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Two Days in November

By Michael Berryhill

The 8th annual Texas Book Festival takes place Nov. 8-9, covering the state capitol grounds with more than 100 authors, dozens of publishers and, if last year repeats itself, 30,000 booklovers. Many of these readers will be lined up at publishers’ tents waiting patiently for a favorite writer or photographer to sign their newest books.

Some artists familiar to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine readers will be present. Photographer Wyman Meinzer, who collaborated with John Graves on the photo-essay book, Texas Rivers, will attend, along with poet Walt McDonald, who worked with Meinzer on Great Lonely Places of the Texas Plains. Western novelist Elmer Kelton, who wrote eloquently on the threats to the Ogalalla Aquifer in the July 2002 issue, will come from San Angelo. Jan Reid, who has both edited and written for the magazine, also will be present.

Look for James Evans, whose book of black-and-white photographs, Big Bend Pictures, was reviewed in our September issue. Don Graham will be present with his volume, Kings of Texas, the 150 Year Saga of King Ranch, Texas’ Last Great Ranching Empire. (The ranch was the subject of our October cover story.) And Texans who love folklore may want to check in with Ronald Cohen, who has collected many of the essays and speeches of the great Texas folk music collector, Alan Lomax, in Alan Lomax: Selected Writings, 1934-1997.

One luminary will be humorist-turned-historian Roy Blount, who has written a short biography of Robert E. Lee for Penguin that takes a gently demystifying approach to a man who has been seen, to Blount’s way of thinking, too much in shades of gray. Lee served in Texas before the Civil War, and resigned his commission here. Here is Blount on the great man: “In his dashing if sometime depressive antebellum prime, he may have been the most beautiful person in America, a sort of precursor-cross between Cary Grant and Randolph Scott. He was in his element gossiping with belles about their beaux at balls. In theaters of grinding, hellish human carnage he kept a pet hen for company. … As a father Lee was fond but fretful, as a husband devoted but distant. As an attacking general he was inspiring but not necessarily cogent.”

It might seem that Blount has tried to take a great man down to size, but if anything he has made him more human, and more real. And that’s what writing is all about.

And making writers more real is the purpose of the Texas Book Festival. The capitol hearing rooms and the legislative assembly rooms become the sites for dozens of free readings and panel discussions. For readers who know a writer only through the printed page, this is an opportunity to ask questions of Blount or possibly of such widely known novelists as Amy Tan, Scott Turow, Sarah Bird and Shelby Hearon.

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