Connecting Texas books and writers with those who most want to discover them

TOP 10 TEXAS BOOKISH DESTINATIONS 2017

Lower Rio Grande Valley, Laredo to Brownsville and South Padre Island

 

Every winter tens of thousands of snowbirds flock to the Rio Grande Valley, bringing with them an annual economic impact of $1 billion into the warm and palm-tree-lined streets from Laredo to Brownsville, including such cities as McAllen, Harlingen, Mission, Weslaco, Donna, Edinburg, and Pharr.

 

From anywhere in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, it’s is a quick jaunt to beautiful South Padre Island and the beaches of the Texas Gulf Coast—an inviting opportunity to literary travelers.

 

<< SOUTH TEXAS AND THE VALLEY IN LETTERS Notable authors whose books are associated with the Rio Grande Valley and nearby locales, from upper left: Oscar Casares, Phillip Meyer, Carlos Nicolás Flores, Viola Canales, Luis Albert Urrea, Domingo Martinez, Sandra Cisneros, Frances Brannen Vick, Xavier Garza, Priscilla Suarez, Sylvia Casares, Jan Seale, Stephen Schneider, Christopher Carmona,

 

 

 

Books and beaches

U.S. News ranks RGV (as the locals call it) as one of the nation’s most affordable areas to live, with an average monthly rent in McAllen at $661. Temperature, climate, nearby beautiful beaches, and affordable living have always been the ingredients in a recipe that brings forth creatives of all types—writers, artists, performers, and filmmakers—and the Valley is rich in talent as well as visitable places and events that showcase why RGV has moved up into Lone Star Lit’s Top Ten Bookish Destinations this year.

 

Port Isabel, home of the lighthouse and a great little public library, is the gateway to South Padre Island, where you’ll find the indie Paragraphs on Padre Boulevard. Bookstore owners Joni Montover and Griff Magnan have curated a colorful store that highlights titles of interest for locals and tourists alike. On any given day, their author showcases of readings and signings enjoy excellent attendance and dialogue.

 

BOOKS ON THE ISLAND  Griff Magnan and Joni Montover (right) and canine friends welcome visitors to Paragraphs on Padre Boulevard.

 

 

McAllen: small city, large library

If you get a little too much sun at SPI, head back to the mainland to enjoy the inspiration from the creativity of the McAllen Public Library. McAllen’s Main Library is a reclaimed former WalMart big box store. Opened in December 2011, it is the largest single-floor library in the United States, occupying 125,000 square feet, or two and a half times the area of a standard U.S. football field.

 

The design, by Meyer Scherer & Rockcastle Ltd. of Minneapolis, won the International Interior Design Association 2012 Library Interior Design Competition. In 2013, the design also won the Honor Award for Interior Architecture, which is the highest honor for interior design awarded by the American Institute of Architects. The awards selection jury noted that “The interior spaces have been dramatically transformed from a warehouse to a place with a sense of intimacy.” The building addresses sustainable design, including careful materials selection for optimal indoor air quality, use of recycled materials, energy and water conservation, and ease of community access.

 

This spacious library features 16 public meeting spaces, 14 public study rooms, 64 general computer labs, a computer lab for teenagers, a children’s computer lab, and two genealogy computers. The building also includes self check-out units for borrowers, an auditorium, an art gallery, a used bookstore, and a cafe. The new library appears to be popular; new user registrations increased by 23 percent in the first month of its opening.

 

In July 2016, McAllen’s Main Library was chosen as the most beautiful library in Texas by tech, science, innovation and culture digital publication Tech Insider, in an article citing their choice of most beautiful library in each state in the nation.

 

 

Readings, book fairs, and literary festivals

If you’re inspired to show your creativity after visiting one of the premier libraries in the nation, then the RGV is rich in festivals and events, including:

 

  • The 10th Annual Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival, April 27–30, 2017. Across the Valley, local communities support the arts in highly visible ways. The McAllen Chamber of Commerce is hosting the VIPF opening reception with the launch of an anthology. You’ll also find readings and a reception at the McAllen Creative Incubator, plus poetry slams at the Flying Walrus bar—site of many literary events and refreshing adult beverages.

  • The Third International Sin Fronteras Book Festival in Brownsville wrapped up the weekend of March 5. This book festival for South Texas, spearheaded by the Coalition of New Chican@ Artists (CONCA) provides a venue for small presses, independent bookstores, libraries, authors, and illustrators.

  • The Fourth Annual McAllen Book Festival will be held in November 2017 at the McAllen Public Library. The Festival is a celebration of culture and imagination that links readers of all ages with authors, performers, and publishers, and fulfills the mission of McAllen Public Library as a place “where people and ideas meet and connect.”
  •  
  • December 2017 will bring the fourth annual Laredo Book Festival, which celebrates Texas and local contemporary authors and encourages interest in books and reading. Sponsored by the Laredo library, this event is free and open to the public. The festival will include a variety of literary activities like panel discussions, writer's workshops, book signings and reading by children's and young adult authors.

 

Working to improve quality of life

The City of McAllen holds a firm belief on the idea that programs and projects geared toward enhancing local citizens’ quality of life improves the community as a whole. As a community with a vibrant culture and deep passion for the arts, regional cities throughout the valley dedicate various events and programs throughout the year to encourage residents to pursue those passions. The McAllen Creative Incubator was specifically designed to target such efforts.

 

The McA2 provides resources to push individuals to the next level of a business idea by catering towards artisans, writers, computer programmers and musicians. Healthy economic growth results from helping the community one member at a time.

 

Town and gown come together to make it happen

The Creative Writing Program at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley enjoys a roster of 12 faculty members and hundreds of alums who continually publish fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. They routinely keynote conferences, and present programs at workshops and signings.

 

Other academic institutions across the RGV with notable authors include Texas A&M International University and Laredo Community College (Laredo); University of Texas, Brownsville and Texas Southmost University (Brownville); University of Texas, Pan American and South Texas College (McAllen).

 

Looking for a first-hand oral history experience? The Museum of the South Texas History hosts a Sunday Speakers Series that is included in the fee for regular museum admission. This program is made possible with generous support from the Carmen C. Guerra Endowment. Mrs. Guerra was deeply committed to supporting educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley. This named endowment was created at the museum by her family to honor her memory and to continue her commitment to providing opportunities for education to the community.

 

Founded in 1967 as the Hidalgo County Historical Museum in the 1910 Hidalgo County Jail, the museum has grown over the decades through a series of expansions to occupy a full city block. In 2003 following the completion of a 22,500-square-foot expansion, the museum was renamed the Museum of South Texas History to better reflect its regional scope. Today, the museum preserves and presents the borderland heritage of South Texas and Northeastern Mexico through its permanent collection and the Margaret H. McAllen Memorial Archives and exhibits spanning prehistory through the 20th century.

 

Walking with the stories

Literary tourists can enjoy a guided walking tour, beginning at the historic heart of Laredo, the San Agustin Plaza. This one-hour walking tour showcases The Republic of the Río Grande Museum, the Villa Antigua Border Heritage Museum, San Agustin Cathedral, San Agustin Plaza, the Washington’s Birthday Celebration Museum, and Casa Ortiz. Scheduled stops are subject to change.

 

All Heritage Guided Tours are conducted in English or Spanish—a unique way for visitors to get to know the history and architectural heritage of this 260-year-old city that has lived under seven flags. All tours start and finish at the The Republic of the Río Grande Museum at 1005 Zaragoza St., next door to La Posada Hotel/Suites on San Agustin Plaza.

 

Valley bookstores along the U.S. 83 corridor

The Valley boasts numerous new and used bookstores, including Books ’N’ Things, Viva Life Christian Bookstore, and Barnes & Noble (McAllen), Books-a-Million and Gospel Bookstore, (Laredo), and Poets’ Corner (Edinburg).

 

The Storybook Garden in Weslaco is the kind of independent neighborhood bookstore that literary travelers love—a small business working continually to enrich the community. From hosting Meet and Greets with local, regional, and national authors to building a float for the local lighted Christmas parade to being a full participant in ShopSmall Saturday Thanksgiving weekend  and hosting ladies’ nights out at the bookstore complete with massages, The Storybook Garden welcomes locals and travelers alike.

 

And while you're traveling U.S. 83, which parallels the Rio Grande from Laredo all the way from Brownsville, pick up a copy of award-winning historian Stew Magnuson’s The Last American Highway (Vol. 3, Texas), due out spring 2017, which chronicles the author’s journey from the Panhandle to Palo Alto, vividly capturing the essence of the Rio Grande Valley as the last part of his trip.

 

SOUTH TEXAS AUTHORS  At right, from upper left, authors associated with the Rio Grande Valley: Oscar Casares, Viola Canales, Rolando Hinojosa, Carlos Nicolás Flores, Jan Seale, Domingo Martinez, Priscilla Suarez, Xavier Garza, David Bowles, Gloria E. Anzaldua, Christopher Carmona, Olga Valle-Herr.

 

 

 

* * * * *

 

LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE   copyright © 2015–17 Paragraph Ranch LLC  •  All rights reserved  •  CONTACT US