Q&A with San Antonio Book Festival Director Katy Flato

Armed with practical expertise from founding partner the Texas Book Festival, valuable resources from the San Antonio Public Library Foundation, 300 dedicated volunteers, partnerships with the Southwest School of Art, the Las Casas Foundation and others, the San Antonio Book Festival is upping the ante of its inaugural run last year. Boasting 90 authors, a wide range of engaging panels, a giant literary marketplace, food trucks, kids’ activities, live music, tapings for C-SPAN and a presentation by Jane Pauley, the packed, one-day fest is flexing some serious literary muscle to get the Alamo City inspired and reading. SABF Director Katy Flato (former managing editor of Texas Monthly) spoke to the Current about festival highlights, from its educational outreach to the Literary Death Match.

Do you miss journalism?

I loved that job. You know, working with writers and learning something new every day and getting to ask a person questions you shouldn’t be able to ask them. ... Really it is exactly how I got into working as a volunteer for the Library Foundation and doing author events with them ... and out of that grew the Book Festival.

What goes into planning a festival of this size?

Thank goodness we are a program of the San Antonio Public Library Foundation ... We have them as our backbone. ... And really we learned so much from the Texas Book Festival, which is our founding partner. ... Anything that you can think of, we really got direction from them. ... We do have just a couple of paid people and the vision for the programming really comes from Clay Smith, who is our literary director [and] the editor at Kirkus. Clay grounds us in that whole portion of the festival, which really is the heart and soul of the festival— the authors. We have the CE Group, which is Janet Holliday’s company ... everything else is just this amazing team of volunteers. We have 300 volunteers. ... People really love and believe in this festival ... There are a lot of devoted and enthusiastic believers.

What sort of response did you get from authors last year?

We had wonderful responses ... from Mexico, Seattle, New York, California and a great representation of local and regional authors as well. We [had] authors who brought their families and actually made it a vacation. We had this New Yorker writer, D.T. Max, [who] brought his family and said, “I love San Antonio. I love your festival. What can I do to help you spread the word to other authors?”

What can you tell us about the panels this year?

We’ve been very vigilant about covering certain themes that I feel are important to our community. In general those themes are: energy, the border, Latino voices, water, the military, biography and a lot of things that deal with sense of place. We probably have four different sessions [about] the military, everything from World War II to ... female writers writing about the cost of combat ... With biographies we have Johnny Cash, John Wayne, César Chávez, John Hay (Lincoln’s personal secretary) and Ann Richards.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading The Goldfinch [by Donna Tartt], which is a big fat book. It probably wasn’t the right thing to choose when I’m in the middle of all this, but it’s fantastic. ... Generally speaking I always have several books going at one time, which I don’t recommend to people, but it does happen.


Keep up with all of our San Antonio Book Festival coverage, here.

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