts, Josefina Casati and Debbie Hiott at the Community Leadership Circle Awards ceremony.

“I am humbled and honored tonight, to have been recognized with the Community Leadership Circle Award,” Casati writes. “Congratulations to all other award recipients. And mil gracias to all of my friends and family who came to support me ¡los quiero mucho!”

Fellow winner, Mark Madrid, head of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, whom I’ve also profiled, also was quite eloquent.

“What a most memorable evening last night that has to start with the most intense thank you to all that attended the celebration,” Madrid posts. “To be surrounded by amazing, loving friends and family — uplifting. As I shared last night: Our community is strong, vibrant, compassionate, confident, united and ready to transform and heal this country.”

Madrid with family, with UT President Fenves and also with UT’s Gregory Vincent and Mayor Steve Adler.

Author: Michael Barnes

Michael Barnes writes about Austin's people, places, culture and history for the Austin American-Statesman and

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