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4.2.17 News Briefs

Year of firsts: Texas Institute of Letters convention has a new location — and a new focus

by Chrisine Granados



The year 2017 will be remembered as one of firsts for the Texas non-profit literary honor society, the Texas Institute of Letters. The TIL will host its convention and awards banquet for the first time in El Paso and New Mexico on April 7–8. It will award the Lon Tinkle Award for Lifetime Achievement to a Mexican American woman and will induct a musician into the organization, both TIL firsts.


Steve L. Davis, TIL president, said his position as president comes with a lot of work and few privileges but one of those perks is that he got to help choose the site of the annual banquet. “I knew we had never met in El Paso since I was inducted back in 2009 and I thought as president it was time for the TIL to go back,” he said. “Then I started looking through the history and realized, damn, the TIL has been around for eight-one years and has never met in El Paso!”


“El Paso is a great place for the TIL to meet because it arguably has the richest literary history in the state of Texas,” said Davis, who is the curator of the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University. “When you compare its literary output to other cities in Texas I’m not sure that another does it as well as far as writers who have come out of El Paso or who have lived and worked there.”


Inclusiveness a goal for 2017

Davis and TIL vice president Carmen Tafolla and author Benjamin Alire Sáenz were voted into the TIL in 2009. “When I was inducted and realized that Ben Sáenz and Carmen Tafolla were voted in at the same time I was embarrassed. In all honesty, these were two people who should have gotten in long before me. Carmen, Ben and I talked about the TIL at the time and we questioned whether we wanted to join or not because it seemed like an insider’s club.”


Davis said he and Tafolla joined because they wanted to help lead “an evolution from the inside.” Sáenz declined membership. “It’s funny because when we got in we found that the TIL members were people with busy lives, whose circle of influence were similar, which made it an insular organization,” he said. “People inside the organization were already changing and becoming aware, so the change was already happening. Kip Stratton (treasurer of TIL) was the emerging leader within the TIL and he was leading the evolution.”


Sáenz, a multi-genre author and PEN/Faulkner Award winner, has now accepted TIL membership and will read from his work at the Saturday banquet.


Literary achievement

The TIL circle of influence has been accused of being male-centered since its founding in 1936, when J. Frank Dobie’s Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver won book of the year over Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider. Perhaps this influence can best be seen in the organization’s lifetime achievement awards. The Lon Tinkle Award has been given to five women since it began in 1981. Last year’s recipient, Sarah Bird, a novelist, screenwriter, journalist, and Dobie Paisano fellow, made mention of the fact in her literary achievement acceptance speech at the awards banquet in Austin.


This year the honor has been given to Pat Mora, the third Mexican American and sixth woman to be given the Lon Tinkle Award for Literary of Achievement. “I am, of course, grateful to those who made the decision. I am pensive about being the first Latina though — 2017,” the El Paso native said. “I think of all the women of Mexican descent, as I am, who wrote and savored words through the years on the landscape we now call Texas. It gives me pause.”


She said that there is a prevailing myth that inclusiveness and diversity equals lowering standards and it is something she is working to dispel. “Whether we’re talking about colors, flowers, or people, diversity enriches our individual lives, expands our sense of the possible,” she said. “Being committed to encouraging more voices means more work. Groups that take turns honoring one another and friends are basically comfortable private clubs, even if composed of talented people. I think all of us committed to the power, privilege and pleasure of the written word want our knowledge and understanding of Texas literature to be deep and wide. How exciting that TIL agrees.”


Mora, who is best known for her poetry, writes in many genres and has forty-seven books to her credit. She has received honorary degrees and countless awards for her literary achievement. However, her legacy will endure most strongly through her efforts in founding the community-based literacy initiative El día de los niños, El día del los libros/Children’s Day, Book Day. Mora brought this Latin American tradition of a day-long celebration filled with food, games, and activities as a special recognition for children and expanded it to promote literacy and bilingual education. The celebration was adopted as national holiday by the American Library Association and has grown to include all languages and cultures. Today, Día de los niños is celebrated in libraries across the United States.



Another first for the TIL is the induction of a musician in the literary organization.


“Let me say up front that we are not inducting Joe Ely as a musician but as a writer,” Davis said. “He’s written two books, Bonfire Road Maps, a memoir of his life on the road, and Reverb: An Odyssey. It’s fantastic and it reads like Beat novel about his move from Lubbock across the state of Texas. When I read that, I thought this guy has such a well-developed literary sensibility, with a consistent voice and literary technique. He is nominated as a literary writer. It’s why he got voted in.”


Ely was surprised and honored by the inclusion. “I’m thrilled and humbled,” Ely said. “I really think that this will open the door to other musicians because there are so many great writers out there.”

“It’s really a bonus that Joe’s a musician. Because he’s going to come and play a song,” Davis said. “He’s also a good reader. It’s always good when you have a writer who is also a terrific performer. He and his wife Sharon have been highly enthusiastic and are deeply honored by this. He canceled one of his performances to come to the banquet.”


Along with Ely, fourteen new members will join the TIL. The 2017 honorees are: Celeste Bedford Walker, David Bowles, Bobby Byrd, Lee Merrill Byrd, Cary Clack, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Elizabeth Harris, Cliff Hudder, Baine Kerr, Attica Locke, C. M. Mayo, Elaine Scott, Thad Sitton, and Rosalyn Story.


“This is one of the largest and most impressive groups of writers to come into the TIL in single year,” said Davis. “For those elected it means that you have the respect and admiration of your fellow writers, which is a very significant level of recognition.”


The banquet, which will take place in Sunland Park, New Mexico, will award more than $20,000 in prize money to writers in the categories of fiction, non-fiction, history, poetry, children and young adult, short stories, journalism, along with a special award recognizing book design. The competition is limited to those who have lived in the state for at least two years or have entries pertaining to Texas subjects.


“The cool thing about TIL being in El Paso is that it is a reflection of the people in Texas and membership in the TIL,” Davis said. “Right now, the TIL is the closest it has ever been to the ideals of why it was established – to be an organization that truly reflects and celebrates Texas letters and the production of literary in Texas.”


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Texas Mountain Trail Writers to hold 25th annual retreat, Sat., April 29, at historic Indian Lodge


The Texas Mountain Trail Writers group invites both beginning to advanced authors to join them for a one-day retreat at the Indian Lodge in the historicDavis Mountain State Park in scenic Big Bend area, Sat., April 29, 2017. It will mark the group’s twenty-fifth year of hosting the retreat.


Presenters of this year’s retreat are Barbara Brannon and Kay Ellington of Lubbock, Texas, editors of Lone Star Literary Life and coauthors of the Paragraph Ranch series of novels. The novels have been praised by readers for realistic characters, authentic West Texas settings, and interesting plots.


Brannon holds graduate degrees in American literature and book history. She has taught creative writing and is widely published. Ellington is a graduate of the Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop and founder of Lone Star Literary Life. Both women combine more than five decades of experience in teaching, book publishing, editing, and marketing.


The theme of this year’s retreat is “Write Inspired: Fiction.” In keeping with this theme, the presenters will expose attendees to techniques that will help them to create believable characters, enrich character interactions, enhance dramatic tension, and develop realistic plots. Some practical aspects of marketing, publishing, and editing will also be addressed.


Dr. Brannon and Ms. Ellington will give attendees the opportunity to complete writing exercises that will enhance their understanding of the writing craft. Free workbooks will be provided. In some sessions, participants will be able to join discussions.


Check-in before morning sessions will begin at 8 A.M. A free continental breakfast will be served from 8 A.M. until 9 A.M. Check-in and breakfast will take place in the meeting room below the Black Bear Restaurant. The retreat will start at 9 A.M. and end at 4 P.M. A lunch break is scheduled for 12 noon until 1 P.M. Attendees can eat lunch at the Black Bear Restaurant or drive four miles into Fort Davis to eat at establishments there. After the retreat ends, participants are invited to join other attendees for a 5 P.M. meal at the Black Bear.


The cost of the event is $70 per person. Individuals paying their registration fees will automatically become members of the Texas Mountain Trail Writers. They will be eligible to be published in the TMTW’s annual anthology. Other than the continental breakfast, meals and lodging are not included in the registration fee. Early registration is encouraged because of limited space.


Participants planning to stay overnight at the Indian Lodge can call Texas Parks and Wildlife, Indian Lodge, Fort Davis, Texas. The reservation number is 512-389-8982. Reservations should be made early. Spring is coming, and the rooms are booked quickly.


For other lodging information, contact the Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce ( or 432-426-3015). This organization has a list of area vacancies (including RV campgrounds).


If you have further questions about the retreat, contact Jackie Siglin, Registrar, at ten.dnebgib@1aksaladekab.


Six Texas authors nominated for eight RITAs in 2017 romance novel awards


Each year up to 2,000 romance novels are entered in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA competition—and an impressive number of books by Texas authors have made this year’s finalist round. Once RWA announces the RITA finalists, a final round of judges evaluates and scores these novels to determine the RITA Award winners, which are announced at a black-tie awards ceremony on Thursday, July 27, 2017 at the Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Orlando, Florida.


Congratulations to the Texas authors whose novels have made the cut.


Best First Book

Once and For All: An American Valor Novel by Cheryl Etchison

(Avon, Impulse; Priyanka Krishnan and Rebecca Lucash, editors)

Cheryl Etchison graduated from the University of Oklahoma’s School of Journalism and began her career as an oil and gas reporter. From there she moved on to public relations and now fiction; she lives in Austin.


Contemporary Romance: Mid-Length

Lone Heart Pass by Jodi Thomas

(Harlequin, HQN; Brittany Lawery and Susan Swinwood, editors)

Jodi Thomas, author of more than forty novels and thirteen short-story collections, has previously won five RITA awards. In 2006 she was the eleventh writer to be inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. She currently serves as writer in residence at West Texas A&M University and lives in Canyon.


Once and For All: An American Valor Novel by Cheryl Etchison

(Avon, Impulse; Priyanka Krishnan and Rebecca Lucash, editors)

Cheryl Etchison graduated from the University of Oklahoma’s School of Journalism and began her career as an oil and gas reporter. From there she moved on to public relations and now fiction; she lives in Austin.


Wanderlust by Roni Loren

(Penguin Random House, Berkley; Kate Seaver, editor)

Roni Loren earned a master’s degree in social work from Louisiana State University and has worked in mental health careers, counseling, and recruitment. She lives in Dallas.


Erotic Romance

Off the Clock by Roni Loren

(Penguin Random House, Berkley; Kate Seaver, editor)

Roni Loren earned a master’s degree in social work from Louisiana State University and has worked in mental health careers, counseling, and recruitment. She lives in Dallas.


Historical Romance: Long

The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel

(Sourcebooks, Landmark; Shana Drehs and Anna Michels, editors)

Weina Dai Randel was born in China and grew up there. She came to the U.S. when she was twenty-four and has lived here more than fifteen years. She earned an MA in English from Texas Woman's University in Denton, and now lives in Flower Mound.


Romance Novella

“The Husband Maneuver” by Karen Witemeyer in With This Ring?

(Baker Publishing, Bethany House; Charlene Patterson, editor)

Karen Witemeyer grew up in California but attended college at Abilene Christian University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology. She is a multiple RITA award winner and an ACFW Carol award winner. She lives in Abilene.


Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements

My Hope Next Door by Tammy L. Gray

(Amazon, Waterfall Press; Amy Hosford, editor)

Tammy L. Gray self-published her best-selling Christian romance and young adult titles, starting in 2012, before being signed by Amazon’s Christian imprint, Waterfall Press, in 2014, when she became one of Waterfall’s first fiction authors. She lives in Dallas.


(Information from organization’s website)


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Texas Institute of Letters Banquet Activities

(All activities are open to the public)

April 7 – 6 pm: TIL Opening Reception and Poetry Awards at the Sky Lounge in the Doubletree Hilton, 610 El Paso St., El Paso, TX 79901

April 8 – 9:30–11 am: Children’s Book Awards at the Sky Lounge in the Doubletree Hilton

1–3 pm: New TIL Members reception and reading at the Sky Lounge in the Doubletree Hilton

8–10 pm: TIL Awards Banquet at Ardovinos Desert Crossing, 1 Ardovino Dr., Sunland Park, NM 88063


Tickets to the banquet are $60 and can be purchased at


TIL Literary Prize Winners


Jesse H. Jones Award for Best Work of Fiction

Winner: Paulette Jiles, News of the World

Finalists: Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs; Dominic Smith, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos


Carr P. Collins Award for Best Book of Nonfiction

Winner: Skip Hollandsworth, The Midnight Assassin

Finalists: Shelley Armitage, Walking the Llano: A Texas Memoir of Place; Dan Slater, Wolf Boys


Helen C. Smith Award for Best Book of Poetry

Winner: Bruce Bond, Gold Bee

Finalists: Jonathan Fink, Barbarossa; William Wenthe, God’s Foolishness


Bob Bush Memorial Award for First Book of Poetry

Winner: Miriam Bird Greenberg, In the Volcano’s Mouth

Finalists, Stan Crawford, Resisting Gravity; Chera Hammons, Recycled Explosions


Steven Turner Award for Best Work of First Fiction

Winner: Amy Gentry, Good as Gone

Finalists: Paul Pedroza, The Dead Will Rise and Save Us; J. Todd Scott, The Far Empty


Edwin “Bud” Shrake Award for Short Nonfiction/Journalism

Winner: Stephen Harrigan, “Off Course,” in Texas Monthly.

Finalists: Debbie Nathan, “What Happened to Sandra Bland?” (The Nation); C. W. Smith, “Faux Haubeaux” (Southwest Review)


Kay Cattarulla Short Story Award

Winner: David Meischen, "Cicada Song," in Salamander

Finalists: Octavio Solis, "The Want" (Huizache); Jerry Whitus, "Restitution" (Ploughshares)


H-E-B/Jean Flynn Award for Best Children’s Book

Winner: Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee, Maybe a Fox

Finalists: Diana López, Nothing Up My Sleeve; David Liss, Rebels


H-E-B Award for Best Young Adult Book

Winner: Phillippe Diederich, Playing for the Devil's Fire

Finalists: Kathryn Ormsbee, Lucky Few; Joe Jiménez, Bloodline


Ramirez Family Award for Most Significant Scholarly Book

Winner: Max Krochmal, Blue Texas: The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in the Civil Rights Era

Finalists: Glen Sample Ely, The Texas Frontier and the Butterfield Overland Mail, 1858– 1861; Kenneth Hafertepe, The Material Culture of German Texans


Denton Record-Chronicle Award for Best Children's Picture Book

Winner: Dianna Hutts Aston, A Beetle Is Shy

Finalists: Chris Barton, Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions; Nicolás Kanellos, El Torneo de Trabalenguas / The Tongue Twister Tournament


Fred Whitehead Award for Design of a Trade Book

Winner: Kristie Lee, designer, From Tea Cakes to Tamales (Texas A&M University Press) Finalists: Mary Ann Jacob, designer, Explore Texas: A Nature Travel Guide (Texas A&M University Press); Derek George, designer, How to Be a Texan: The Manual (University of Texas Press)


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