Connecting Texas books and writers with those who most want to discover them
Above: Arguably Dallas's top book-related attraction, the infamous Texas School Book Depository (now the Sixth Floor Museum) tells the story of President Kennedy's assassination, Nov. 23, 1963.
TOP 10 TEXAS BOOKISH DESTINATIONS 2016
If you talk to Dallas readers, authors, booksellers, and librarians, they’ll tell it’s a very different literary locale than it was two years ago.
Insiders largely attribute the growing literary scene to the independent bookstores and venues that have sprouted around the Dallas area of late. The Wild Detectives, established in early 2014 by Javier Garcia del Moral and Paco Vique, is a coffee-booze-book stop in Bishop Arts District.
Publisher Will Evans’s Deep Vellum, a publishing house known for its international translations, opened its own bookstore, Deep Vellum Books, in 2015. There’s also Serj Books, which vends coffee, local food, and a small but eclectic selection of hand-picked titles.
The country’s third largest bookstore chain, Half Price Books, is headquartered in Dallas, and its Mothership/flagship store is also a must-stop for any author touring a book in the Big D vicinity. It’s worth mentioning that Half Price Books has 19 stores across Dallas’s myriad of suburbs and bedroom communities. For many it’s the only bookstore they have ever known.
Bookstores have become go-to hot spots for readings and other literary events, but Dallas-run reading series aren’t all brand new. Arts & Letters Live, hosted at the Dallas Museum of Art, is a literary and performing arts series that has brought in big audiences to see award-winning authors and poets since 1992. Participants have included Margaret Atwood, David Sedaris, Sandra Cisneros, and many other high-profile literary names. The Pegasus Reading Series, curated by poet Sebastian Paramo and Courtney Marie of Spiderweb Salon and often hosted by Kettle Art Gallery in Deep Ellum, showcases local and touring poets and writers. The Authors Live! series, launched in 2011 and co-sponsored by Friends of the SMU Libraries, Highland Park United Methodist Church, and the Friends of the Highland Park Library, brings in some 12 to 18 authors per year, many of them New York Times best-sellers and prestigious award winnters.
The city’s Highland Park Literary Festival, begun in 1996, is sponsored by HPISD families, La Fiesta de las Seis Banderas, HPHS PTA, HP Arts, and HP Kids Read, with the goal of inspiring and encouraging students, teachers and the community to celebrate language in its artfully written, spoken and sung forms. Today, over sixty workshops between students and accomplished novelists, journalists, poets, songwriters, and playwrights are at the heart of the festival.
Besides bookstores and reading series, events and avenues for literary experiences include DaVerse Lounge, through Life in Deep Ellum, featuring open-mic spoken word and performance art. There’s also Pandora’s Box, a poetry showcase held at the historic Margo Jones Theater in Fair Park. The Writer’s Garret is a literary center that features programming, education, and outreach; WordSpace was founded back in 1994 to connect talent with local audiences.
Nationally known authors either living in the greater Dallas area or with Dallas connections include Ben Fountain, Merritt Tierce, Kathleen Kent, Harry Hunsicker, Joe Milazzo, Sanderia Faye, Sebastian Paramo, Will Clarke, Luke Goebel, Joaquin Zihautanego, LaToya Watkins, Charlaine Harris, Rachel Caine, Julie Murphy, and Kellie Coates Gilbert, among others.
You may have heard of the literary magazine Carve, but did you know it was based in Dallas? Carve has been publishing fiction online and hosting the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest since 2000. The organization has since grown to include Carve Literary Services and Carve in the Classroom under its umbrella. Carve is a member of CLMP and attends the annual AWP conference.
Founded in 2006, the Dallas International Book Fair presented annual literary events showcasing works by internationally acclaimed authors as well as national, regional and local authors representing diverse regions of the world. This family event included artistic and cultural performances, film and book presentations, educational workshops and children’s activities. The event was renamed in February 2014 as the Dallas Book Festival with a purpose to continue the goal of promoting a love for books, reading and literacy through multilingual and multicultural activities with a focus on spotlighting the city of Dallas and its wide range of ethnic and cultural diversity. This year’s event will be Saturday, April 30 at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library.
Other book festivals include: the SMU Literary Festival, which is known for bringing in rising literary stars and occurs the third week of March. The 20th annual Highland Park Literary Festival was held in February and brought in Dave Eggers, author and founder of McSweeney’s.
Tulisoma South Dallas Book Fair, with its primary focus on Dallas’s African-American community, occurs each August. “Tulisoma,” Swahili for "we read," is a community-based festival promoting literacy and the arts in the South Dallas/Fair Park area. Founded in 2003 by the late Leo V. Chaney, Jr., and Dr. Harry Robinson, president and CEO of the African American Museum, the goal of Tulisoma is to create a dynamic event tailored to engage local families, avid readers, aspiring writers and visitors to the city. The Dallas Public Library serves as the lead partner along with many community supporters and sponsors to continue the tradition of celebrating reading and the importance of literacy.
Dallas doesn’t do anything halfway. Many cities have a one city, one book program to encourage the citizenry to literally all get on the same page. But in 2015, the Dallas Public Library and Friends of the Library asked everyone to read Charles Portis’s True Grit as part of D Academy’s literacy nonprofit Big D Reads. D Academy fellows raised enough money to purchase 17,000 copies of the book and handed them out at more than 60 events during April 2015.
For a generation Dallas has been notoriously linked with books—as in the Texas School Book Depository.
Constructed in 1901, the red brick building on the corner of Houston and Elm streets was known as the Texas School Book Depository at the time of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The private firm stocked and distributed textbooks for public schools in north Texas and parts of Oklahoma.
Following the Kennedy assassination, the building became the focus of shock, grief and outrage. Evidence was found showing that shots were fired from the sixth floor, and Depository employee Lee Harvey Oswald was charged with the president's murder.
After the Texas School Book Depository Company moved out in 1970, some hoped the building would be torn down. It remained a painful reminder of what happened in 1963.
Dallas County acquired the building in 1977 with plans to locate county offices on the first five floors. After a major renovation, the Dallas County Administration Building was dedicated on March 29, 1981. The top two floors of the building, including the infamous sixth floor, remained empty.
On President's Day 1989, The Sixth Floor Museum opened as a response to the many visitors who come to Dealey Plaza to learn more about the assassination. The historical exhibition on the sixth floor highlights the impact of Kennedy’s death on the nation and the world. Two key evidentiary areas on the sixth floor have been restored to their 1963 appearance.
On President's Day 2002, the museum opened the seventh floor gallery. This flexible space now provides an additional 5,500 square feet for innovative exhibitions, special events and public programming.
In July 2010, the museum opened the Reading Room—a reflective environment for anyone seeking information and understanding about the assassination and legacy of President John F. Kennedy. The Reading Room directly overlooks Dealey Plaza and provides researchers, educators and students with access to an extensive library which includes books, magazines and newspapers and covers topics ranging from Kennedy’s life and legacy to conspiracy theories and 1960s pop culture.
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