Promoting a love of literature and reading in Texas

"We get to build partnerships with library professionals, educators, authors, publishers, and booksellers who share a mission to promote a love of literature and reading."

Rebekah Manley says she notices and values the small details around her and enjoys gathering the tiny moments -- but she's doing big things at the Texas Center for the Book and has big plans. Lone Star Lit was able to catch Rebekah at the Texas Library Association Annual Conference in Austin and  then chat more via email. 

 

Lone Star Literary Life: You run the Texas Center for the Book, which sounds like a heavenly place to this book nerd. Please tell us about the center.

 

Rebekah Manley: Oh, this is one of my favorite subjects! There is actually a Center for the Book in every state, and we are under the National Center for the Book at the Library of Congress. Established in 1984, we seek to stimulate public interest in books, reading, literacy, and libraries. We get to build partnerships with library professionals, educators, authors, publishers, and booksellers who share a mission to promote a love of literature and reading. Heavenly is pretty accurate.

 

The Texas Center for the Book is under the direction of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC). My team at TSLAC is incredible. There is no way I could do my job without their support. Our agency’s downtown location is at Lorenzo De Zavala State Archives and Library Building in Austin, Texas. We now have a physical Center for the Book—it’s small but mighty. I’m seeking to emulate the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress. However, we will focus on Texas-authored books.

One of the coolest parts of my job is getting to go to the Library of Congress twice a year for collaboration with the other coordinators/directors of the state centers. I learn so much from my colleagues.

 

How did this job land on your radar? What is your position with the organization? What programs are you responsible for?

 

I was at a librarian happy hour and met the prior communications officer, Stephen Siwinski, at the TSLAC. Later, he found me on Facebook and sent me the job description. As soon as I opened it, I knew there was no going back. This was the job for me.

 

I’m the coordinator and the only Texas Center for the Book employee. However, we have an amazing communications team in the executive office at TSLAC. They support me as I run the TCFB by directing some core initiatives. Those include the Texas Authors Celebration, which kicks off the Texas Book Festival the Thursday before the weekend festival, where we host our Texas Great Read author and showcase the Texas Center for the Book Literacy Award recipients; the Texas Center for the Book Literacy Award, which honors qualified nonprofit organizations that have made outstanding contributions to increasing literacy in Texas; the Texas Great Read for which TSLAC and the CFB choose a work by a Texas Author to represent the rich cultural identity of the Lone Star State; Letters About Literature, which is a reading and writing contest for students in grades four through twelve; Read Across Texas; the Little Free Library Continued Partnership in which we encourage the spread of Little Free Libraries across Texas; and Lone Star Día Awareness, which is a year-long, multicultural celebration that links children and families to books.

 

This year’s Read Across Texas theme is “Know Your Neighbor: Cultivating Communities of Compassion.” Why was this theme chosen for 2019, and which books are featured this year? How can organizations take part?

 

Read Across Texas is our biannual Statewide Read program which encourages communities to engage in challenging, insightful, and transformative conversations. In 2017, we launched our first Read Across Texas: The Veteran Experience. Those resources remain available online. As we brainstormed our theme for the next program, I knew I wanted compassion to be at the heart of the discussion; I just didn’t know how. The goal of this program isn’t to force anything on anyone. However, this seems to be a time where we could really use the chance to know our neighbors and empathize with them. We put out a survey for books from trusted book lovers and librarians and mulled over the titles for a long time. It was important that we chose four different books that could speak to the subject and engage Texans from all over the state. Ultimately we chose four suggested reads that approach this subject from multiple angles.

 

Essentially, we are trying to give Texas libraries and organizations a ready-made toolkit to have discussions on the theme. Organizations are invited to utilize all our evergreen resources and register their program so we can put it on the map. Each Read Across Texas, we have a limited number of books we are able to provide in support of programs. This year, due to the generosity of the Friends of the Libraries & Archives of Texas, we were able to administer close to sixty book grants to libraries and nonprofits across Texas. If anyone has theme ideas for the 2021 Read Across Texas, they can email me at TCFB@tsl.texas.gov.

 

Please tell us about the Texas Great Read, and what is the book for 2019? How is each year’s read chosen?

 

Each year, states are asked to highlight a book representative of the region’s literary landscape at the National Book Festival. We look for incredible stories that are rich in Texas characters, setting, or both. We make that our book for the year and create materials to distribute statewide at festivals, the Texas Library Association Conference, and at the Library of Congress National Book Festival. As you might remember, the Texas Center for the Book chose Shame the Stars by Guadalupe García McCall (2018), News of the World by Paulette Jiles (2017,) and Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin (2016). I’m excited to share that we haven’t chose our book yet and are still gathering title suggestions. Our survey is open until Memorial Day, and we would value Lone Star Literary Life readers’ input.

 

Lone Star Literary Life has partnered with the Texas Center for the Book to work towards identifying Texas candidates and certifying them as American Library Association Literary Landmarks™.  Can you share with readers about the Literary Landmarks™ program? How many Literary Landmarks™ does Texas have now?

 

Many of the other state centers have a focus on literary heritage as well. That is something I would like to see grow with the TCFB. We are so pleased to partner with Lone Star Literary Life to help make this happen by identifying and establishing more Literary Landmarks™ in Texas. As there are only five landmarks established in our state, I’m still learning more about them. Originally, in 1982, the Literary Landmarks Association was founded by a former Friends of the Library USA (FOLUSA) president, Frederick G. Ruffner, to encourage the dedication of historic literary sites. In 1989, the Literary Landmarks project became an official FOLUSA committee. Literary Landmarks™ continues with United for Libraries, the division of ALA created by the joining of FOLUSA and American Land Title Association (ALTA).
 

The Texas Center for the Book is housed in a certified Literary Landmark™, the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building. What are your plans for certifying more Literary Landmarks™ in Texas? How can the reading public help?

 

Designating a Literary Landmark takes some time and financial resources. It’s important to note that if a landmark is focusing on a particular author, that author can no longer be living. It’s our hope to identify and establish one a year. I know we have a ton in Texas that deserve to be recognized. If readers have ideas for locations, they can complete the survey to bring it to our attention. We’d love your ideas! And if you would like to donate funds to make this happen, you can do so by donating to the Friends of Libraries & Archives of Texas (FLAT) and emailing me so I can let FLAT know that designation. Once we have the funding and sites that qualify for this award, there is a list of procedures to become official.

 

Were you bookish from a young age? Did you always want to work in the book world?

 

When my twin sister and I were about six, we created the “Frog Dog Library”—we only had those two rubber stamps and we wanted to make our collection visually official. We marked Post-it Notes with the title of the book, the frog and dog stamp, and “N” for names. On our favorite books we were sure to put multiple sticky notes, as we were sure those would fly off the shelves, and we’d need ample space. When we opened our doors, we expected a standing-room-only situation. To date, my mom is our only known patron. It’s sweet to see that she checked out as many titles as possible. I brought a sampling of the Frog Dog’s collection to my interview for the Center for the Book, and they remain in my office.

 

You have an MFA in children’s literature. Please tell us about your own writing and why you chose children’s literature?

 

While working for Carnival Cruise Lines out of college, I asked myself the question, “What would I do if I could not fail?” That answer was to write at a professional level. I have a distinct memory as a child of talking with adults and seeing them give that “side glance” to each other. The one that they think kids don’t see. I decided, in that moment, that I was going to gather my kid experiences like treasures. That way, when I grew up, I would be able to relate to children and, hopefully, they would know that I understood. I hope that this transfers into my writing. Therefore, when I contemplated programs, I knew I wanted a program with an emphasis in children’s literature, as I wanted to learn specifies genres like picture books, and I realized that literary education would “transfer up,” so to speak. I was pleased to discover Hollins University had a high-residency children’s lit program.

 

You have a blog called “Brave Tutu.” Tell us more about that.  

 

Oh—my other favorite subject! Brave Tutu is all about taking courage and delight in small moments. Each piece focuses on one small event in time, could be an encounter in an elevator or at the gym, and blows it up on the page with some introspection. They are really short and hopefully, readers feel more empowered in their everyday lives to connect with courage and the tiny treasures that surround us. I’m absolutely accepting submissions and there is a submissions page on the site. My goal is to have more guest authors and shine lights on the talent of other artists.

 

What’s next?

 

Well, I signed with an agent, and we are constantly working on projects. Maybe next time I’ll be able to say more!

 

Lightning Round Questions:

*Favorite book? As a kid, I related a lot to Jillian Jiggs by Phoebe Gilman  Still do. Creativity should always come before cleaning.

*Number of books on your nightstand? (are they eBooks or print?) About six. I’ve never gotten into eBooks. I do, however, love audio books.

*Strange habit? I have a hard time throwing away plastic cups. I like to keep them and re-use them. They can take over.

*Interesting writing ritual? I need at least an ice water and maybe a secondary and tertiary beverage close by to write well! Right now, I’m really into fresh lime and bubble water.

*Favorite quote? Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – Dr. Seuss

*Something interesting/funny/unique that few people know about you? I had an imaginary friend named DiDoDo. She looked just like my mom and had a child named Flower (that was me).

*Pet peeve? I hate to say it, but it irks me when people text with lowercase letters—like “i will cu later.”

*Most underappreciated author/hidden gem author? I’m pretty excited for the career launch of Lindsay Leslie. Her debut picture book, This Book Is Spineless, just came out and Nova the Star Eater releases this month.

*Team Oxford comma? Sans cussing, I seem to side with Vampire Weekend on that subject.