The fourth annual Houston Indie Book Fest is coming up on what's looking to be a glorious Saturday afternoon at Menil Park. Before we grab our spectacles and peruse the tables of titles, Art Attack engaged in a quick chat with Becca Wadlinger, co-producer of the festival.
Art Attack: How did the Houston Indie Book Fest get started?
Becca Wadlinger: There was a woman named Sasha West, who was an editor at Gulf Coast Sasha went through UH's Creative Writing program, and she's the board president for Gulf Coast right now - she was the one that started it. It started out just being a couple of independent bookstores and vendors getting together to form a community in Houston. Just three years ago, in 2008 we had 12 vendors, and now we have 70. It's grown considerably over the past four years.
AA: Who puts the Indie Book Fest together?
BW: It's co-organized by me - it's always stayed along the lines of the managing editor (of Gulf Coast) - and then my partner is Kirby Johnson. She is the editor of a journal called Nano Fiction , which is a local journal that publishes flash fiction. It's just the two of us.
AA: Why put together an independent book festival?
BW: We're putting it together because it's become a sort of tradition in Houston. I think the reason that there's such a high demand now, and why it's important to put it on, is because it's the only event of its kind in Texas. We're figuring that out now, because we're seeing a lot more groups coming in from out of town, from Austin. We have Featherproof Books coming down from Chicago, and people from all over Texas.
We consider it to be a regional event, and it's definitely the only one of its kind in Texas.
You always hear about digital publishing, and what that's doing to the literary industry and the publishing industry. One of the side effects of digital publishing is that it's making the independent bookseller become a bigger a presence in the community. Borders and a lot of the big places are closing, and more people are shopping online. But more people are shopping at local bookstores, because it's just easier, if you just want to go out one day and there's no more Borders, you go to the independent bookstore.
We promote individual authors and small presses. It's just a really nice, unique community around the "indie guys."
AA: What's the best part of the festival for you?
BW: My favorite part is seeing how much it grows every year. I had some insight into it last year, although I didn't organize it then. It's just nice to go out and see 2,000 people - that's how many we had last year, 2,000 people - come out throughout the day and say "I like to read!" It's really heartening, when you're in the literature program, to see this entire community of people outside of graduate school, who are coming out to buy books and literary journals and talk about writing.
AA: Tell us a little bit about the events throughout the day.
BW: Well the book fair goes on from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Every hour we have a reader who reads for 15 minutes -- from the 15-minute mark to the half hour mark, and we have six readers. Amelia Gray is one who is coming over from Austin, and her next book is coming out with FSG - she's a pretty big author. We have a children's book author reading at 11:15, that's Gwendolyn [Zepeda]. There are a few more readers, and we also have a musical guest - Golden Arrow Holy Face [note: GAHF is Art Attack's own David Feil].
For the first time, this year there are a bunch of unofficial after-events springing up on the Facebook page. It's also the same day as the Menil Community Arts Festival, so there will be tours and all sorts of things around the Menil.
AA: What's the one thing that you want people to know about the Indie Book Festival?
BW: I want them to know that it is free, and that we're excited to have all different parts of the community represented this year. We've been really focusing on children's authors - it was something that people had requested last year. So, it's free and there's something for everybody. We'd be really excited if people just came out and talked to other people who like to read, and talked to the presses, and all the people selling books.
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AA: Is there anything else you want to add?
BW: Check out our website, you can find out more information at indiebookfest.org and visit the Facebook page, if people want to get in touch with anybody, I'm glued to that for the next couple days. We'll also be calling for volunteers for next year, so if you want to get involved, come talk to us.
Oh, and I should mention Marion Barthelme. She was a philanthropist and a foundation of the Houston arts community. She was the widow of Donald Barthelme, who's the famous writer who helped to found Gulf Coast. Marion passed away last week, and I'll be going up to announce that and to remember her a couple times (on Saturday), because at some point Gulf Coast survived on just Marion's faith alone. That's a thing I don't want to go unnoticed. Those of us who knew her have been thinking of this as another way to remember her hard work and her dedication to the literary arts.
Houston Indie Book Festival at Menil Park. Saturday, April 2, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.1515 Sul Ross.