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Authors Invited to Texas Book Festival

By Cheryl Joy Allman/Staff Writer
The Huntsville Item

For the first time ever, Huntsville will be represented by two authors at the Texas Book Festival in Austin this weekend.

James Olson
James Olson

Held on the grounds of the Texas Capitol Building, the festival features a select group of Texas-based authors who are chosen to participate in the festival.

James R. Olson, distinguished professor and chair of the Department of History at Sam Houston State University, and Paul D. Ruffin, professor of English at SHSU, editor of the Texas Review and director of the Texas Review Press, will be reading and signing books at this year's festival.

Ruffin said the fact that two authors were chosen from the Huntsville area is a big honor for the university and for Huntsville.

Paul Ruffin
Paul Ruffin

Featured authors for the festival are selected by an Author Selection Committee, members of which screen books submitted by publishers. All authors must have Texas connections and have recent original books or significant reprints, and they must, according to the committee, "enable the festival's program to reflect the richness and diversity of the state's heritage,"

"It's the first time we've ever had anybody from Huntsville as a featured writer," Ruffin said Tuesday. "They (committee members) look over books, and if they think they're good enough, and will sell and all that, they invite you. The people who participate are chosen by the committee to represent Texas as featured authors. I count it as a big honor."

Olson agrees.

"I'm sort of humbled to be in this company," he said Tuesday. "There are lots of top-notch people (in the festival). That's a real credit to the university, I think."

The festival, started by now-first lady Laura Bush during her husband's term as governor of Texas, is in its fifth year and draws participants and audiences from all over the state.

"It's been going strong and building every year," Ruffin said.

"It's a grand occasion, there are literally thousands of people, good food, ... readings in the Capitol Building. ... It's really fantastic. I love going over there."

Besides feeling honored, Olson said he is excited about reading at the festival.

"I've had a lot of experience doing this," he said, "but there's a big difference this time."

Olson said the most exciting thing about being in front of a Texas audience is their knowledge of Texas history and their natural passion for all things Texan.

"History clings to Texans like Spanish moss to a Louisiana oak tree," he said. Informing Texans about their history is not an issue, and their questions and comments reflect that, he said.

"I don't think there's another place in the country, except maybe Utah and the Mormon experience, where the people of the region have such a collective identity," he said.

While Olson's most recent book, "A Line in the Sand: The Alamo in Blood and Memory," which received the Deolece Parmelee Prize of the Texas Historical Foundation, earned him a place in this year's festival, he also will be reading from his 1996 publication, "John Wayne, American," which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography and won the Ray and Pat Browne National Book Award of the Popular Culture Association.

In spite of rave reviews and a host of awards, the first-time festival participant is clear about his personal desire to write.

"I'm a writer," he said. "This is what I do. I don't need to do this. I love it."

Ruffin, who has attended the festival twice before as director of the Texas Review Press and has signed copies of his books in the past, said this is his first year to be a featured author at the event, and he is pleased to be asked to read in this year's festival. He said it means good exposure for the university as well as for him personally.

"You'll have big time writers right there with the little people," he said. "I'm lucky enough to be selected to read as well.

"We'll have breakfast with the governor and his wife, Barnes and Noble will throw a party, ... and people really do buy a lot of books over there."

SHSU and the Texas Review Press, a member of the Texas A&M University Press Consortium, gain good exposure alongside other larger Texas universities like the University of Texas, Texas Christian University and the University of North Texas.

"It's really good for the press to be represented, whether I'm a feature author or not," he said.

Olson has authored many books on U.S. and world history. In 1987, his "Dictionary of the Viet Nam War" received the Outstanding Book Award of the American Association of College and Research Libraries; the AACRL similarly recognized Olson's 1989 book, "The History of Cancer."

In the spring of 2002, Johns Hopkins University Press will publish Olson's book, "Bathsheba's Breast: Women, Cancer, and History."

Olson will participate in a panel, "Great Moments in Texas History," in the Capitol Building at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday and will sign copies of his books at 2:15 p.m.

Ruffin is the author of four collections of poetry, the latest of which, "Circling," won the 1997 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Poetry Award.

Two collections of widely acclaimed short stories, "The Man Who Would Be God" and "Islands, Women, and God," currently are available to readers. His novel, "Pompeii Man," set on the Mississippi Coast and in New Orleans, will be released by Louisiana Literature Press (Southeastern Louisiana University) in January.

Ruffin, who has edited or co-edited eight other books, has published poetry, fiction and essays widely in such journals and magazines as "Southern Review," "Michigan Quarterly Review," "Alaska Quarterly Review" and "Southern Living."

Several of his pieces also appear in national college textbooks.

Ruffin will participate in a panel, "The Short of It: Story Collections," in the Capitol Building at 1:15 p.m. on Sunday and sign his books at 2:45 p.m. He will read from "Islands, Women, and God" at 2 p.m. on Saturday in the reading tent on the Capitol grounds.

Listed among the 2001 festival's featured authors are Kinky Friedman, Molly Ivins, Elmer Kelton and Tom Wolfe.

- END -

SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
Nov. 14, 2001
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