Kathy Blackwell, most recently editor-in-chief at Austin Way magazine, has been named executive editor overseeing the features portfolio at the venerable Texas Monthly by the statewide magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Tim Taliaferro.
“She will bring new ideas, new expertise and a great eye to our storied lifestyle and service journalism,” says Taliaferro, who has signaled a fresh emphasis on lifestyles, events and digital reporting at TM. “Kathy has the experience and judgment to meet Texas Monthly’s high editorial standards, and to help us extend our offerings digitally and in live events.”
“It’s a dream to call Texas Monthly my journalistic home,” Blackwell says. “Few publications offer as clear a window into a place, especially one as grand and complicated as this state. It’s an honor to be able to show how Texans live — and to reveal the possibilities for what it means to be a Texan — in a way that complements the hard-hitting, long-form journalism that makes the magazine so vital.”
A native of South Carolina, Blackwell previously served in various reporting and editorial capacities at the Austin American-Statesman, including as senior editor with special oversight over an award-winning features section, while helping to oversee the newsroom as a whole. (Perhaps unnecessary disclosure: She was my editor for a good while.)
Blackwell led editorial efforts on two of the newspaper’s former magazines, Glossy and Real: Authentic Austin Living.
Blackwell is known not only for inventive story ideas and precise editing, but also for staging social events that connect different communities, such as the highly regarded Austin Way Women of Power Dinner at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum.
She lives in South Austin with her husband and son.
“Kathy has has been a superhero of lifestyle journalism for as long as I can remember,” says Evan Smith, CEO and co-founder of the Texas Tribune and former editor-in-chief of Texas Monthly. “As a reader, I’d follow her anywhere. I’m looking forward to seeing how she does for Texas what she did for Austin.”
Just about every Austin nonprofit of a certain size fields a young leaders group or stages a giving event geared for young backers. Few feel as authentic or as lively as the Big Give from I Live Here I Give Here.
Credit Executive Director Celeste Flores, but also her excellent party team, who put the focus this year squarely on the Patsy Woods Martin Big Giver, Brittany Morrison, of Hospice Austin. Her speech hit every right note about personal investment in a specific charity. (We promise to interview her soon.)
Additionally, the K Friese +Associates Small Nonprofit Award went to Partners in Parenting and the RetailMeNot Nonprofit Award was taken home by Big Medium.
I had an ideal time at the Hotel Van Zandt: Chatted for a long time with two people I know and admire, Erica Saenz and Roxanne Schroeder-Arce; spoke briefly with a dozen other guests; ate three small, salty snacks; and drank one signature cocktail. Never waited in line. Never endured long distractions. Ninety minutes max. The best.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this post switched the nonprofit awards winners.
TEXAS 4000 TRIBUTE GALA
While Hurricane Harvey bore down on Texas, several Austin nonprofits chose to forge ahead with their galas. When I heard that the Texas 4000 Tribute Gala that benefits the cancer fight was not canceled, I responded “I guess if you’ve biked 4,000 miles from Texas to Alaska, a little hurricane is not going to stop you.”
Luckily, the happy warriors at the dinner sent me this report, lightly edited:
“Despite the wind and rain, Texas 4000 for Cancer had its most successful Tribute Gala to date. The funds raised at the JW Marriott, along with what was raised by the riders throughout the year, resulted in over $1 million in fundraising in 2017.
“Suppoerters were determined to not let Hurricane Harvey affect the evening, and one board member even drove round trip from Houston on Friday morning to ensure his auction items made it to the event.
“The 70 riders who biked from Austin to Alaska in the effort to fight cancer were celebrated by the 550 Tribute Gala guests, comprised of alumni, families and supporters.
“Videos portraying the 70-day summer ride reflected the many emotions the riders’ experienced, and shared some of the stories for why they ride.
“The 2017 Texas 4000 riders celebrated throughout the evening as they became Texas 4000 alumni, and the organization inspired others to help put the 15th Texas 4000 team on the road next summer.”
The father and daughter team of Roy and Courtney Spence — a crew that translates into a lot of energy and creativity — put together a very short but powerful Hurricane Harvey relief appeal featuring five ex-presidents in just six days.
Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all contributed to the crisply warm call for donations to One America Appeal.
Roy is best know as the restlessly inventive co-founder of GSD&M, an Austin-based advertising firm, while Courtney is founder and CEO of CSpence Group and has garnered much attention for her Students of the World project.
Roy and Courtney co-produced public service announcements with Presidents George H.W Bush and Clinton for the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund and recently so-produced PSA work with Matthew McConaughey for the Baton Rouge floods.
MORE STORIES: Mary Herr Tally sends us additional reports from Austin Pets Alive. I especially like the two van loads of Labs and Goldens headed for Pennsylvania.
“The rescue stories are so powerful and evolve quickly — daily or by the minute, from a tiny puppy found alone and brought in badly needing to nurse and luckily matched within minutes w a momma and her new litter.
“Or a young dog with a particularly traumatic rescue that the rescuer wanted it known. The muddy pup had a fresh a head and shoulder wound and injured pelvic. She’d shut down emotionally and wouldn’t eat for days, and after being held closely for hours and lovingly talked to, perked up and was later jetted off by Oakland-based MAD Dog Rescue.
“MAD Dog volunteers arrived yesterday morning, walked thru APA’s Burnet site to cherry-pick 60 seniors, dogs needing medical care, and puppies that they would then fly out last night.
“The APA Harvey dogs are leaving quickly, yesterday a Golden Retriever Rescue group from Pennsylvania left with two vans loaded with Golden Retrievers and Labs. Another rescue group from California sent a plane on Saturday.”
From Mary Heerwald at Austin Pets Alive, which has rescued more than 330 animals since Thursday afternoon.
“We received an incredible dog family named Snow White, Prince Charming and each of the seven dwarves (puppies), no less, that was abandoned in a truck port in Columbus. This Facebook plea was sent to us via our Positive Alternatives to Shelter Surrender line and we were able to help coordinate their evacuation transportation and get them all safely into foster homes in Austin.”
• From Margo Sawyer, the distinguished Austin artist whose old Elgin building — not her studio or house, but one she had planned for a sculpture garden — was destroyed in Harvey’s high winds and rain.
“This is especially devastating as I have had a summer meeting with artist friends, investors, realtors and architects thinking and dreaming what this special place could be a sculpture garden or sculpture garden and spa with art that doubles as ice plunge pool to be a relief of the summer heat. I know there are many horrific situations in Texas right now, but as artists we often take the big risks in living in areas or building building the need a lot of work, as we see the potential value.” Visit Sawyer’s GoFundMe site to stabilize and rehabilitate the building.
• From Chelsea Rodriguez at Austin Humane Society:
“As Hurricane Harvey began to make its way to the Texas coast, Shawn of Rockport, Texas was preparing to weather the storm. Many people in the Rockport area had already fled to outlying towns, but there were some who stayed behind. Little did Shawn know, this would be one of the most terrifying events he had ever experienced. “’We ended up being buried into our house. We live next door to a recycle yard so there were pieces of metal and boats, you name it, on top of us.’ Shawn, his wife and their two dogs, Roco and Mimi, were able to dig themselves out of the debris on Saturday morning. “I was a smoke jumper in California for the National Forrest Service for 17 years and this was the scariest thing I have ever been through.”
“Lewis and his 8-year-old Doberman, Jade, were among the fortunate to have evacuated from Rockport before Hurricane Harvey hit. ‘We went to Mathis to ride out the storm, when it was over we made our way back to Rockport around 10:30 in the morning and my house was gone.’” Along with his home, Lewis, a small business owner, found that his construction shop had also been destroyed. AHS was able to provide general wellness vaccines and microchipping for the pets of the victims of Hurricane Harvey. For the hundreds of people like Shawn and Lewis that are seeking refuge in Toney Burger Activity Center and Stadium in Austin, Texas, the future is unclear.”
“Hurricane Harvey has continued to devastate Texas and its surrounding states, but like they say, ‘every cloud has a silver lining.’ For Rockport evacuees, Brandon and b, that silver lining comes in the form of a tiny four-legged friend. Just as Brandon and Tess were preparing to evacuate their home, a beacon of hope showed up on their doorstep. ‘He just came out of nowhere and we knew we couldn’t leave him behind. The water was starting to rise and we expected alligators to show up pretty soon,’ said Brandon. The duo, now a trio, scooped up the adorable German Shepherd pup and headed out. When morning came, Brandon, Tess, and their new furr-baby traveled back to Rockport and came to find that their house had been completely destroyed. ‘All that matters is that we’re together. All 3 of us,’ said Tess. When asked what they decided to name their new little guy, they responded, ‘Harvey.'”
• Some nonprofits are helping out indirectly. Consider the Paramount Theatre, whose system is pretty efficient and clever.
“In response to the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, the Paramount is offering free admission to this week’s Summer Classic Films to Red Cross donors. In order to redeem their free ticket, patrons are encouraged to donate $10 to the Red Cross by texting REDCROSS to 90999. All they need to do is show the text at the Box Office, and they’ll receive a free ticket to that day’s film(s). Additional ways to donate will be available on site. More details and other giving opportunities here:http://rdcrss.org/1OjHxYG.”
MORE STORIES AND IMAGES TO COME … SEND YOURS TO MBARNES@STATESMAN.COM
Texas birds, Texas musicians, Texas media stars, Texas festivals and a guide to the Texas Capitol stack up on our state shelves this week.
“Book of Texas Birds.” Gary Clark with photographs by Kathy Adams Clark. Texas A&M Press. For some of us, there are never too many Texas bird books. This one might not fit as easily into a backpack as snugly some of the more traditional guides — not to mention its weight at more than two pounds — but the clarity and beauty inside more than make up for its relative girth. It seems manufactured to last, too, another crucial argument in its favor, since it will get a lot of use. Gary Clark’s easy journalistic style — he writes a column for the Houston Chronicle — nicely matches Kathy Adam Clark’s generous images. We plan to keep it handy whenever possible.
“When the World Stopped to Listen: Van Cliburn’s Cold War Triumph and Its Aftermath.” Stuart Isacoff. Knopf. Curious how Van Cliburn mania comes in waves. Texans are particularly prone to flights of fancy about their native son who won the Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War in 1958, then was lionized around the world, including a ticker tape parade in New York. He is now the subject of two new books, this one by piano expert Stuart Isacoff, who doesn’t stint on the socio-political context, and “Moscow Nights: The Van Cliburn Story — How one Man and His Piano Transformed the Cold War” by Nigel Cliff. Isacoff is particularly good at describing Cliburn the performer both at his peak and during his declining years. We were lucky enough to hear him several times during that autumnal period. The freshness had vanished, but never the glamour.
“It’s News to Me.” Olga Campos Benz. Self-published. One special treat that awaits those who ply Austin’s social circuit is to land at a table next to media savvy Olga Campos Benz. Not only is she a first-rate storyteller, but she’s got ripe stories to tell from her years as a top Texas broadcast journalist and afterwards, when she became one of Austin’s most visible volunteers and activists. She’s met a crazy character or two along the way. This brisk, fluent novel is informed by all that experience. Now, I can’t tell you how much of this story is based on real people — the same is true with Rob Giardinelli’s sweet and recently published society memoir, “Being in the Room” — but I can confirm some parallels between the fictional photojournalist of the novel and flesh-and-blood husband Kevin Benz. This volume confirms the instinct: If you’ve got a novel in you, please write it.
“Cornyation: San Antonio’s Outrageous Fiesta Tradition.” Amy L. Stone. Trinity University Press. Fiesta is one of those singular things that sets San Antonio almost completely apart from its sister Texas cities. One aspect of this annual holds special meaning for the state’s LGBT community. Fiesta itself goes back to the 1890s and, like Mardis Gras, its sprawling celebration is staged by not one, but dozens of local groups. That structure generated isolated pockets of social exclusion, while allowing a broader cross-section of the population to participate in novel ways. Cornyation is a drag spoof of Fiesta’s debutante Coronation of the Queen of the Alamo. It goes back at least to the early 1950s and was embraced as part of the accepted party landscape. Author Amy Stone has fun with this phenomenon, while taking it seriously on a sociological level. The pictures are out of this world!
“Legends & Lore of the Texas Capitol.” Mike Cox. History Press. What would we do without Mike Cox? The journalist and author had published more than 3o books, a great many of them about Texas and its history. Here he delves into the enduring myths and verifiable facts about one the state’s most charismatic shrines, the Texas Capitol. Cox was working for our newspaper in 1983 when a fire that started in the lieutenant governor’s office nearly brought down the building. In response, our leaders lovingly restored the building and the grounds while adding a clever underground extension to alleviate horrific overcrowding in what had become a firetrap. At the same time, almost everything we assumed about the Capitol’s legacy was reexamined. Cox is very good at sorting out the legends and lore, making this an essential read for any Texas history advocate.
LLANORIVER VALLEY – Checking into our Junction motel, we asked the desk clerk about fun things to do in town. She quipped, “When you find out, let me know.”True, for a student at Texas Tech University-Junction like her, this old Edwards Plateau ranching town offers little social life. Yet for buddy Joe Starr of Houston and me, it served as an ideal base camp for our 13th rivertracing. (Our goal: Trace 50 Texas rivers from source to mouth.)
Of all the constant-flow Hill Country rivers, the Llano remains the least altered. As John Graves observes in “Texas Rivers, ” it is dammed only intermittently between its headwaters in Edwards and Sutton counties and its happy meeting with the Colorado River at Lake LBJ. The Llano has yet to inspire a single fancy resort, and city folk have built only a fistful of second homes.
At the juncture of the South and North Llanorivers, Junction attracts mostly hunters and the occasional road-tripper netted off Interstate 10. As for other towns, Mason has been discovered by outdoor types, as well as history buffs; Llano by those two tribes, plus weekend ranchers who pack the coffee shops and courthouse-square eateries. Kingsland, long a vacation camp on the “Llanorado” peninsula, leads to Leviathan lake-side homes and quaint railroad-era inns but is marred by an eye-melting stretch of highway commercial culture. (Lady Bird Johnson would shudder.)
The lack of development upstream – cherished by river lovers – is rooted in historical isolation. The LlanoRiver Valley has supported only traces of permanent civilization. Local Indians were prey for raiding Comanches and Apaches; the Spanish explored the area, but never planted a presidio or mission here.
Germans and Americans filtered into the valley by the mid-19th century, but the trans-Atlantic rails and highways generally passed it by. Even Interstate 10 has not dramatically changed the upper valley, where we spied unfamiliar birds at South LlanoRiver State Park, surveyed limestone, sandstone and granite bluffs and clambered around courthouses, forts and parks.
Why the blessed development lag on the Llano? Catastrophic floods. The evidence is everywhere, from the strewn-by-giants boulders to the Inks Bridge plaque that records a 42-foot wall of water that roared down the canyon in 1935.
We’ve learned more about the Nueces River, Texas birding, a standout West Texas Congressman, the King Ranch and Texas swimming holes.
“The Nueces River: Rio Escondido.” Margie Crisp with artwork by William B. Montgomery. Texas A&M Press. Much admired Texas artist and naturalist Margie Crisp made quite a splash with her award-winning “River of Contrasts: The Texas Colorado,” a gorgeously written and illustrated look at the long, ever-changing waterway that runs through Austin. Now she turns her attention to the Nueces River, which she calls “Rio Escondido,” apt since this stream that falls off the southern edge of the Edwards Plateau goes underground during dry seasons until it reemerges at Choke Canyon Reservoir near Three Rivers. A team project with William B. Montgomery, this book represents an ideal marriage of words and images. One only wishes that Crisp were given several lifetimes so she could do the same for 48 more Texas rivers.
“One More Warbler: A Life with Birds” Victor Emanuel with S. Kirk Walsh. University of Texas Press. To say that Victor Emanuel is a god among naturalists is almost an understatement. The owner and operator of one of the world’s most prominent nature tour groups grew up in Houston and has lived in Austin for decades. This memoir, written in close collaboration with S. Kirk Walsh, tells not just about birding adventures, but also looks deeply into the way that habitual observation of nature changes the way we perceive the world around us. Bonus: Emanuel employs a natural literary touch, which Walsh clearly amplifies. You might have read our own profile of Emanuel. We promise a big feature interview about this book before long.
“The Swimming Holes of Texas.” Julie Wernersbach and Carolyn Tracy. University of Texas Press. Like our much more adventurous colleague, Pam LeBlanc, we love this guide book. We had to add our tributes. It’s crucial, first, because this information was previously not readily available in such a user-friendly, physical format. Arranged by region — the Austin area counts as its own region — it fully lists addresses, phone number, websites, hours, entrance fees, park rules, camping options, amenities, and swimming opportunities, along with sharp descriptions that could only be acquired through sustained personal reporting. Funny thing: Writing this capsule, my thumb led me to the entry for Choke Canyon Reservoir (see above). Oh no you don’t! Last time we were there, alligators floated just offshore. No swimming for us. Pam, don’t take that as a challenge!
“A Witness to History: George H. Mahon, West Texas Congressman.” Janet M. Neugebauer. Texas Tech University Press. We must admit up front we have not made a big dent into this biography that runs almost to 600 pages with notes and index. But what we’ve read so far has impressed us enough to place it here. Mahon, a country lawyer, went to Congress in 1935 and served on the House Committee on Appropriations almost he his entire tenure of 44 years. Along the way, he acquired enormous power, which, if this book is any evidence, he used judiciously. A specialist in defense spending, his career spanned World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and almost the entire Cold War. We look forward to digging deeper into this crisp volume when we have more time. A lot more time.
“Bob and Helen Kleberg of King Ranch.” Helen Kleberg Groves. Trinity University Press. Not as many books have been published about the King Ranch as have been about Texas football, rangers, tacos or politics. But it sometimes seems that the vast, daunting South Texas empire of cattle and thorn brush holds writers in an unbreakable spell. This time, the motivation is personal, since this volume was written by Helen King Kleberg Alexander-Groves. It constitutes the memoirs of the only child of the celebrated Bob and Helen Kleberg. At first, it feels like a picture book with historical and contemporary photographs that take you directly into the world of ranching past and present. Yet don’t overlook the words, because Bill Benson has helped Groves thoroughly research and confirm the history, genealogy and other aspects of this quintessentially Texas family tale.
Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn. presented Maria Cisne Farahani its Rhodes College Distinguished Service Medal. Born in Nicaragua, Farahani attended the University of Texas and later settled in Austin with her family. She founded Fara Coffee’s philanthropic arm, the Fara Foundation, which operates clinics among the coffee workers in her home country.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott honored longtime community volunteer, Evelyn Reininger, with the Yellow Rose of Texas Award for her dedication to the betterment of our state. Reininger, 89, was the first female engine manager at Bergstrom Air Force Base. She also worked alongside Lady Bird Johnson, Gov. Ann Richards and journalist Liz Carpenter on the Federal Women’s Program. After retiring, she worked on day care for need kids and teaching adults to read. We learned that she’s also more than a bit history-minded.
Impact Austin just gave out $403,000 in its latest raft of high-impact grants. Their new community parters for the giving group of more than 400 women deal with homeless youth, refugees, school-age kids, first-time mothers and families of incarcerated adults. Receiving $80,600 each were the Safe Alliance, the Contemporary Austin, Any Baby Can, Interfaith Action of Central Texas and Seedling Foundation. Acting executive director Lisa Apfelberg reminded folks that Impact Austin has given out more than $6 million since 2003.
Comings and goings: Erin Wiegert is the new development associate and major gifts officer for the Austin Symphony. … The collection of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros is giving 83 works of Spanish Colonial art to the Blanton Museum of Art.
I missed the introductory salute from former first lady Laura Bush and I might have taken the final chair on the back row.
Slender and soft-spoken, Emanuel appeared at the UT Thompson Conference Center because of his recently published memoir, “One More Warbler” (UT Press). A tremendous storyteller, he had never before written a book, in part because his business, Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, takes up so much time.
So he dictated it to an amanuensis. I, like everyone else in the room, can’t get enough of it.
From the stage, he related a few birding adventures, apt for this gathering sponsored by Travis Audubon, including the time took the assistant curator of the Houston Museum of Natural History to Galveston and was about to give up on any special sightings when along a low dune line — flying behind other migrating birds — comes an Eskimo Curlew, a species now considered possibly extinct.
It’s kind of amazing that this is Emanuel’s first book, given his close friendships with key authors, including Peter Matthiessen, George Plimpton and Roger Tory Peterson, along with Austin literary virtuosos Stephen Harrigan and Larry Wright. This night, the former interviewed Emanuel on the stage, while the latter asked adroit questions from a house mike.
Emanuel, a South Austin almost-neighbor of ours, returned to one of his favorite themes again and again: Bird lovers are transformed by the powers of observation and thus become more integrated into the natural world.
Despite Emanuel’s demurrals, he is, as Harrigan averred, one of the greatest birders in the world.