How fitting that Ector County’s first book festival included such a rich cast of characters.
Robert Hollmann, the local author of westerns and children’s books about Texas historical figures, who dressed head to toe in a buckskin pioneer outfit.
David Berger, the high school teacher from Florida who published his first book after 25 years of writing — a science fiction story of Greek gods in modern times.
And 67-year-old Troy Buck, who finished writing his book “The Vigilante Grannies” in prison last year, and who was flanked at Ector County Library on Saturday by a marketing team in gray wigs.
About 40 authors attended the Books in the Basin festival, and its success exceeded organizers’ expectations. By noon, an hour into the festival, the library’s headcount surpassed its daily average.
Organizers decided to launch a book festival after the success of last year’s One Book Odessa, according to Randy Ham, department coordinator and vice president of Friends of Ector County Library. They sought Texas authors, a variety works and steady children’s programming.
“It’s a great first effort for Odessa,” Cynthia Clack, a local publisher whose clients include Buck, said. “And I think it will just get bigger and better.”
Individual authors discussed their books and writing processes. Alpine’s Chris Ruggia discussed “Jack: Adventures in Texas’ Big Bend,” a comedy-adventure comic book about a jack rabbit. Ruggia was one of about 15 self-published authors at the festival.
The Children’s Corner presented speakers like Hollmann, whose series on Texan heroes blends history and make-believe. The one he wrote about Jim Bowie, for example, is narrated by a puppy Bowie rescues from an alligator.
There were panel discussions too, such as the Pigskin and Prose session, which became a meditation about the role sports play in Texas identity and culture. The authors on that panel were Joe Nick Patoski and D.J. Stout, both former staffers of Texas Monthly. An excerpt of their conversation, from Patoski on football: “We didn’t invent this game. But certainly, at least on a high school level, we own it.”
The featured author of the book festival was Karen Valby of Austin, whose book “Welcome to Utopia” presents a story of life in a small-town (that is actually named Utopia, located in south-central Texas) that The Dallas Morning News favorably reviewed as “a rich portrait of a community, bound by tradition and grief, sickness and success, and most of all, a commitment to one another.”
Valby discussed her reporting in Utopia at Ector County Theater, before a screening of “The Last Picture Show” that capped the event.
“I’m moved by the notion of coming from a small town because it’s just so grounding,” Valby said.
The festival marked the beginning of the library’s 75th anniversary celebration. Ham said the library hopes the year will bring plans for improvement, such as a new building or a new branch.
The art community here is growing with the booming local economy, with increased support for organizations like the Permian Playhouse and the Ellen Noël Art Museum, Ham said. The library wants to be sure that more literary involvement is part of that growth.
The festival supported that, Ham said, attracting patrons while showcasing services and local works. “Having a group of authors like this come to the library is a really powerful statement about the importance of the library.”