Home to the Texas Book Festival each fall, Austin is a haven for many wonderful writers and authors whose stories are helping readers find joy, clarity, thrills and respite in these turbulent times. Here are ten local authors to add to your 2021 reading list
When you visit the website of this Austin writer, you are greeted with the exclamation “Release the McCracken!” With titles like “Niagara Falls Over Again” and “Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry,” Elizabeth McCracken's novels are incredibly witty and just as emotional. She is well known for her ferocious examinations of the imperfections and quirks of life. She is both funny and heartbreaking with the poetic skill to get you through all of life’s most challenging moments.
Oscar Cásares’ captivating novels, stories and essays tell narratives about the U.S./Mexico-border. Beloved by his students at the University of Texas, Cásares’ work often explores the effect place has on a person. His first book “Brownsville” won the 2004 Notable Book award from the American Library Association. His newest novel, “Where We Come From” was selected by the Texas Institute of Letters for the Jesse H. Jones Award for Best Work of Fiction of 2019. His stories tackle serious political issues about immigration while offering a deep understanding of the humanity of all people involved.
Carrie Fountain. Credit Jessica Attie.
If you stumble across one Carrie Fountain's books, you can trust that it probably has countless rave reviews. In her collections “Burn Lake” and “Instant Winner,” Fountain explores questions of the soul and topics of progress, history, violence and sexuality. Another collection, “The Life” will be released in April 2021. Be sure to check out her YA novel, “I’m Not Missing” which has the protagonist Miranda Black unraveling the mystery of her runaway best friend while dealing with issues of loss and abandonment.
Affectionately referred to as a “tear-jerking” machine, Beverly Chukwu is a young scriptwriter of Nigerian-descent who loves to explore the intersection between family dynamics and childlike points of view. Once an episode writer for the popular Austin-based Youtube channel “New Sky Kids,” Chukwu’s stories like “Prince of Lavendale Street” and “Soma” capture the potential complexity of family relationships. The connections she puts to the page are sure to offer insight into your life’s relationships.
Natalia Sylvester. Credit Eric Sylvester.
If you are looking for honest and impactful storytelling, Natalia Sylvester has three novels for you. “Chasing the Sun” and “Everyone Knows You Go Home” won her awards like Latinidad’s best book of 2014 and the International Latino Book Award. She is best known for pushing for stories that better represent the lives of Latino & Latina immigrants beyond the expectations of resistant publishers who often want more “dramatic stories.” She takes extra care to find meaning in the mundane. With her young adult novel “Running,” Sylvester was also part of the line up for the 2020 Texas Teen Book Festival.
If you're a fan of writer James Baldwin, do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with Roger Reeves. Reeves’ work takes great swaths of American history and condenses it into poignant and cutting poems. His book “King Me,” utilizes his lyrical style to expose both the appalling and tender parts of the American identity. His poetry is sure to take you on an emotional journey with stops full of both difficulty and catharsis.
Courtesy of Shaila Abdullah.
It's often hard to measure the impact of any work of art. But Shaila Abdullah is one of the few novelists who has empirical evidence to support the power of her words. In 2014, a research team from Washington and Lee University found that reading a 3000-word extract from her fiction book “Saffron Dreams” can demonstrably make a reader less racist. Abdullah also helps children through real issues. Her book “Rani in Search of a Rainbow” takes a look at the 2010 Pakistan floods and helps young readers navigate and understand natural disasters.
Non-fiction fans can check out “Into the Field: A Foreign Correspondent’s Notebook,” by veteran journalist Tracy Dahlby . Dahlby’s storied career has had him meet boxing greats like Jake Lamotta and the actor who played Godzilla in some of the original Japanese films. With years of experience across National Geographic, Newsweek and The Washington Post, Dahlby takes readers to the “stories behind the stories.”
Elizabeth Crook. Credit Lizzie Lewis.
Elizabeth Crook's writing possesses an undeniable charm. Her most recent work, “The Which Way Tree,” has been compared to classics like “True Grit.” In the book, she showcases the Texas frontier through the perspective of her young protagonist, a young girl on a quest to track the panther that killed her mother. Crook has all you could possibly need for readers in search of the highs and lows of meaningful adventure.
“Elegy on Toy Piano,” one of Dean Young's many collections of poetry, is as captivating as it is fun to say. Young has released over 15 poetry collections. Faced with the possibility of death from a 2011 heart transplant, a lot of Young’s work tackles existential topics like death and misunderstanding. His work allows readers to deal with the topics they may be hesitant to take on.
Be sure to support these authors by purchasing their books online and at local bookstores like BookPeople, Black Pearl Books and Malvern Books. Also, keep an eye out for upcoming news and events from the Texas Book Festival to get event more great insight from locally-based writers.
Contributed by Jade Fabello
Jade Fabello is an Austin-based writer and a recent graduate of the University of Texas, where he was a double major in the Journalism and the Communication and Leadership programs. You can find his work at JadeFabello.com.
Instagram @Jade__Fab. Twitter: @Jade_FW