The 83rd annual Texas Institute of Letters awards weekend was held in McAllen April 26-28

Ellen Clarke Temple: “The stories of our past enable our future.”


[Above photos, clockwise from top left: Carrie Fountain (Austin), Eugene Lee and family (San Marcos), Naomi Shihab Nye (San Antonio), Tish Hinojosa (San Antonio/Austin), Megan Peak (Fort Worth ), Betty Sue Flowers (Austin/New York), and Chris Barton (Austin) with Carmen Tafolla (San Antonio)]


Approximately 170 members of the Texas Institute of Letters (TIL), plus family and friends, gathered in McAllen for the 83rd annual awards weekend April 26-28, 2019.  Lone Star Lit was on the scene to report it all.


The festivities began Friday evening, April 26, with an opening reception, poetry readings, and a special presentation on “Ghosts and Legends of the Rio Grande Valley” by David Bowles, which included a special appearance by La Llorona. Activities on Saturday, April 27, included a visit to Quinta Mazatlán World Birding Center; readings by Chris Barton, Naomi Shihab Nye, Xavier Garza, David Bowles, and Varian Johnson at the McAllen Public Library; new member readings in the afternoon and the awards banquet in the evening in the Ruby Red Ballroom of the Casa de Palmas hotel. This year, for the first time, there are post-awards activities on Sunday, April 28: music and a poetry reading at the border wall and a stroll over the international bridge for lunch and shopping in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico.  


TIL, which was founded in 1936, awarded thirteen recipients with the Annual TIL Literary Awards “based on the careful review of exemplary, recently published works.” More than $21,000 in award monies was given to the recipients at the banquet. This year, for the first time ever, there were two different authors who each won two awards, in different categories for separate works, and also two individuals who tied for first place in one of the categories, a rare occurrence in TIL’s literary awards history.


And the winners are:


Naomi Shihab Nye: the Lon Tinkle Lifetime Achievement Award for a lifetime of distinction in letters. A former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Nye has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Jane Adams Children’s Book Award, The Paterson Poetry Prize, four Pushcarts, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her most recent collections of poetry include Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners (2018), and The Tiny Journalist (2019).


Ben Fountain: Winner of the Carr P. Collins Award for Best Book of Non-Fiction for Beautiful Country Burn Again: Democracy, Rebellion, and Revolution (Ecco)


Natalia Sylvester: Winner of the Jesse H. Jones Award for Best Work of Fiction for Everyone Knows You Go Home (Little A)


Stephen Markley: Winner of The Sergio Troncoso Award for Best Work of First Fiction for Ohio (Simon & Schuster)


Tarfia Faizullah: Winner of The Helen C. Smith Memorial Award for Best Book of Poetry for Registers of Illuminated Villages (Graywolf Press)


Megan Peak: Winner of The John A. Robertson Award for Best First Book of Poetry for Girldom (Perugia Press)


Brent Nongbri: Winner of The Ramirez Family Award for Most Significant Scholarly Book for God’s Library: The Archaeology of the Earliest Christian Manuscripts (Yale University Press)


David Bowles: Winner of Texas Institute of Letters Best Young Adult Book for The Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico (Cinco Puntos Press) and co-winner of the Jean Flynn Award for Best Middle Grade Book for They Call Me Güero (Cinco Puntos Press)


Varian Johnson: Co-winner of the Jean Flynn Award for Best Middle Grade Book for The Parker Inheritance (Arthur A. Levine Books)


Chris Barton: Winner of The Texas Institute of Letters Best Children’s Picture Book for What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?: The Life of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (Beach Lane Books)


Clay Reynolds: Winner of The Edwin “Bud” Shrake Award for Best Short Nonfiction for “Railroad Man” (New Madrid, 2018) and winner of The Kay Catarulla Award for Best Short Story for “Autumn Moon” (New Texas, 2018).  


In addition, the Institute’s annual awards banquet celebrated the induction of seventeen new members to TIL: fiction writers Tim Z. Hernandez, Wendell Mayo, and Ito Romo; filmmakers Wes Anderson and Jesús Salvador Treviño; playwright Eugene Lee; poets Rosa Alcalá, Robin Davidson, Betty Sue Flowers, and Carrie Fountain; nonfiction writer Wes Ferguson and journalist John MacCormack; scholars Patrick Cox and Ellen Clarke Temple; children’s author Xavier Garza; children’s book author and songwriter Tish Hinojosa; and theater critic/playwright Robert Faires.



*According to Betty Sue Flowers, being the first woman Rotarian in your city is not a popular undertaking.

*Everything grows in the Valley, according to Dr. Carmen Tafolla, president of TIL.

*Casa de Palmas, where we stayed for the weekend, is haunted, according to David Bowles—and thanks to his grandmother, he would know.

*New TIL member Wes Ferguson quit his job to float the Sabine River for Texas A&M University Press, where he was shot at by someone who mistook Ferguson for his brother.

*Superman is the ultimate immigrant.

*Santa Claus arrives on the Rio Grande/Bravo for Boquillas, Mexico.

*Tish Hinojosa can make a room teary with her corrido for Américo Paredes, “With a Pen in His Hand.”


[Below, left to right: Ito Romo (Laredo/San Antonio), Ellen Clarke Temple (Lufkin), Wes Ferguson (Austin), and Rosa Alcalá (El Paso)]


The Texas Institute of Letters is a nonprofit honor society founded in 1936 to celebrate Texas literature and recognize distinctive literary achievement. The TIL’s elected membership consists of the state’s most respected writers.