Austin Book Arts Center reaches out in the most endearing way

The Austin Book Arts Center didn’t ask for $50 million.

Or $5 million.

Or $500,000.

Or $50,000.

Dave Sullivan and Surya Veeraraghavan at the Austin Book Arts Center benefit.

The backers of this group that engages folks in the art of making books — no, not bookmaking, that’s something else — requested a total of $15,000 to help them move from their studio at the undone Flatbed Press building on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to new digs.

Aided by the deliciously dry humor of leader Mary Baughmam, formerly a conservator at the Ransom Center, the center’s benefit at the Austin Central Public Library was an endearingly grassroots affair.

RELATED: Austin’s new Central Library is a place of consequence.

Library system Director Roosevelt Weeks welcomed the casually attired band of adults and children. Soothing music, scrumptious sandwiches, lively activities — they all combined to make one linger and contemplate the gifts this group has already given our city.

And how one can help the center reach its modest goal.

Best Texas Books: Wrestling with writer J. Frank Dobie

At some point, every Texas writer — or serious reader — must come to terms with “Mr. Texas.”

Author J. Frank Dobie. American-Statesman file photo.

To the extent that Austinites today recognize the name of folklorist, teacher and widely published columnist, J. Frank Dobie, they might associate it with a middle school, or a freshly renovated mall at the base of a dormitory tower (despite the fact that Dobie hated high-rises), or perhaps with “Philosophers’ Rock,” a sculptural tribute at Barton Springs devoted to Dobie and his gabbing buddies Roy Bedichek and Walter Prescott Webb.

The literary-minded might also think of the Dobie Paisano Ranch, which serves as a writer’s retreat on Barton Creek for Dobie Fellows, or the modest Dobie residence across from the University of Texas Law School, where writing students sometimes meet.

Born in 1888, Dobie came out of South Texas brush country with an abiding interest in cowboy yarns, legends of lost treasure, and tales of conquistadors, cattle drives and desert rats. Dobie struggled at first to find his voice, but struck gold in the mass-market magazine trade that was hungry for adventure stories.

He then expanded those articles, sometimes scantily, into two dozen books. He took up residence at UT and mentored subsequent generations of folkorists and writers. A the same time, he penned a weekly column that was published in dozens of newspapers. He died in 1964.

As Steven L. Davis describes in his superb biography, “J. Frank Dobie: A Liberated Mind,” the folklorist’s intellectual journey took him from unreconstructed attitudes toward Mexicans, Native-Americans and African-Americans — as well as a belief in the self-reliance of rough-and-ready Texans — to become one of the most progressive and open-minded columnists in the state, the bane of the postwar Establishment. He also mentored Hispanic and African-American folklorists, although he broke with the social scientists in the field who insisted on undiluted field notes rather than lovingly burnished stories. His motto: “Any tale belongs to whoever best tells it.”

RELATE: Start with this J. Frank Dobie bio.

One can certainly ignore Dobie and still understand Texas. Or one can choose other, better writers such as Katherine Anne Porter, Larry McMurtry, Horton Foote, Stephen Harrigan, Americo Paredes, Sarah Bird, Don GrahamAttica Locke or Lawrence Wright to gain your initial insights about the state.

I, for one, avoided Dobie for as long as I could. First, I’m allergic to thickly applied dialect, whether from otherwise great authors such as George Eliot (the unreadable “The Mill on the Floss”) or local heroes like John Henry Faulk (whenever told an extended story in someone else’s down-home voice). Also, Dobie’s tales seemed directed at a youthful audience, let’s face it, mostly boys, and rarely have I been able to reread even beloved adventure stories from childhood with much pleasure in my later years.

So what drew me to Dobie in my sixties? One writer, other than Davis, who got me over the conceptual hump was Bill Wittliff, whose masterful recreation of various Texas dialects in his “Devil’s Backbone” series of picaresque novels is an absolute delight. (A third volume comes out this fall from UT Press.)

So maybe Dobie’s liberally applied Texas dialects might not set my teeth on edge.

Also, I’d recently read the collected works of Porter, who sparred with Dobie over their respective places among Texas writers, and came away with the impression that she is among America’s greats, at her best on par with her near contemporaries William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Dobie next?

Davis warned me personally that the seven volumes kept in print by the University of Texas Press were uneven. In response, he recently finished a volume of “The Essential J. Frank Dobie,” a “best of” edition to be valued because Dobie could rise to sustained excellence, as I later discovered. It comes out in Fall 2019 from Texas A&M University Press.

The proximate cause for my deep dive into Dobie, however, was a trip to the still-new offices of UT Press, where all their volumes in print are displayed in the reception area. As a diehard bibliophile, I was dazzled. Then I slipped my fingers across the seven beautifully designed Dobie paperbacks with their vintage-looking covers.

This paperback series, by the way, is kept in print because of a bequest from Dobie’ estate in the 1970s. Someone was thinking ahead to the day when Dobie was no longer a celebrity! Now they are mostly available via “print on demand.”

I asked for all seven. Then slowly read them, sometimes giving up altogether, then winding my way back to the stack.

“Uneven” does not begin to describe the books. Some are barely strung-together anecdotes, the kind you might find in an old-fashioned “general interest” column in a newspaper, stitched together by ellipses. “Rattlesnakes” and “The Longhorns” tend to follow this pattern. Interesting in spurts, but repetitive in an unappealing way.

Other Dobie’s collections present thicker stories, such as the nuggets in “Tales of Old-Time Texas” or “I’ll Tell You a Tale.” Still, the familiar patterns are burned into the narrative leather and you must be patient with them.

Lost mines and buried treasures tickled Dobie’s readers and he really does make the search for them compelling in “Apache Gold and Yacqui Silver” and, especially, “Coronado’s Children,” the book that probably holds up best.

In a special category is “The Ben Lilly Legend,” which benefits from a focused subject — a great American hunter. Dobie pursued this story with relish and persistence. I’d be tempted to recommend it as your first Dobie, that or “Coronado’s Children.”

Actually, do what I did and start with Davis’ “J. Frank Dobie: A Liberated Mind.” You need it to understand the context for any additional Dobie reading.

Some great old Hollywood movies were inspired by these books. And one can find threads of these stories in McMurtry and Wittliff, who spun them into fictional gold.

Dobie might have been a promoter of a Texas that appears in the rearview mirror of an overwhelming urban and suburban state. And he’s not entirely reliable as a historian, but, darn it, he can tell a tale, especially when he sticks to the subject. And his stories birthed a lot of Texas mythology that still shapes the way we think of ourselves today.

 

Best Austin parties after Labor Day, Game Day

We survived Labor Day and Game Day and now it’s time for the great Austin social machine to crank it up.

These are some upcoming parties I hope to make.

Sept. 9: Picnic Bombazo for Puerto Rican Cultural Center. 701 Tillery St.

Sept. 10: Opening of ASA Moody Medical Clinic. 7215 Cameron Road.

Sept. 13: I Saw the Future, There Are Books” for Austin Book Arts Center. Austin Central Public Library.

Sept. 13: Red Dot Art Spree. Women & Theatre Work Gallery.

Sept. 13: The Fabulous People Party for YWCA Greater Austin. Gather Venues Monroe Street.

Sept. 13: 1968: The Year the Dream Died” reception. Briscoe Center for American History.

Sept. 14-15: Austin Symphony season-opening concert. Long Center.

Sept. 14: “Wide Open Spaces: Texas Landscapes by Gay Gaddis” reception. Submerge Art Gallery.

Sept. 16: Authentic Mexico for the Hispanic Alliance. Long Center.

Sept. 16: Seed & Thread Gala for the Filigree Theatre. Treaty Oak Distillery.

Sept. 17: Roger Comes to Austin: A Conversation with Andy Roddick and Roger Federer for the Andy Roddick Foundation. Paramount Theatre.

Sept. 18: “Passport to your Dreams” for the Dream Come True Foundation. Brodie Homestead.

UT’s Latin American Collection is a wonder of the library world

The Nettie Benson Latin American Collection is a University of Texas treasure you should get to know better.

Leslie Montoya, Maria Farahani and Ernesto Rios at a UT dinner for The Benson Latin American Collection.

Founded almost 100 years ago in 1921 with the acquisition of Mexican historian and bibliophile Genaro García‘s library, it grew vastly under the direction of UT professor Carlos Castañeda — partial namesake for the Perry-Castañeda Library — then under historian Nettie Lee Benson. For decades, the Collection has been the finest and most complete library of its kind in the Americas.

When I did research there in the 1980s for my doctoral dissertation, it was referred to by scholars as the “Library of Congress for Latin America.” Sort of like the Ransom Center across campus, its leaders had collected so many books, manuscripts and other objects in its chosen fields, people travel from around the world to visit it.

Crucially, it houses materials that back up some of what was lost in the recent fire that gutted the Brazil Museum.

The Collection, as well as its intimate partner, the Teresa Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies, are now receiving more attention locally.

At “An Evening for Discovery,” a recent benefit dinner at the AT&T Center, I ran into many old and new friends, including Maria Cisne Farahani, the woman behind Fara Coffee, which benefits workers in her native Nicaragua (we talked about the brisk change in political will in that country); Monica Peraza, who updated me on the latest at the Long Center, where she now captains the board of directors; attorney and event host Becky Beaver, who is becoming one of the Benson’s most eloquent promoters; Leslie Montoya, a local Univision reporter; Ernesto Rois, who is in the medical parts business (I don’t think that’s the right term, but you understand); and Adriana Pacheco Roldán, a scholar who, with Fernando Macias-Garza, gave $50,000 for an endowment to kick off the Benson’s centennial celebration.

RELATED: We bow before these honorees, including Maria Cisne Farahani.

Texas White House at LBJ Ranch closed for now

The National Park Service announced Friday that it will close the “Texas White House,” once the ranch home of President Lyndon Baines Johnson and his family in Stonewall, as well as the adjacent Pool House, until further notice because of health and safety concerns arising from water leakage in various places in the main house.

The Texas White House and pool at the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall, taken in 2012. Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman

For decades, these were the most private zones of the ranch, parts of the LBJ National Historical Park that, until 2012, were reserved for the Johnson family and not generally open to the public.

 RELATED: Exploring the inside of the Texas White House

The Park Service said they will remain closed until the service can confirm that the two buildings do not pose safety concerns.

“We don’t actually know what the problem is,” said Susanne McDonald, the national park superintendent. “We are going into an investigative stage to figure out what is happening. We are focusing on weaknesses in the structure that might be causing water intrusion. We have a few areas that have caused us problems, but we haven’t been able to figure out the exact location where the water is coming in. It could be absolutely nothing, but I don’t want to take a risk with our employees or our visitors.”

The modest buildings, preserved in 1960s styles, look less like the headquarters of the world’s most powerful person and more like a relaxing retreat where your beloved country relatives live. That is, until one notices the three attached televisions ready to broadcast the three big networks of the time.

Interiors of Texas White House were first seen by the public in 2012, preserved in their 1960s styles. Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman

“They just weren’t showy people,” former Superintendent Russ Whitlock said when the buildings were opened to the public in 2012. “The ranch and the ranch house take the Johnsons off the pedestal of president and first lady and make them into people we can relate to.”

In his recent book, “LBJ’s 1968: Power, Politics and the Presidency in America’s Year of Upheaval,” Ken Longley, the newly named director of the LBJ Presidential Library, describes how the ranch served as a safety valve for the  sometimes volcanic LBJ, especially during his traumatic final year in office. Repeatedly during 1968, the president retreated to the ranch, took a swim, then a ate a snack on TV trays, or a tooled around the Hill Country with family or friends to relax.

All other park facilities remain open to the public. These include the Johnson settlement, President Johnson’s boyhood home, and the park visitor center in Johnson City. The LBJ Ranch driving tour is not affected, and the LBJ Ranch hangar visitor center is open as normal.

UPDATE: The quote from Superintendent McDonald was added after this was first posted.

Best Texas Books: ‘Where Texas Meets the Sea’ by Alan Lessoff

How many observers would have predicted that the finest urban history to date about a Texas city would take as its subject Corpus Christi? Permanently perched on the state’s periphery, Corpus, a city of 316,000 — 442,000 in the metro area — seems always consigned to secondary status.

NOTE: This story first ran in the Statesman June 9, 2015. We’re reviving it for our Best Texas Books series.

In “Where Texas Meets the Sea” (University of Texas Press), Alan Lessoff explains how a place with such sterling advantages — gorgeous beaches, a striking bayfront under a natural bluff, a man-made deepwater port, proximity to Mexico and to the ranching, oil and gas empires of South Texas — has been stuck in virtual neutral for the past 50 years. Despite the current fracking boom, young people still leave in droves, as they did when the glamour spotlight followed other cities in the state: Houston during the space race, Dallas during the run of “Dallas,” and Austin pretty much ever since.

Lessoff is unswervingly fair. He doesn’t point fingers or assign guilt. Yet he makes it clear that Corpus has squandered opportunity after opportunity, especially in those years since an elite group of mostly Anglo businessmen ran the city from the 1920s to the 1960s. A necessary and salutary diffusion of power followed, but consensus has been fleeting.

BEST TEXAS BOOKS: “The Cedar Choppers.”

Preserve historic buildings in context, as Galveston and San Antonio did, or bulldoze them and start over? Run a major thoroughfare along the bayfront, or make it more amenable to tourists and pedestrians? Cluster civic buildings on the bay? Or maybe on the bluff? Or somewhere in between, as urban designers have urged?

Corpus Christians can’t even agree on whether explorer Alonso Álvarez de Pineda named the bay because he arrived there on the Feast of Corpus Christi. (Lessoff finds no evidence to confirm the popular notion.)

Civic dithering might sound awfully familiar to Austinites, but here a lingering sense of optimism, a sense that problems eventually can be solved, tends to bolster old-timers and attract newcomers — including young people — in multitudes.

Corpus lost the headquarters of H-E-B and Whataburger to San Antonio. It missed out on Sea World. In the book’s most squalid passages, Lessoff describes how the city allowed Spanish-built seagoing replicas of the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria — sent on a somewhat tone-deaf diplomatic tour during the 500-year anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage, and intended as tourism supermagnets — to rot. The Pinta and the Santa Maria replicas were quietly destroyed in August 2014.

“They had become a monument not to interethnic pride,” Lessoff writes, “but to the perils of community building through generalized symbolism.”

The city was founded in 1839 — same year as Austin — as an Anglo trading outpost on the disputed border between Texas and Mexico, the Nueces River, by Henry Lawrence Kinney. It was nurtured as a market town, banking center and supply depot for South Texas ranching families. Its Hispanic residents — who finally began to share power after World War II through groups such as the G.I. Forum, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Westside Business Association — were generally descended from rural families long settled in the region.

The town was vulnerable to tropical storms. A 1919 hurricane swept many buildings off its low-lying bayfront. Corpus built a seawall, lower than the one in Galveston, which, after all, juts directly into the Gulf of Mexico rather than resting behind a shallow bay.

Two big things lifted Corpus from backwater status in the 20th century: The discovery of oil and the completion of the port in 1926. A naval air station cemented its longtime military character. As in San Antonio, many veterans chose to stick around after their service.

A few rail lines were added, and for a while it seemed as if Corpus could duplicate the success of Houston or other booming Gulf cities. Its downtown — crowned by hotels and the streamlined Lichtenstein’s department store — seemed as bustling as anywhere in Texas at the midcentury mark. (My father, grandfather and grandmother worked in that grand store.)

Many of those downtown landmarks are gone or remain unreclaimed.

It isn’t as if Corpus hasn’t made big plans: It built the vaulting Harbor Bridge. Another is on the way. Periodically, fabulous developments are planned for the waterfront or the barrier islands. The expanded port continues to boom.

But too often city leaders can’t get it together. Lessoff includes an entire chapter on the symbolic fights over public art. Elites centered at the Art Museum of South Texas — its Philip Johnson building is among the city’s few distinguished pieces of architecture — feuded bitterly with locals who felt that their tastes and their favorite artists were ignored.

Among the few local artists who were able to find backers in both camps was Swedish-born sculptor Kent Ullber, whose “Wind in the Sails” represents “an evocation of the awesome Gulf,” according to Lessoff, and “came closest to providing a symbol for the city.” A statue of Tejano idol Selena gained public acceptance after an uncertain start.

Preservationists find it hard to win any battles. In a halfway gesture, some older structures were moved to a central spot called Heritage Park, stripped of their contexts. The nonprofits housed in the buildings struggled to make a go of it in the odd village.

Lessoff sees a glimmer of hope on the horizon: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi — anchored on a thrice-reinvented bayside campus — imports and trains a creative class for a city that has relied too heavily on services to inland farms and ranches, on energy-hungry industry and on in-state tourism.

One of the most confounding and persistent blind spots for the city: Its relatively weak ties to Mexico and the rest of Latin America. Instead, that role in has been usurped by San Antonio, Laredo, Houston and the Lower Rio Grande Valley, an urban agglomeration of 1.2 million residents strung along one smooth freeway. That whole, linear region from Mission to Brownsville seems plugged into the border in a way that Corpus does not.

A buddy who spent part of his youth in Corpus Christi and I recently explored the Valley, which, in the past few decades, has evolved from a rural patchwork into one vast, buzzing, low-rise landscape. We departed the region on a workday morning at what should have been rush hour, taking a “NAFTA superhighway” north to Corpus.

No traffic in either direction. That alone speaks volumes about both urban areas.

Reading “Where Texas Meets the Sea,” one can’t help rooting for Corpus. Despite its lack of collective vision, the city has always been perched on the brink of tantalizing possibilities.

Best Texas books: ‘The Cedar Choppers’ by Ken Roberts

The best Texas book I’ve read of late was “The Cedar Choppers: Life on the Edge of Nothing” by Ken Roberts (Texas A&M Press). It doubles as one of the most instructive books about Austin’s history and culture.

Roberts, a former professor at Southwestern University in Georgetown, knows something about deep research. For this story about the people who once honeycombed the hills west and north of Austin, he talked to survivors and descendants. He scoured the internet for additional material and used Ancestry.com for more than just constructing family trees. He also consulted dozens of newspaper articles and books for historical context.

RELATED: Shooting heard “all over South Austin.”

Roberts grew up in Tarrytown and first encountered hard Hill Country boys on the low bridge over the Colorado River at Red Bud Trail just below Tom Miller Dam. That fraught meeting must have stuck with him. He later read feature stories and columns about “cedar choppers” — as the fiercely independent hill folk were called, not always kindly — by Mark Lisheron and John Kelso in the American-Statesman.

Roberts confirms that these mostly Scots-Irish clans, who arrived as early as the 1850s, migrated down through the Appalachian and the Ozark mountains. They grew small plots of corn for cornmeal that didn’t need milling, for corn whiskey distilled in the hollows, and to feed their roaming livestock. They hunted game and cut native ashe juniper (cedar) for use as fence posts and charcoal. Cedar remained their main cash crop for buying what they could not carve out the hills.

(You catch glimpses of this life in John Graves‘ “Goodbye to a River” and “Hard Scrabble.” And, as riparian expert Kevin Anderson reminds us, in Roy Bedichek‘s “Adventures of a Texas Naturalist.”)

In fact, during some periods, they thrived and fared better than those who tended cotton as tenant farmers on the prairies to the east. Old-growth cedar found in cool, deep canyons rose tall and straight. The red hearts were especially resistant to insects and rot. Hill Country cedar was shipped by rail all over the Southwest and towns such as Cedar Park supported multiple cedar yards, especially in the years after World War II.

The hill folk rarely took part in city activities. Some resisted the Confederate forces, others joined them.

Before Austin spread west and the life of the cedar choppers declined, the clans intermarried and helped each other out. Some also resorted to quick-tempered violence. Roberts does not stint on the crime reporting (see link above).

After reading Roberts’ book, I took a little trip to the Eanes History Center, which happened to throw an open house that weekend (it doesn’t post regular public hours). I learned much more among the old structures where the tiny, unincorporated town hosted a school that grew into the Eanes school district, long before the surrounding land became neighborhoods such as West Lake Hills, Rollingwood, Barton Creek, Rob Roy, Cuernavaca, etc.

I plan to interview Roberts later this summer. We’re not done with this subject by any means.

Austin learns a lot from Larry Wright, Evan Smith and Amy Mills

The Library was the place to be. Not the Central Public Library. But the blue-and-red rectangular meeting room at Hotel Van Zandt.

It was the location for a Toast of the Town salon to support the Neal Kocurek Scholarship Fund for health sciences careers, operated by the St. David’s Foundation. Thirty of so lucky souls were treated to an enlightening public talk between journalist and author Lawrence “Larry” Wright and journalist and Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith.

Evan Smith and Larry Wright at Hotel Van Zandt for Toast of the Town. Contributed by Matthew Fuller/St. David’s Foundation

The two had met soon after Smith moved to town in the 1992 to join the staff of Texas Monthly. He was assigned to edit Wright’s piece on the chemical castration of sexual offenders. Wright was for it.

Smith went on to lead Texas Monthly and now the Texas Tribune, while also interviewing top minds on “Texas Monthly Talks” and then “Overheard with Evan Smith” on public television.

My nominee for best reporter in Texas, Wright has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since he left Texas Monthly in the early 1990s. His books include the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” as well as “The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State,” “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prism of Belief” and “Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David.”

If those accomplishments were not enough, he writes plays and screenplays, appears on stage, and basks in the glow of the lauded TV adaptation of “The Looming Tower” now streaming on the Hulu channel.

RELATED: Toast of the Town one of the classiest acts around.

Can you see why I dropped everything for this benefit dinner? Smith devoted his early questions to terrorism and world affairs. Wright believes, for instance, we are ignoring the proliferation of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State beyond their Middle Eastern origins while we are distracted by other crises. He continues to state that the intervention into Iraq was the single worst foreign policy decision in American history.

Smith then moved on to main subject for the evening, Wright’s recent book, “God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State,” parts of which appeared in The New Yorker. On that field in inquiry, both sharp minds need no urging.

Wright’s editor at The New Yorker had asked him to explain Texas, a big task. He did not rely on the standard reports about the recent changes in the state; he spent a year observing the Texas Legislature. After all, Texas could tell us more about the future of the country, especially if its voters participated in elevated numbers.

He came away from his research with with a volume full of conclusions and an urge to run for governor. Wright thinks that the primary jobs of state government are education and infrastructure. Those needs tended to be ignored while state leaders spent an inordinate amount of time and energy on bathroom rules and sanctuary cities. He lays heavy blame on traditional business advocate Gov. Greg Abbott, who sided late in the session with radio personality Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick against outgoing Speaker of the House Joe Straus, who held together state government against all odds.

Wright has much more to say about state and national politics and culture, but as they say, buy and read the book.

Emancipet Luncheon

One speaker in town who could give Smith or Wright a run for their money is Amy Mills, CEO of Emancipet, an Austin nonprofit that provides free or low-cost spay, neutering and veterinary care at seven clinics in four cities.

Melissa Levine and Mary Herr Tally at Emancipet Luncheon at Hyatt Regency Austin. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The early part of its annual luncheon, which has moved gracefully from the Four Seasons Hotel Austin to the larger banquet hall at the Hyatt Regency Austin, was spent on the tasty vegan fare, video stories of clients and statistics shared by eager board members.

The room grew hushed when Mills rose to the stage. After all, she can so cogently and quickly explain a rapidly expanding and sustainable nonprofit, she would likely trounce every other participant at Philanthropitch.

RELATED: What caused all the excitement at nonprofit pitch fest.

That fast-action pitch session from nonprofit leaders was an early-week Austin highlight. (I can’t tell you how many ambitious Austin nonprofits are exporting their great ideas around the world. Just a few decades ago, they didn’t look beyond the Austin city limits.)

Some statistics appeared in the printed program. In 2017, the group provided

• 71,539 preventative care visits

• 33,300 free or low cost spay/neuter surgeries

• 622 heartworm treatments

• 177 special surgery procedures

• $883,930 in free services to Houston-area families affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Mills expanded on the last number. With animal welfare partners, they focused, not on lost pets, but on vet care for families hit hard by the storm. They announced that their clinical services would remain absolutely free for 90 days. As workers arrived the first morning, more than 100 people were in line. Some had never visited a vet before. They saw a total of 6,641 animals.

RELATED: Amy Mills takes Emancipet mission national.

Also in 2017, Emancipet opened its largest clinic ever in Northeast Austin and its first in Philadelphia. It responded to rising vet care costs by seeing 93,576 pets. Just as importantly, they trained 28 vets to take their business model to other markets. They can’t do it all themselves.

Mills saved the most dramatic news for last. Hurricane Maria scattered pets all over Puerto Rico, who then rapidly multiplied. Emacipet with 23 other groups is headed there to spay/neuter 20,000 of them. They will then leave their surgical tools and other equipment there for vets they will train to keep up the work.

Hard to beat Mills. Hard to beat Emancipet.

Multitudes flock to Red, Hot and Soul plus Austin Book Awards

The flowers. Good heavens, the flowers.

This represents only a fraction of David Kurio’s cascading floral arrangements at Red, Hot and Soul for Zach Theatre. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

David Kurio‘s cascading floral arrangements filled the eye at every angle during the Red, Hot and Soul gala, staged in the Bobbi Tent at Zach Theatre‘s South Austin complex. The splashy arrays matched the evening’s theme, “Saturday in the Park,” an idea hitched to the theater’s first full-blown take on Stephen Sondheim, “Sunday in the Park with George,” which opens later this month.

Naturally, Artistic Director Dave Steakley opened the dinner/auction with the show’s extraordinarily difficult but ultimately gratifying first-act choral finale. The performance — indeed the whole run of the show — was dedicated to Managing Director Elisbeth Challener to salute her 10th anniversary in the job.

MORE ZACH: New season blazes ahead with new and rekindled shows.

Zach Theatre’s youth company performs “I Am Me” from “The Greatest Showman” during Red, Hot and Soul. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The performers never rested during the 12 auction-item “scenes.” This sizzling entertainment took the place of the musical numbers customarily presented later on the stage of the Topfer Theatre, which was instead dedicated to late-night dancing. The highlight during this tent show was a triumphant version of “I Am Me” from the movie, “The Greatest Showman,” from Zach’s youth troupe.

While this plan concentrated the joy around the superb Four Seasons Hotel Austin dinner — keep serving that buttery cod! — a dozen is still a lot of auction items and guests began to melt away by No. 9.

This is a crowd you want to keep close by. I’d wager that more of Austin’s “top socials” were gathered here than at any other Austin gala this season. I’d name a few, but the list would go on and on.

Jacqué Ayoub and Haley Drobena with a “living Degas” at Red, Hot and Soul for Zach Theatre. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

AUSTIN BOOK AWARDS

The evening began with a magnificent meal.

Led by Linda Ball and Forrest Preece, a merry band assembled in a private dining room at Fixe, where we feasted on Southern fare and riveting repartee. Discussing arts, books and civics were Annette DiMeo CarlozziDan BullockBarbara Chisholm FairesRobert FairesPei-San BrownDaniel Brown and my husband, Kip Keller.

You absolutely want to be stuck with this lively group on a rainy Austin evening. Luckily, though, the skies cleared and we walked a few short blocks to the stunning new Austin Central Library for the Austin Book Awards ceremony, which benefits the Austin Public Library Foundation. This was my first social outing inside this building’s special events space. Tall and wide, it worked well enough for the foundation’s understated fundraiser.

MORE LIBRARY: Downtown Austin gains a completely new gathering spot.

Not unlike the First Edition Literary Gala for the Texas Book Festival — but on a much smaller scale — these awards bring to the dais some of the best storytellers around. Speaking at breakneck speed, author Owen Egerton served as an especially witty and energizing emcee. The winners: Elizabeth Crook (Fiction); Varian Johnson (Young Adult Literature); and Nate Blakeslee (Nonfiction). What a group! And they were introduced by literary leaders such as Stephen Harrigan and Tim Staley.

One of the foundation’s most effective programs, Badgerdog, encourages young people to write, not just read. We heard two lovely poems from the 2018 Forrest Preece Young Authors Award Honorees, Brandee Benson and Angie Hu.

 

Last chance to hit the best of Austin spring party circuit

Soon it will be hot. Very hot. For many, too hot to party in Austin. That’s why we urge you to savor the last semblance of spring and hit this circuit of more than 40 parties hard.

April 26: Little Artist, Big Artist for Chula League. Mondo Gallery.

April 27-29: Austin Food + Wine Festival. Auditorium Shores and Fair Market.

April 27-28: Texas Burlesque Fest. Paramount Theatre.

April 28: Putting on the Ritz Gala for Sam Bass Theatre. Marriott North La Frontera.

April 28: Songs for Trees for TreeFolks. Lemon Lounge.

April 28: Town Lake Links 30th Anniversary Celebration. UT campus locations.

April 28: Council on At-Risk Youth Distinguished Speaker Event. AT&T Conference Center.

April 28: Viva EASB! for Elizabeth Ann Seton Board. Camp Mabry.

April 29: An Afternoon in Neverland from Ballet Austin Guild. Driskill Hotel.

April 29: A Marvelous Party: Delovely for Penfold Theatre. Kindred Oaks.

April 29: Bollywood Meets Borscht Belt from Hindu Charities and Shalom Austin. JCC Community Hall.

May 1: Great Futures Spring Luncheon for Boys & Girls Clubs. Fairmont Austin Hotel.

May 1: Hope Awards for iACT. Bullock Texas State History Museum.

May 2: Taste of Mexico for Mexic-Arte Museum. Brazos Hall.

May 3: I Heart HealthStart Gala. Gather Austin.

May 3: Opal Divine’s American Whiskey Festival. Austin City Hotel.

May 3: Evening of Honors for Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights. UT Alumni Center.

May 4: The Blue Bash for Austin Chamber Music Center. River Place Country Club.

May 4: Best Party Ever for Leadership Austin. Brazos Hall.

May 4: Austin Book Awards for Austin Library Foundation. Austin Central Library.

May 4: HeartGift Gala. JW Marriott Hotel.

May 4: Texas Monthly Live. Paramount Theatre.

May 5: Red, Hot and Soul. Zach Theatre.

May 5-6: Pecan Street Festival. East Sixth Street.

May 5: Down & Derby for the Shade Project. Mercury Hall.

May 6: Urban Roots Austin Tour de Farm. Fair Market.

May 8: Philanthropitch Austin. LBJ Auditorium.

May 8: Shoal Creek Awards. Cirrus Logic Conference Space.

May 9: Farm to Plate for Sustainable Food Center. Barr Mansion.

May 10: Due West: West Austin Studio Tour kick-off party. Central Austin Library Gallery.

May 10: Official Drink of Austin Party for Austin Food and Wine Alliance. Fairmont Austin Hotel.

May 11: Reach for the Stars Gala for Ann Richards School Foundation. Four Seasons Hotel.

May 11: Emancipet Luncheon. Hyatt Regency Austin.

May 12: Paramount Gala with the Gipsy Kings. Paramount Theatre.

May 12: Mother’s Day Jazz Brunch for the Frederick Douglass Club of Austin. Crowne Plaza Austin.

May 14: There’s No Such Thing As a Free Lunch for People’s Community Clinic. Four Seasons Hotel.

May 15: Spring For Water for Clean Water Action. Zilker Clubhouse.

May 17: Molly Awards Gala for the Texas Observer. Four Seasons Hotel.

May 19: Austin Under 40 Awards Gala. JW Marriott Hotel.

May 20: Cochon555 Culinary Competition. Four Seasons Hotel.