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San Antonio Book Festival Staff Pick

When: Sat., April 7, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. 2018
Price: Free
The San Antonio Book Festival (SABF), put on by the San Antonio Public Library Foundation and a host of sponsors, is now in its sixth year. And, while it’s not a baby anymore, it still has a bit of growing to do. The one-day literary onslaught, which boasts a little something for readers of every age group and interest, has brought in some fantastic authors and hosted some thoughtful and enriching panels over the years. It also has enjoyed consistently increasing attendance numbers, though gains have become more modest in recent years. From year one to year two, and from year two to year three, SABF saw its attendance double: from 4,000 attendees to 8,000, and then to 16,000 in year three. But this rapid growth quickly trailed off, with year four attendance at 18,000 and year five at 20,000. This year’s attendance is expected to be about the same as last year’s, which means the festival is at a point where, with attendance numbers threatening to plateau, it must keep its established excellence, while looking for new ways to grow its reach. We caught up with SABF literary director Clay Smith last week to chat about his role in planning the fest, particular points of interest in this year’s programming, and the difficulties in building a robust book festival from scratch in a city that has never had one. Smith, who also serves as editor-in-chief of Austin’s renowned publication Kirkus Reviews and was the former literary director of the Texas Book Festival — a more established affair, which has been running since 1996 — told the Current “it has been a joy to be involved with SABF from the beginning, because I’ve been able to see it grow and help foster that growth ... On the flipside,” Smith said, “it can be a unique challenge, because we are still in a stage of development where we have to really show people what a book festival can be.” In his role, which is very much a curatorial one, Smith considers trends in the publishing industry, but more importantly thinks about the ideas and issues that are of concern to San Antonio, and then tries to bring “authors that are writing thoughtfully about those ideas and issues.” “As a curator,” he explained, “you have to be really open to the idea that you don’t know everything — you have to be open to the possibility of an author submission or a direction of thinking changing what you thought was your plan.” Smith knows that there is still work to be done in growing the SABF. “I really think that a lot of people think it’s like some version of the book fairs they remember from elementary school or something,” he mused. Apart from logistical considerations like finding ways to grow the festival’s footprint and increasing year-round educational outreach, Smith said it is imperative to get the word out that this is “not merely a book sale, nor is it a lecture series, but it is a real chance for education and engagement.”


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