National Book Awards at SHSU: 2018

by Bianca Saldierna

The National Book Awards Festival returned to Sam Houston State University this April as part of an annual tradition. The NBAF–sponsored by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing, Editing, and Publishing, and spearheaded by Amanda Nowlin-Obanion–brought three recent NBA finalist and winners to our university.

This year, Lisa Ko, Danez Smith, and Jason Reynolds joined us for a reception and a mainstage reading & discussion which was free and open to the public. Jason Reynolds, a New York Times bestselling author, was the 2016 Finalist in Young People’s Literature for his book Ghost and the 2017 Finalist for his book Long Way Down.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, National Book Awards at SHSU, Jason Reynolds

Danez Smith was the 2017 Finalist in poetry for Don’t Call Us Dead. Lisa Ko, was the 2017 Finalist in Fiction for her book The Leavers.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, National Book Awards at SHSU, Lisa Ko

The LEAP Ambassadors are always honored to have the opportunity to meet inspiring and talented people such as these authors.

For the reception, Beatriz and I joined the visiting authors and several important and well-known community and university figures such as President Dana Hoyt, Mayor Andy Brauninger, Provost Dick Eglsaer, Vice Provost Mary Robbins, Dean Phillip Lyons, and LEAP’s life-long friends, the Woodwards! Throughout the evening, we enjoyed the delicious finger food and interesting conversations that echoed through the room. Certainly, attending to the reception served us well, as we are a few weeks away from graduation and we needed people who inspired us to live our lives more fully and creatively!

Thank you to the organizers for all their hard work and for giving us the opportunity to attend share an evening with them.


Talking History with Stephen Harrigan

by Brian Aldaco

Not long ago, the LEAP Ambassadors traveled to Austin, TX, and interviewed Best Selling Author, Stephen Harrigan, which Michael Foster’s wonderful crew turned into video trailer for Let’s Talk.

Already having a relationship with Harrigan and knowing much about him, we were looking forward to visiting with him again.

The Ambassadors, along with bright students interested in hearing from Mr. Harrigan, gathered at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Holcombe Room. With a wonderful top-floor view of campus, we shared and insightful conversation with Mr. Harrigan. We were familiar with his Texas Historical Fiction works and were already amazed by his writing.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Stephen Harrigan, Gates of the Alamo

However, his latest project had us all captivated; a multi-volume collection of Texas’s History commissioned by UT Press.  The book isn’t yet out–in April he was working on the 1970s and 1980s–but UT Press did release what amounts to a preview of the book, “They Came From the Sky.”

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Stephen Harrigan, Gates of the Alamo, They Came From the Sky

Through our conversation we were granted a glimpse of the amazing stories of our state’s past this new project will include. From comical anecdotes, like Eastland’s Old RIP, to the tragedies that have also shaped Texas, such as Charles Whitman’s UT shooting, Mr. Harrigan provided an in-depth overview of some of the most interesting events throughout the years.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Stephen Harrigan, Gates of the Alamo

Our now fully accomplished guest also shared his reputation-building experience from when he was a young writer in Austin. He mentioned that when he sent his first article proposal, he was amazed when the magazine publishers accepted it. Although he was shocked, he eventually wrote his article and a month later received his first writing pay-check from none other than “Rolling Stone.”

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Stephen Harrigan, Gates of the Alamo

We were all thankful that we got a chance to speak with Mr. Harrigan. After we finished our conversation, we grabbed our copies of his latest publication “They Came from the Sky” (a preview of his soon to come history of Texas) and asked for the author’s autograph. The LEAPsters will wait in anticipation for his epic publication , but there was no need to say a definite goodbye to Mr. Harrigan as we would see him later that day at SHSU’s Let’s Talk.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Stephen Harrigan, Gates of the Alamo

Crime and Punishment: With Kathryn Casey in Houston

With a busy couple of weeks ahead of us, we decided to take a Friday-night opportunity for a trip to Houston to meet an interesting author known for her Texas true crime books.

Five LEAP Ambassadors traveled to Houston for a presentation and book signing by Kathryn Casey, a mystery and true crime author, at Murder by the Book. Over the course of her career, she has authored seven highly acclaimed true crime books.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Murder by the Book, Kathryn Casey, In Plain Sight

I was one of the few who had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Casey on a previous occasion. She was a featured guest at SHSU’s Let’s Talk event in 2016, and I had collected some of her books, including one about the I-45 murders.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Let's Talk,, Kathryn Casey

On Friday, she discussed her newest book, In Plain Sight: The Kaufman County Prosecutor Murders.  The title refers to the unprecedented murders of two prosecutors and a prosecutor’s wife in Kaufman County in 2013.

She describes the small town of Kaufman as a small and quiet town where everyone knows each other. Suddenly the quiet town was thrown into chaos when the County Assistant District Attorney, Mark Hasse, was killed outside the county courthouse. A month later the District Attorney Mike McClelland and his wife were brutally killed in their own home.

Kathryn Casey decided to tackle this story and write a book about it. This prompted moving to Kaufman and doing extensive research on the murders. She described her experience in Kaufman and the extensive challenges she faced until she was able to make connections in the community, speak with different people, and gain unique access to the story.  She described her research as comprising of over 100 interviews, including interviews with Eric Williams and his wife, both of whom were convicted of murder.

After a great conversation with Ms. Casey, in which she mixed gravity, seriousness, and even a little humor…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Murder by the Book, Kathryn Casey, In Plain Sight

…we headed to Kenny & Ziggy’s for dinner. We expanded our horizons this time with a New York Delicatessen Restaurant. It was certainly a special treat to have dinner at an authentic third generation deli. When we arrived we were surprised and slightly overwhelmed by their menu. Personally, it was the biggest menu I’ve ever seen! Some of us went for the hot dogs while others went for specialty sandwiches. Everyone’s food was amazing and we ended up voting it one of our favorites!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Murder by the Book, Kathryn Casey, In Plain Sight

LEAP Hosts Author James Reston, Jr.

The LEAP Ambassadors are hosting journalist James Reston, Jr. this week.  In the spirit of the LEAP’s interdisciplinary mission, Reston will speak to Dr. Melissa Mednicov’s “Modern Art” class, to an audience at Brazos Bookstore (in Houston), to a group of students in a studio production, and at our heART of Huntsville program.

His appearance is timed with the release of his latest book, “A Rift in the Earth,” which the New York Times called “superb” and Ken Burns called “extraordinary.”  The book addresses the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the controversy over Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial Wall.

Prior to his main events on campus, he enjoyed a dinner with the LEAP Ambassadors at 1836…

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, James Reston Jr

…where he discussed his cameo in “Frost/Nixon,” which was based on his book, his work on Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre, and other interesting topics.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, James Reston Jr

An Evening with Author Wendy Walker

With school still more than a week away, the LEAP Ambassadors still have time for some fun learning before the semester gets underway.  So, six LEAP Ambassadors and friends traveled to Houston to visit Murder by the Book and enjoy a presentation by author (and family-law attorney) Wendy Walker.Wendy Walker, Emma in the Night, SHSU, LEAP Center

Ms. Walker has written several books, but her reputation as a writer was largely established with the publication of “All is Not Forgotten.” The book, addressing “memory science” and the affect that it can have on personality and the legal system, was a hit, and it prompted Walker to adopt a similar theme for her latest, “Emma in the Night.”  By “similar theme,” we don’t mean to suggest that she wrote “All is not Forgotten” part 2; rather, she is continuing her exploration of how cognitive or personality disorders can play out in families and in the legal system.

In “Emma,” Walker explores Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  As Walker notes, her books are a mix of psychology, family relationships, crime, and the legal system, and that is a good description of “Emma in the Night.”  It’s an engaging book.  In fact, it is so engaging, it has even prompted to Christina to read it!

Walker did a fine job of describing the book and her career at Murder By the Book.

Wendy Walker, Emma in the Night, SHSU, LEAP Center

She discussed her various careers, her slowish path to becoming an attorney, and—most interestingly—her foray into writing.  Her first books didn’t sell well (“friends and family”), and her agent told her to adopt a new approach to her plots.  Taking a step back, inspired by a NY Times article on memory science, and working more closely with her agent, she produced “All is not Forgotten.”  With that hit—and the film rights picked up by Reese Witherspoon—Walker got the sales and publicity needed to become a full-time writer.

Wendy Walker, Emma in the Night, SHSU, LEAP Center

Walker was more engaging than most authors, and she was particularly gracious in reaching out to us during her presentation, asking us what we were studying, what interested us, and thanking us for coming.

Wendy Walker, Emma in the Night, SHSU, LEAP Center

We had time for a nice group photo…

Wendy Walker, Emma in the Night, SHSU, LEAP Center

–she even indulged us in a selfie–

Wendy Walker, Emma in the Night, SHSU, LEAP Center

…and she spent time discussing her travels and career after her presentation.

We thought about inviting her to dinner with us, but she had previously mentioned her crazy book-tour schedule, and we didn’t want to impinge upon her sleep availability further.  So we headed off to Azuma on our own, to continue to expand our cultural horizons with six types of sushi!

It was also a chance for us to catch up—four of us work full-time, two of us work part-time—and to begin some preliminary plans for our trip to Big Bend National Park next week as well as the beginning of the fall semester.

The night was a nice break from the summer job grind, and many thanks to Wendy Walker for an educational and entertaining evening!