What not to miss at the festival
What would induce someone to give up a day off to volunteer for Texas Book Festival? Probably not the official volunteer T-shirt. TBF uniforms feature a different classy color each year, along with, alas, the customary tubelike fit. Those of us who fall between the intended-for-guys sizes can select one of two silhouettes: "shrink wrap" or "rectangle". If Stacy and Clinton from What Not to Wear ever spot me in my festival knitwear, they're sure to follow up with a WNTW Volunteer Edition.
On the plus side, volunteer shirts qualify you for impressive perks. The wearer is immediately identified with one of the nation's top literary events--instant prestige. Even if you haven't published a novel, discovered the next new voice in fiction, or escorted a famous author around the Capitol grounds yet, your apparel proclaims that you are Part of It All. To avoid getting an important writer lost en route to the book signing tent, I have elected not to escort. Selling logo merchandise in the tents has been fun in previous years, but this time I went for my dream job: Capitol Monitor.
CMs basically consult their festival schedules to confirm program times; point out restrooms; check for open beverages; record attendance; and watch the doors once seating capacity has been attained. I'm not sure which aspect of Capitol Monitoring I appreciated most. For one thing, being a CM means that you are in the capitol, and I am a major fan of that gorgeous edifice. Opening the House Chamber portal to let in latecomers, I turned the same doorknob that generations of legendary Texans reached for in their own comings and goings.
The "monitor" part is also rewarding, though, because CMs remain on hand throughout the program. Thus, I witnessed former Rolling Stone writer Jancee Dunn's response to a delightful panel discussion question. To an audience member's inquiry of which musical mega-star was the nicest, Ms. Dunn instantly named Barry White. A chorus of "Ohhhhh, Barry White!" erupted from attendees and panelists, and the briefest of Barry White love-fests played out before the session could resume.
Later, during Taylor Branch's Clinton Tapes program in the House Chamber, I managed to stop gaping at those vintage star-shaped chandeliers long enough to enjoy both the author's commentary and the range of Q&A topics posed by listeners. One gentleman was two spaces too far back in the question queue; the author had to leave in order to keep his appointment at the autograph tent. Graciously accepting that his queries would go unasked for the present, the young man told me what he'd wanted to say. Both points were excellent, and now I'm curious about them, as well.
I need to check out Branch's new book, hoping that the answers are within--and also pencil in Texas Book Festival on my 2010 calendar. The T-shirt is inevitable, but at least I can wear cute shoes.