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Texas Book Festival apologizes for lack of diversity

Everyone knows Texas -- pronounced Teh-has in Spanish -- is becoming an increasingly Latino state. (It’s 38% Hispanic, according to the Census Bureau). Texas’ Hispanic future is a kind of running joke among demographers and political pundits. The other day, New York Times columnist Gail Collins pointed out that the Democratic strategy to take back the reins of government there is “waiting around for all the Hispanic children to grow up and start voting.”

Unfortunately, it seems no one pointed that out this year to the organizers of the Texas Book Festival.

The festival, to be held in Austin this weekend, will feature 230 authors, including  best-selling writer Reza Aslan, the legendary children’s author Lemony Snicket and novelist and short-story writer Sherman Alexie.

But book critic Gregg Barrios, a San Antonio resident and board member of the National Book Critics Circle, took a look at the list of invitees and felt slighted. He counted a mere 15 Latino authors, even fewer than last year, he said in an op-ed in the Texas Observer.

“To allow this egregious marginalization to continue into the second decade of the 21st century is not only reprehensible but unacceptable,” Barrios wrote. “Why hasn’t the festival’s overwhelmingly white board of directors and advisory committee bothered to ensure that the state’s fastest-growing demographic group … is adequately represented? Pardon my Tex-Mex roots, but are the festival gatekeepers even aware of the boom in Latina/o literature and its growing place in American literature?”

Barrios went on to list several authors he felt should have been invited and who’ve recently published new books, including: San Antonio resident Sandra Cisneros, California writer Tim Z. Hernandez, Richard Rodriguez (who has a new memoir out) and Marie Arana, who authored an acclaimed biography of Simon Bolivar.

In response, festival Literary Director Steph Opitz offered a mea culpa.

“I, too, am disappointed that there is not more diversity in this year’s line-up,” Opitz wrote in a letter to the Texas Observer published Tuesday. Opitz said her “late hiring” had prevented many invitations to Latino authors from going out on time, but added: “In any event, there’s really no excuse.”

hector.tobar@latimes.com

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