November, 2009San Antonio’s Rick Riordan was awarded the festival’s prestigious Bookend Award at the annual Texas Book Festival.
Riordan, author of the five-part children’s series “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” is only the second children’s author to win the award, which is given for literary achievement, in the festival’s 14-year history. The other was Louis Sachar, author of “Holes.”
Other past winners of the award include “No Country for Old Men” author Cormac McCarthy and “The House on Mango Street” author and San Antonio resident Sandra Cisneros.
“I don’t think I’m in the same league as the other people who have won this award, but I am honored,” said Riordan, a former middle school teacher at Saint Mary’s Hall.
Clay Smith, the literary director for the Texas Book Festival, said Riordan was the consensus pick for the award by both the Adult and Children’s Author Selection committees.
“ ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ is this blockbuster series, but it also has personal elements,” Smith said. “As a writer, (Riordan) has this personal trajectory that relates to people really well.”
The “Percy Jackson” series, which began in 2005, wrapped up this year with the May release of “The Last Olympian.” Disney is producing a movie based on the first book in the series, “The Lightning Thief.” The movie is directed by “Harry Potter” director Chris Columbus and stars Uma Thurman, Pierce Brosnan, Catherine Keener and Rosario Dawson.
Riordan said he hasn’t seen the movie yet, but he unveiled the sword used in the film to an excited crowd.
“It is exactly as I imagined,” Riordan said of the sword.
The idea for the series, Riordan said, came after he ran out of Greek myths to read to his son as bedtime stories.
“Out of desperation, I had to make up a new (story),” Riordan said. “So I went with the old idea of the Greek heroes who were half-god and half-mortal, and I came up with the modern version of that. And that’s Percy Jackson.”
Riordan spoke along with Peter Lerangis, a fellow author of the “39 Clues,” a children’s series that Riordan created. Riordan also read a portion of the first book from his new series, which will come out in May and focus on Egyptian mythology.
Among the 220 other authors attending the festival were Margaret Atwood, author of the classic “The Handmaid’s Tale,” astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who spoke about the moon landing and his battle with personal demons after returning to Earth, and historian Taylor Branch, who spoke about his new book, “The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President.”
The festival also provided a wide array of entertainment. A performance by Kinky Friedman, a comedy-infused competition called “Literary Death Match” and a lecture by Christian Lander showcased the lighter side of the festival.
Lander, the author of “Stuff White People Like” and the blog of the same title, chronicled his meteoric rise over six months from the time of the idea’s conception to the New York Times Best-seller List. Lander described “Stuff White People Like” as “a mix between cultural anthropology and the horrible truth.”
Speakers today include “The Glass Castle” author Jeanette Walls, presidential historian Douglas Brinkley and Kurt Elchenwald, author of “The Informant.”
The Texas Book Festival was started in 1995 by then-Texas first lady Laura Bush, a former librarian. Since then, the festival, which promotes literacy, has awarded $2.3 million in grants to public libraries. Bush also began the National Book Festival in Washington in 2001.