The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way many people approach entertainment and hobbies—particularly readers. While self-quarantine provides more opportunities to zoom through pages, the social aspect of the activity is missing. Many book clubs have been temporarily halted as have authors’ speaking engagements and press tours. The Big Texas Read, a virtual book club, aims to bring discourse back to reading while paying homage nationally acclaimed and burgeoning writers with Texas roots.
The book club was launched by Blake Kimzey, the executive director of Writing Workshops Dallas; Alexandra van de Kamp, director of Gemini Ink, a literary arts studio in San Antonio; and David Samuel Levinson, the San Antonio-based writer of Tell Me How This Ends Well. “I’m excited that we can migrate the literary ecosystem in some small way online,” Kimzey says.
The initial mission for TBTR was for its 300 participants to read one work of prose every one to two months, until the pandemic ended. However, as a result of the successful reception the book club has received, the founders decided to continue the series beyond the scope of COVID-19. TBTR meets via Zoom every two weeks, and allows members to engage with the featured authors live.
“One of the things we all love about Texas is the diverse population of writers in our state,” Kimzey says. “So, we thought it would be a really unique opportunity to feature all these distinct voices in our state. As soon as we started reaching out to people, they were enthusiastic.” The trio brainstormed a list of authors from varying backgrounds, particularly those from underrepresented groups. “We’re really going to showcase the many kinds of writers that Texas has,” Levinson adds.
Levinson’s Tell Me How This Ends Well was the first book featured in TBTR, and forthcoming highlighted books include The Dime and The Burn by Dallas novelist Kathleen Kent, With The River on Our Face by McAllen-based 2020 Texas Poet Laureate Emmy Pérez, and When You Learn the Alphabet from Dallas writer Kendra Allen.
While Austin and Houston are well-known for having thriving literary communities, TBTR has its sights set on featuring writers from El Paso, Lubbock, Brownsville, and Galveston, with the ultimate mission to become a major national platform for Texas writers.
Readers interested in joining TBTR can RSVP for the next virtual meeting here. The book club runs through 2020, offering plenty of time to research, read, and review. “I’m reading some books that I would not have read otherwise,” Kimzey says. “It’s helping me get out of my wheelhouse, and I think [that’s the same for] a lot of others too.”