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What We Learned at Texas Book Festival, Part 1

3 Nov

This past weekend more than 200 authors and tens of thousands of readers gathered deep in the heart of Texas for the 14th Annual Texas Book Festival. ASF went in search of stories and, we must fess up, we got some tall tales of Pulitzer Prize winners–not to mention sexual innuendo and Nobel Prize intrigue. And we picked up writerly tips, quips, comments, and photos, too. Here are a few dispatches:

At the Literary Death Match, with judges Jane Smiley, Richard Russo, and Owen Egerton, and contestants Amelia Gray vs. Kyle Beachy, and Jeff Martin vs. Jason Sheehan. . .

(from left) Egerton, Smiley, Russo, Martin

(from left) Owen Egerton, Jane Smiley, Richard Russo, Jeff Martin

“Gandhi is the Susan Lucci of the Nobel Prize.” —Jeff Martin, Literary Death Match contender

“Jane, I think you’re screwed too. I think the way the Nobel Prize is set up now, Americans are excluded from the discussion.” –Richard Russo to Jane Smiley, discussing the finer details of Jeff Martin’s Death Match piece

“Holy Corn Palace, Jane Smiley is a tall woman!” —Anonymous Fester

Learned (at Death Match)

The number of baby armadillos typically born every time baby armadillos are born: four.

Report (from the Death Match)
“Though the Literary Death Match was held in a church, the crowd seemed open to violence from [ASF contributor] Amelia Gray, sexual innuendoes from Richard Russo, and detailed sexual fantasies from [ASF editorial advisory board member] Owen Egerton. However, tales of Maddox Jolie-Pitt’s decapitation crossed the line, eliciting a collective and judgmental ‘whoa’ from the audience.” —Stacey Swann, ASF contributing editor


Barbara Ehrenreich

Debunked (by Barbara Ehrenreich)
“There is no evidence that the immune system fights cancer. There is no evidence that a positive attitude benefits or encourages the immune system. Experiencing stress undermines it, that’s true.” —Barbara Ehrenreich, survivor of breast cancer, holder of a PhD in cellular immunology, and author of Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.

Direct from the Panelists (Colson Whitehead and ZZ Packer in the panel About Race: Identity and American Fiction)

Q: How do we deal with a disastrous and bloody history in a humorous way? —moderator Walter Muyumba

(from left) Whitehead, Packer

(from left) Colson Whitehead, ZZ Packer

Colson Whitehead answers: “Well, I’m sitting here [in the Senate Chamber] and looking at a giant painting of a bloody battle depicted on the back wall—two guys trying to cut each others’ heads off. It’s the ridiculous and the sublime, the tragedy and the humor existing in the same moment.”

ZZ Packer answers: “Racism has inner ironies that should be addressed. It’s about desensitization: Once you’ve made someone laugh you can get to the point where you can make someone cry. Comedy is such an incisive medium. It starts a conversation. Here’s something you can laugh about–it’s about black people. Here something you can laugh about—it’s about white people. We laugh. The point: we laugh and talk together.”

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