Al Gore picks up Lady Bird Award from LBJ Foundation

On April 24, the Luci Baines Johnson and Lynda Johnson Robb handed over a blue globe resting in bronze hands to former Vice-President Al Gore as part of the 2018 Lady Bird Johnson Environmental Award ceremony in New York City.

Lynda Johnson Robb and Luci Baines Johnson honor Al Gore with the 2018 Lady Bird Johnson Environmental Award. Contributed by LBJ Foundation

Also at the Metropolitan Club that evening, Mark K. Updegrove, president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation, conducted an open conversation with Gore, one of the world’s leading activists on the subject of global warming.

The foundation created the award to keep alive the late first lady’s commitment to environmental awareness.

RELATED: Oral history rekindles Lady Bird Johnson’s voice.

“As Lady Bird did in the 20th Century, Al Gore’s actions acknowledge this is far bigger than one political philosophy but about what affects and unites us all,” said Larry Temple, chairman of the LBJ Foundation. “He is leading the conservation movement and elevating the public’s consciousness on the importance of acting to solve the climate crisis.”

 

Meet 5 Austin Women of Distinction, 2 Young Masters

Each year, the Girls Scouts of Central Texas judiciously selects a small group of leaders to honor as Women of Distinction. They are saluted at a brisk, dignified luncheon, this year set for noon on April 26 at the AT&T Center. I always learn a lot at this event.

RELATED: Two dozen Austin parties you don’t want to miss.

Alexis Jones, founder of I Am That Girl. Contributed by Oprah.com

Alexis Jones (Rising Star Award) is the founder of nationally recognized organizations I Am That Girl and ProtectHer. She’s an author and motivational speaker for Generation Y, and named one of AOL’s Makers alongside Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton.

Nora Comstock, Ph.D., is an entrepreneur and business leader, founder of Comstock Connections and national and international founder of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, current member of Austin Community College District Board of Trustees, and member of the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame.

Denise Davis, J.D, is the founding partner of Davis Kaufmann PLLC, lobbyist and former Texas House of Representatives deputy parliamentarian, advisor and attorney to two Texas Lt. Governors, and chief of staff for Texas House of Representative Speaker Joe Straus.

Laura Wolf, J.D, is executive director for CASA of Travis County Inc. She developed merger between Austin Rape Crisis Center and Center for Battered Women to create SafePlace, served as former President of the Austin Junior League, and is recipient of two national awards from CASA Inc.

Amy Shaw Thomas, J.D, is vice chancellor of academic and health affairs and an executive Oofficer at the University of Texas System, board member of Downtown Austin Alliance and Texas Methodist Foundation, active member of Austin Area Research Organization, and advocate for inclusion, diversity and meritocracy.

Young Masters

Described as a rock star of the classical violin (which might explain this rather wacky publicity pose), Austinite Charles Yang was a 2004 recipient of the Young Master award from Texas Cultural Trust. Contributed

Texas Cultural Trust, an arts advocacy group, has chosen 15 students for the 2018 class of Young Masters. Each of the promising artists receive a $10,000 scholarship over the course of two years to enhance their studies.

RELATED: Heidi Marquez Smith takes over at Texas Cultural Trust

Two are from our fair city: Ian Stripling Jenson, an 11th grader at McCallum Fine Arts Academy, has been selected in the music category for violin, and Leif Tilton, a ninthe grader at Bowie High School, has been selected in the music category for classical guitar.

Some of the past Young Masters recipients have gone on to glory, including Austinite Charles Yang, a 2004 honoree. The Boston Globe judged that this rising soloist “plays classical violin with the charisma of a rock star.” He also happens to play guitar.

Best Texas books: Lead off with this John Graves literary memoir

These new Texas books — plus one minor classic — reminds us how much is worth reading about our state in early 2018.

“Myself and Strangers: A Memoir of Apprenticeship.” John Graves. University of Texas Press.

One could effortlessly make the argument that John Graves is among the finest authors Texas ever produced. Yet few readers venture beyond his masterpiece, “Goodbye to a River.” This literary memoir, first published in 2004 and spliced with excerpts from Graves’ journal from the 1950s, explains a lot about how he became who he became. A son of Fort Worth, he was educated in a gentlemanly manner at Rice Institute in Houston. He served in the Pacific Theater during World War II before earning his master’s degree from Columbia University in New York. He came away from that experience with a lingering antipathy toward Ivy League types and wanted to plunge instead into the peripatetic life of an expat writer, much like dozens of other American authors before and after the war. This memoir covers mostly his time in Spain and the Canary Islands and records his drinking bouts, love affairs, manly friendships, jagged interactions with other expats, as well as fishing, hunting and sailing trips. Sound like Hemingway? The great man is always in the background of this book and Graves even spots his putative role model a couple times in Spain. The Graves attitude and style is already well developed in the journal entries, although, as he points out, his return to Texas gave him his subject.

“All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music.” Michael Corcoran. University of North Texas Press.

Advice: Read this book with your favorite music streaming device at hand. You’ll want to listen to every artist described by Corcoran, formerly of the American-Statesman and other publications, in this revised version of his 2005 book about key Texas artists. You learn new things about some of them, such as Willie Nelson, Buddy Holly and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Others are musical pioneers who might sound familiar, but Corcoran, an historian as much as a journalist, has tracked down exactly what you need to know. The backstories about what he could or could not discover are as compelling as his authoritative takes on the 42 artists’ histories and musical contributions. Corcoran has chosen fantastic images for this UNT Press edition, and he doesn’t waste a word. As he did during his Statesman years, he can make other writers wish they’d produced this work. The book will wait at eye-level on my Texas  reference shelves for as long as they are standing.

“Hometown Texas.” Photographs by Peter Brown. Stories by Joe Holley. Trinity University Press.

Like Corcoran, Holley has written for major newspapers and magazines. Also like Corcoran, he writes in a tight, precise and yet sometimes expansive manner. To tell the truth, Holley and and I cover a good stretch of the same waterfront, but it is worth it to read about some familiar Texas subjects because he is such an amiable storyteller. Other pieces, especially those with personal meaning for Holley, were completely new to me. Peter Brown’s photographs of small-town or rural Texas open wide and put the subject matter front and center. Nothing tricky here. His instincts and training lead him to the right image time and again. At times, though, one wishes the images raised by Holley were duplicated by Brown. But that’s another book. I know I will keep dipping into this collection of compelling Texas stories that doubles as a handsome picture book.

“The Broken Spoke: Austin’s Legendary Honky-Tonk.” Donna Marie Miller. Texas A&M Press.

Donna Marie Miller’s ace in the hole is her generous access to James and Annetta White, who have run Austin’s legendary Broken Spoke honky-tonk since 1964. It’s clear that Miller warmly admires the White family and cherishes their stories. Her delight is infectious. She sketches out the early years — White grew up not far from our South Austin house! — then records how every family member pitched in when the Broken Spoke opened. One might wish for a little more on the background of the country music and dance styles that flourished at the honky-tonk, but Miller more than makes up for that with accounts of the legends of music that played there and the very localized culture that thrived on the east side of South Lamar Boulevard. Put this on the shelf next to Eddie Wilson’s knock-out 2017 “Armadillo World Headquarters.” Then look up Corcoran’s digital “Austin Clubland.”

ALSO READ: The definitive history of Austin’s Armadillo World Headquarters.

“Thursday Night Lights: The Story of Black High School Football in Texas.” Michael Hurd. University of Texas Press.

Another journalist who has become a historian is Michael Hurd, a former sportswriter for the American-Statesman and other publications. He’s seen a lot. And he understands the connections between sports, especially football, and other, often riven cultural expressions of our state. Until the (white) University Interscholastic League and the (black) Prairie View Interscholastic League merged in 1967, teams from segregated high schools in the same towns or cities played in the same stadiums. African-Americans took the field on Thursdays, Anglos on Fridays. Hurd is especially good on his hometown of Houston, which supported multiple black high schools with blazing rivalries. Now director of Prairie View A&M University’s Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture, Hurd soaks up stories from small towns and big cities. He provides accounts of state championship games in his appendices and, crucially, he reminds us that integration also meant the loss of pride and identity for those who attended black high schools that had excelled at academics and athletics. Even the darkened image of players on the dusk jacket affirms that this is a chapter of our state’s history that must come to light.

MORE TEXAS BOOKS WE LOVE: Late 2017.

MORE TEXAS BOOKS WE LOVE: Fall 2017.

MORE TEXAS BOOKS WE LOVE: Summer 2017.

MORE TEXAS BOOKS WE LOVE: Spring 2017.

MORE TEXAS BOOKS WE LOVE: Fall 2016.

Dixie Chicks to headline Mack, Jack and McConaughey fandango

The Dixie Chicks will play ACL Live for the big Mack, Jack and McConaughey benefit on April 12. Tickets go on sale 10 a.m. March 2.

The Dixie Chicks with their backing band in 2016. Contributed by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for PMK

The last time that the beloved band played Austin was in August 2016 at the quickly sold-out Austin360 Amphitheater that seats 14,000.

Comparatively intimate ACL Live tops out at 2,750. Yet set up for the MJM affair with gala guests mingling on the ground floor, fewer concert tickets will be available.

RELATED: Bring back Mack, Jack and McConaughey.

Founded in 2013 by actor Matthew McConaughey, coach and sports analyst Mack Brown and recording artist Jack Ingram, along with their wives, Camila AlvesSally Brown and Amy IngramMJ&M has already netted millions for selected children’s charities.

Mack Brown, Jack Ingram and Matthew McConaughey at 2017 MJ&M. Suzanne Cordeiro/American-Statesman

RELATED: Everything you ever wanted to know about MJ&M.

It’s a multi-tiered, star-studded affair with celebrity golf tourney, signature fashion show and two nights of music. The second concert, dubbed “Jack & Friends,” will feature Patty Griffin, Butch Walker and John Fullbright on April 13. That night, the spotlight falls on singer-songwriters.

Once controversial, the Dixie Chicks — Natalie MainesEmily Strayer and Martie Maguire, in case anyone has not been paying attention — is the biggest selling all-female act in the country. They have taken home 13 Grammy Awards, sold more than 30 million albums and $100 million in concert tickets.

Past MJ&M headliners have included Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley, Kacey Musgraves, Toby Keith, Sheryl Crow and John Mellencamp.

In a statement, the three namesake fundraisers shared their excitement about this year’s big draw.

McConaughey: “The Dixie Chicks are incredible artists and we are looking forward to their performance.”

Jack Ingram: “Every year the music at MJ&M just gets better and better and this year is certainly no exception.  We are honored to have the Dixie Chicks headline the gala concert.”

Mack Brown said: “The Dixie Chicks are so generous to support MJ&M with their incredible talent.  Sally and I can’t wait to host them at MJ&M.”

Of course, Austinites claim the artists as their own.

“It’s always fun to play in Texas,” Maines says, “and supporting this incredible charity event which empowers kids and saves lives, is an opportunity we are inspired to be a part of.”

 

Glimpse inside Austin parties for history and the arts

Two subjects galvanized this year’s Angelina Eberly Luncheon, which benefits the Austin History Center Association, the nonprofit ally of the Austin History Center.

Monte Akers and Charles Peveto at Angelina Eberly Luncheon for the Austin History Center Association. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

One hot topic was the Driskill Hotel, traditional site of the always gratifying midday event. Leading the public chat about the venue’s rollercoaster past was Monte Akers, attorney and author, whose “The Grand Dame of Austin: A History of the Driskill Hotel” was recently released by Waterloo Press (must be transparent, also the publisher of my two books).

His best anecdote, however, was told off the cuff: Before lunch a lady introduced herself as Helen Corbitt. Could she really be the celebrated Driskill chef who had popularized the cheese soup that we sipped in the lobby? (She died in 1978.) Perhaps it was her daughter? Akers asked around. But the well-attired woman had vanished for a while like a Driskill ghost. Luncheon chairman Charles Peveto put the questions to rest: That was Helen Covert, not Helen Corbitt.

Also on the stage in the banquet room were Luci Baines Johnson and Julian Read. Johnson’s family was closely associated with the hotel. For decades, LBJ held periodic court in the ornate 1886 palace. His daughter told the stories behind the stories, including the fact that LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson‘s first breakfast date at the hotel was later rendered in several conflicting versions by her parents and their friends.

Read, one of the greats of public relations and public affairs, shared a detailed history of the hotel’s modern ownership. Best known in some circles for his work with Texas Gov. John Connally, Read represented the Driskill through several of those owners, all struggling to bring the building up to its historic potential.

The other subject? The association plunged deep into the campaign to give over a portion of the shuttered Faulk Library to the center, which long ago maxed out its storage, exhibition and office space. It would take $11.8 million for critical infrastructure to bring it up to code, then another $3 million for the center to expand into two floors and the basement. For a long while, leaders have endorsed a public-private partnership that could mean little or no cost to taxpayers. Luckily, in the audience this day were Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, as well as former mayors Lee Cooke and Frank Cooksey, all strong backers of the center.

Out into the arts

Sandhya Shardanand, Stephen Torrence and Janet Brooks at Malcolm Bucknall opening at Wally Workman Gallery. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The Austin spring performing arts season is up and running. We thoroughly enjoyed Zach Theatre‘s staging of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” a fluid telling of 15-year-old Christopher’s experiences as he negotiates parents, teachers and strangers through the lens of autism in the United Kingdom. Director Dave Steakley‘s team was particularly good at visualizing the mindset of Christopher, played expertly by Texas State University student Preston Straus. It will be remembered as one of the performances of the season.

We also finally caught cabaret singer Ute Lemper live at UT’s McCullough Theatre as presented by Texas Performing Arts. The modern embodiment of the 20th-century cabaret scenes in Berlin, Paris, New York and Buenos Aires, Lemper can channel Marlene Dietrich and any number of performers set off into the world in part by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, while sharing the theater history in priceless asides. That is not all. Lemper spent a good portion of the show with a pianist and a bass player scatting in high jazz form. Although technically amazing, this style paled in comparison to Lemper’s clear-eyed, clear-edged cabaret. Note of approval: “Mack the Knife” should always be performed in German. Always.

We also stopped by the opening reception for artist Malcolm Bucknall at Wally Workman Gallery. The longtime Austin artist presented exquisite amalgamations of human and animals, of in Victorian or Edwardian dress, as if borrowed from outrageous children’s books from the period. We had a fairly long talk with Bucknall about his time in the U.K., India, Cyprus and ultimately Austin, after his father moved here to start UT’s metallurgy program in 1958. We plan to hear more of these stories at his studio this week.

Mark Updegrove returns to Austin and the LBJ legacy

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Mark Updegrove, who transformed the LBJ Presidential Library during eight years as its director, is returning to become president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation as of March 1, 2018.

Mark Updegrove

In a dizzying leadership shuffle, current Foundation Executive Director Amy Barbee will be promoted to its Vice-President. Foundation Chairman Larry Temple will continue on as chairman, but he will transfer the title of chief executive officer to Updegrove. Meanwhile, Foundation President Elizabeth Christian will transfer the title of president, becoming a vice-chairwoman of the Foundation, the same title held by former Texas Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes and former Ambassador to Sweden Lyndon Olson.

Got all that?

During his eight years at the Library, Updegrove directed an $11 million redesign of its core exhibits. He also oversaw two big symposiums, the Civil Rights Summit in 2014 and the Vietnam War Summit in 2016. Both events provoked examinations of Austin’s own history with civil rights and the Vietnam War.

Earlier this year, Updegrove, an author and former media executive, accepted the position as CEO of the newly minted National Medal of Honor Museum planned for Charleston Harbor in Mount Pleasant, S.C. He has resigned that position, al though he will continue to serve through January

Yet he and his wife, former Texas Monthly publisher Amy Banner Updegrove, had put down deep roots in Austin. He also encountered a recent health scare.

“I could not be more excited to be back in the world of LBJ,” Updegrove says. “After resolving a case of early stage prostate cancer, I look forward to leading the 50th anniversary events recognizing LBJ’s momentous last full year in office, 1968.”

Austin and DC parties that trilled and thrilled this past week

KMFA Classical 89.5, the Texas Book Festival and the LBJ Foundation showed us all how to do good and have a good time this past week.

Dianne Donovan and TresMusicos at Sound Bites for KMFA. Contributed by Katrina Barber

Sound Bites: KMFA at 50

When you throw your first gala 50 years into your history, you really want it to sing. The good folks behind Sound Bites for KMFA Classical 89.5 made it trill. First, they picked a music-themed venue, Hotel Van Zandt, then they placed musicians at key spots. Even the dinner dishes came with (stretched) musical analogies. Among my favorite touches was a mock-up of longtime “Voice of KMFA,” the late Leonard Masters, in his studio. The man looks like he was born to be a classical DJ.

The fundraising duties were kept classy and relatively short. We were hoping for a hint at bigger news, but none was forthcoming by the time I left, which, alas, was also before additional performances from some of my favorite local artists. But I did have time to relish one of the best things about Austin society: A long, far-ranging chat with somebody who knows our city well, cares about its future and does everything she can to make good things happen. In this case, it was Sharon Watkins, owner of Chez Zee, and a constant friend of the arts her entire life.

Lois Kim and Min Jin Lee on the opening night gala at the Texas Book Festival. Bob Daemmrich

First Edition Literary Gala

Before I go into detail about this benefit for the Texas Book Festival, always one of the high points in the Austin social season, I must relate a sweet case of mistaken identity. It is the custom of the First Edition Literary Gala to place one of the year’s honored festival authors at each table of 10 guests. I was ushered to Table 2 as a reporter, but the table hosts from Dallas assumed I was “their author.” These incredibly gracious people treated me like royalty and it wasn’t until very late in the evening that I realized their misapprehension. Too late to disappoint them with the truth, that they spent dinner with a mere workaday writer whose second book is coming out in December.

On the dais, Dallas journalist and author Skip Hollandsworth (Texas Monthly, “The Midnight Assassin”) managed to be genuinely funny while retaining his dignity, a hard balancing act. The author-speakers, including Min Jin LeeAttica Locke and Kevin Young, were not only incredibly distinguished in their own rights, they were more charismatic than any writer has a right to be. I can’t wait to read Locke’s “Bluebird, Bluebird,” set along Highway 59 in East Texas.

Two days later, at the actual festival in the Capitol district, I mostly haunted the tables of the small presses that don’t receive much attention, and made a neat discovery of a small book about the drug wars by Texas senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke with Susie Byrd, “Dealing Death and Drugs” (El Paso-based Cinco Puntos Press). Plainly written in a powerful style.

Lynda Johnson Robb, Luci Baines Johnson and David Rubenstein at LBJ Liberty & Justice for All Award dinner. Contributed

LBJ Foundation Award

We were not free to jet up to Washington, D.C., for this one, but the Austin-based LBJ Foundation handed David Rubenstein its LBJ Liberty & Justice for All Award during a dinner at the National Archives Museum. Rubenstein was honored for helping to preserve the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Declaration of Independence and other treasures. How’s that for a list of accomplishments?

“David Rubenstein has distinguished himself as one of the most grateful and generous Americans of our generation,” said Larry Temple, chairman of the LBJ Foundation. “He embodies the beliefs that President Johnson held dear — that our mission in public service is to serve man and provide opportunity to all.”

Among the dinner guests were Lynda Johnson Robb, Luci Baines Johnson, Amy Barbee, Ben Barnes, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Joaquin Castro.

Dates set for big Mack, Jack and McConaughey benefit

The Austin triumvirate of Matthew McConaugheyMack Brown and Jack Ingram has already raised $7.5 million for youth charities through their Mack, Jack & McConaughey golf-plus-music-plus-dinner-plus-fashion-plus-auction-plus-good-will weekends.

Mack Brown, Jack Ingram and Matthew McConaughey at 2017 MJM. Suzanne Cordeiro/American-Statesman

Now the Academy Award-winning actor, the ESPN analyst and former Longhorns coach and the ACM Award-winning recording artist have set the date for their sixth annual fundraiser that culminates at ACL Live: April 12-13, 2018.

SEE PHOTOS: Mack, Jack and McConaughey gala with Miranda Lambert.

No headliner named yet, but past musical partners have included Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley, Kacey Musgraves, Toby Keith, Sheryl Crow and John Mellencamp. Additionally, Camila Alves will bring back your signature fashion show that weekend; past spotlighted designers have included Jason Wu, Veronica Beard, Badgley Mischka, Lela Rose, and Milly.

HISTORY: 17 parties that altered Austin.

This mega-event benefits groups such as CureDuchenne, Dell Children’s Medical Center, HeartGift, just keep livin Foundation and The Rise School of Austin.

Taking social flight with Travis Audubon, Waller Creek Conservancy, American Gateways

It was like drifting from one waking dream to another.

Heading to the Waller Creek Conservancy benefit. Contributed by © David Brendan Hall / http://www.davidhallphotog.com

I first encountered that certain fantastical aspect of the Waller Creek Conservancy, which plans a series of high-design parks along a neglected stretch of downtown waterway, at a large dinner party in the Four Seasons penthouse of Tom and Lynn Meredith. All sorts of important and influential Austinites were present on that fateful and whimsical night. Despite the mammoth scale of the proposed project, I sensed that those gathered in the room high above the creek, which included fellow Conservancy visionaries, Melanie Barnes and Melba Whatley, could get it done.

Two of the biggest guns: Gary Farmer and State Sen. Kirk Watson. Contributed by © David Brendan Hall / http://www.davidhallphotog.com

Over the next few years, a series of magical benefit parties and concerts were staged with the help of Lonesome Dove chef Tim Love and C3 partner Charles Attal at the Stubb’s complex right on the banks of the creek. This time, there was something tangible to celebrate: The group had broken ground on its Waterloo Park segment with the generous help of a $15 million grant from Ross Moody and the Moody Foundation.

The Tim Love dinner was served family style. Contributed by © David Brendan Hall / http://www.davidhallphotog.com

BACKGROUND: Grant to fund Waterlook Park makeover.

Well, this year’s dinner was like walking on a cloud. Everybody, including Conservancy CEO Peter Mullan and his gracious wife, Melanie Mullan, a strategic advisor, fairly glowed with felicity. Melanie led a group of her lively friends in a conversation at our table that could, from my perspective, have gone on all night. But then there was a concert by alt-pop duo Oh Wonder waiting just outside the door of the events room.

Isn’t it great when the photography, including this shot of Oh Wonder, is done by a pro such as © David Brendan Hall / http://www.davidhallphotog.com

Victor Emanuel Conservation Awards

Mickey Burleson wanted to set the record straight. She did not plant Blackland Prairie seeds by moonlight at her ranch with her late husband, Bob Burleson, because of some nebulous spiritual reasons. The pair, credited with restoring some of the last remnants of a critical and highly endangered ecosystem, simply broadcast the carefully collected grains after the end of long days because the seeds would have turned too hot if stored with other remnants from their old-fashioned grass seed harvester.

The ideal swag at Travis Audubon event. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

In probably the most thoughtful charity swag ever, guests at the Victor Emanuel Conservation Award luncheon, which benefits Travis Audubon, each received a small “Ecosystem in a Bag” of more than 1,000 grains from Native American Seed company. Some of the seeds in the Blackland Prairie Mix were descendants of those collected by the Burlesons. Heaven on Earth.

Nandini Chaturvedula and Brandi Clark Burton at Victor Emanuel Conservation Awards for Travis Audubon. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Mickey Burleson accepted this year’s award from titular award from Valerie Bristol, the chief warrior on the Balcones Canyonlands preservation. She was last year’s honoree. I’ve doted on everyone who has received this prize, including its namesake, Victor Emanuel, the nature guide who set next to me during the luncheon. Consider the rest of the honor roll: Bob AyresGeorgean KylePaul KyleJ. David BambergerCarter Smith and Andy Sansom.

To borrow a phrase from frequent emcee Evan Smith at an earlier benefit, they all could be my spirit animals.

Gateway Awards

You’d need a heart of stone to turn away from the stories generated by American Gateways, the group that provides legal services to immigrants who can’t afford them. The staff in Austin, San Antonio and Waco, along with an army of pro bono attorneys, deal with heartbreaking cases every day. They don’t need to be told that our immigration system is broken. They are on the front lines.

Tiffany Carlson and Keenan Wilson at Gateway Awards for American Gateways. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The second annual Gateway Awards were distributed during a taco dinner at the new AFS event room at its complex in the Linc. (I saw the bedazzling movie musical, “Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” there on my birthday last week.) The entertainment at the banquet was pretty amazing, too, starting with the New Generation Children’s Choir, made up of African refugees, and ending with San Antonio-based, all-female Mariachi Las Coronelas, who know how to get an audience going.

Mariachi Las Coronelas at the Gateway Awards. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Juan Belman, a dreamer and the University of Texas graduate who famously confronted President Barack Obama at the Paramount Theatre, picked up the Social Justice Award. Lawyer Valerie Barker of Baker Botts, LLP, was named Pro Bono Attorney of the Year. Charismatic Jae Kim from Chi’Lantro Korean barbecue acclaim, won the Immigrant of Achievement Award.

New Generation Children’s Choir at the Gateway Awards. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Makes me proud that American Gateways is based right here in Austin.

Best Texas books: Big Bend nature leads off

We pause during Austin festival season to read up on nature in a Texas national park, the career of a Texas script doctor, the third part of an Old West trilogy by a Texan, a urban Chicano tale from another Texan and breezy book on Texas ingenuity.


“Nature Watch Big Bend.” Lynne Weber and Jim Weber. Texas A&M University Press.

Oh, how have we needed this book forever! Weber and Weber give a seasonal guide to the flora and fauna of our beloved Big Bend with copious drawings, maps, photographs and sidebars. The handy book also includes timely warnings about black bears, mountain lions and other potentially dangerous creatures.  With this in hand, we are not required to tote around separate guides for birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, amphibians, cacti, succulents, grasses, trees and wildflowers. And it’s worth noting that the uninformed visitor to the National Park often expects one of these sightings at the wrong time of year. I’ve certainly gone hoping for a vermillion flycatcher or a indigo bunting when none was to be had even in the most likely spots. We’ve engaged with plenty of wildlife in Big Bend over the years, stuff not seen anywhere else in Texas, so guide away! It’s almost cool enough to return.

MORE TO TEXAS TITLES TO READ: Best Texas books to read this time of year.

“Rewrite Man: The Life and Career of Warren Skaaren.” Alison Macor. University of Texas Press.

Our colleague, Joe Gross, already reported on this fine biography, written by one of our favorite local journalists and scholars. It never hurts to add another voice of praise. The late screenwriter Warren Skaaren was one of the definitive influences on the early Texas film scene, as well as a top Hollywood script doctor who worked on some of the biggest movies of his time, from “Top Gun” to “Batman.” Alison Macor, whose “Chainsaws, Slackers and Spy Kids: Thirty Years of Filmmaking in Austin, Texas” is never far from my desk, excavated Skaaren’s archives in the Ransom Center to find the nitty gritty of not just the writing process, but also the endless give and take behind the scenes in the movie industry. I never knew Skaaren, who died in 1990, but I’d heard about him since I moved to town in 1984. This book fills a huge gap in our understanding, not only of the screenwriter, but of Texas cinema and films in general.

MORE TO TEXAS TITLES TO READ: Best Texas books to read right now.

“The Cholo Tree.” Daniel Chacón. Piñata Books, Arte Público Press.

This book kept drawing us back into its simple web with its unfussy prose, seemingly familiar settings and yet an unexpected central character. Victor is a teenager who almost everybody suspects of being a cholo or street gang member. Yet he defies expectations almost from the start, helped by observational powers beyond his years as well as artistic talent and some effective champions. Author Chacón is based in El Paso, but his story could be about any urban Chicano landscape.

MORE TO TEXAS TITLES TO READ: Best Texas books to read straightaway.

“Silver City.” Jeff Guinn. Putnam.

In Cash McLendon, Texas author Jeff Guinn has found a reliably readable character to track through the Old West. As previously revealed in “Buffalo Trail” and “Glorious,” McLendon must escape a brutal assassin, Patrick “Killer Boots” Brautigan, while trying to find and to keep his romantic interest, Gabrielle. This time, he lands in Mountain View, Arizona, with multiple plot complications at the ready. All the confidently unspooled action seems prime fodder for a screen adaptation. All that’s left is the casting and financing. Based in Fort Worth, Guinn is in calm control of all the levers of the modern Western, including the violence that almost inevitably bloodies the pages from the start.

MORE TO TEXAS BOOKS TO READ: Best Texas books to read these days.

“Texas Ingenuity: Lone Star Inventions, Inventors & Innovators.” Alan C. Elliott. History Press.

As jacket art promises, this thin book is just for fun. Nothing wrong with that. The subtitle gives away the project: Elliott puts all sorts of subjects into the category of Texas ingenuity. So you get outsized historical figures such as Sam Houston and Barbara Jordan, but also innovators of a different ilk in May Kay, Oveta Culp Hobby, Howard Hughes and Jack Kilby. Pig Stands and Dr. Pepper compete for space with O. Henry and the Kilgore Rangerettes. Taken individually, these items would make diverting curiosities in a newspaper series. Taken together as a book, they might not hang together, but they provide more than a little distraction.

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