Literary City Guide | Austin, TX
Tour Guide: Shelby Wardlaw
Relationship to Austin: I moved to Austin when I was 14 years old, and have lived here ever since.
Writer you'd like to invite to dinner: Zadie Smith, hands down. I recently saw her read at the Michener Center Reading Series and she was so real and so genuine. I would have to pull out all the stops on the cooking.
Chef you'd like to prepare the meal: Paul Qui. He’s one of Austin’s celebrity chefs!
Writing soundtrack: Fleet Foxes
Pen or Pencil: Pencil, mechanical
Coffee or Tea: Tea, green.
Paperback or Hardback: Paperback, I like the flexibility.
Book People. The biggest independent bookstore in town and a hub of Austin literary life.
Farewell Books. A new indie bookstore on the trendy East Side. Go here to browse and you’ll leave with an armful of artsy, off-the-beaten-path fiction and photography books. Also zines. So many zines.
Malvern Books. An alternative bookstore that hosts poetry readings and book groups on Finnegan’s Wake. Right near UT campus.
Austin Public Library. The city's library system features e-books, multiple locations, reading series and book clubs: Austin’s libraries are very active on the scene.
LBJ Library. The presidential library located right in the heart of Austin on UT’s campus. The exhibits here have been recently re-vamped with interactive elements and a stunning amount of historical material.
READINGS & CONFERENCES
Michener Center Reading Series. The Michener Center for Writers draws some of the best contemporary authors to Austin each year for its reading series: Colm Toibin, Zadie Smith, Denis Johnson, and Elizabeth McCracken (who works at UT), and that’s only the line-up from last year.
Texas Writer's Conference. The Writer’s League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference consists of three days of panels, workshops, and agent meetings.
Book People. The most consistent source for author readings. Anyone coming through Austin on a book tour makes a stop at BookPeople.
Austin Bat Cave. This wonderful non-profit provides free after school writing programs for kids and teens. They also host a monthly fundraiser called Story Department, an oral storytelling event at Home Slice Pizza on South Congress. Good eats, good stories, good cause.
Texas Book Festival. Held every fall in Austin, this festival hosts around 250 authors in and around the beautiful state capitol building. Activities include discussions, panels, readings, and book signings.
The Harry Ransom Center. UT’s prodigious literary collection includes over 800,000 volumes of printed material, including a Gutenberg Bible, a first edition of Alice and Wonderland and James Joyce’s Ulysses. Author’s libraries are a specialty of the Ransom Center. Among their many holdings, they boast the collections of E.E. Cummings, Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden, James Joyce, Anne Sexton, and David Foster Wallace.
Brew and Brew. Coffee and beer aficionados flock to this well-located coffee shop downtown.
Spiderhouse. I used to play hooky here in high school, back before it became a music venue and raised its prices. Still, it is a classic Old Austin hang-out, with beat-up iron furniture, twinkle lights, and mismatched mugs. A great place to sit and read for a few hours between literary events.
Cherrywood Coffeehouse. An East Austin coffee shop that also hosts live music and free yoga several times a week. Hipsters abound.
A PROPER MEAL
Curra's Grill. Solid Tex-Mex cuisine with an Old Austin vibe. Get the avocado margarita if you are feeling decadent.
Tacodeli & Tochy's. Do I have to pick one? Taco places are ubiquitous in Austin, but Tacodeli and Torchy's are two of the best and, consequently, the most popular places. There are multiple locations, so you can probably find one in any part of town. At Tacodeli, I recommend The Otto taco; at Torchy’s, you have to try the Fried Avocado.
Franklin's BBQ. I have to plug one of Austin’s most hyped BBQ places. It won’t disappoint…unless you’re a vegetarian.
Lenoir. For a fancy night out, check out the husband and wife chef team at this boutique restaurant in the hip South First Street district. It may be a stretch for your wallet, but their prices are nothing compared to what you’d pay in New York or L.A. for a high quality meal. Your stomach will thank you later.
Ramen Tatsu-Ya. We’re not all about tacos and barbeque here, folks. This ramen place is popular, affordable, and delicious. Buy one bowl and you’ll take half of it home for leftovers.
Photos by Whitney Arostegui
Lick. Lick is a new-ish ice cream shop in South Austin. I was skeptical at first – this place got a lot of hype and I wasn’t so sure it could live up to expectations. I was wrong. Lick’s local dairy ice cream is crisp and imaginatively flavored, with delicious offerings such as dark chocolate with olive oil and sea salt, and goat cheese, thyme and honey. Don’t roll your eyes: it’s worth it.
Thai Fresh. A Thai food restaurant/coffee shop, this laid back co-op makes amazing pastries. Their richly flavored vegan ice creams are made in-house and include Thai Basil, Salty Tamarind, and Ginger Lemongrass.
Quack's. A local Hyde Park bakery that has only gotten better over the years. Quack’s is a classic central Austin spot for scrumptious baked goods. Their blueberry pie is a must.
Shelby's 5 Favorites
1. Favorite view: Mount Bonnell, preferably at sunrise. Hike the limestone stairs to the top of this historic lookout and take in the view as the light gradually seeps into the landscape. On one side, you will see Lake Austin winding placidly by, backed by stunning Texas hill country. On the other side, gaze out on the shiny island of Austin’s downtown skyline, complete with cranes, the symbols of the city’s current growth.
2. Favorite place to write: My home desk that faces our front windows. Occasionally I need the ambient background noise of a quiet coffee shop, and then I head to the Flightpath Coffeehouse (also a favorite haunt of the writer ZZ Packer).
3. Favorite museum: The Blanton Museum of Art, the University of Texas’s art museum, is an obvious choice. They host wonderful traveling exhibits, and often will bring out masterpieces from UT’s own archive. A dark horse among Austin’s museums, but one of my personal favorites, is the Elisabet Ney Museum. Ney’s former studio is a large limestone fortress that is hidden inside Austin’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The museum houses many stunning pieces of sculpture, most of which were created after Ney moved to Austin in 1892.
4. Favorite coffee shop: Epoch Coffee (open 24/7, for late-night or early-morning bouts of inspiration) or Bouldin Creek (their vegan and vegetarian fare makes the perfect snack to treat yourself after hitting that word count).
5. Favorite thing about Austin: Can “the people” count as one thing? There are over a million people residing in Austin, and a significant percentage of them are awesome. Austinites are creative and curious. When gathered together, they create a hum of innovation that makes the city thrive.