Tomás Rivera Award celebrates 20th anniversary

Assistant Lifestyle Editor

In 1995, a group of Texas State faculty members felt there was a need to promote multicultural books for the sake of the community.

Now, 20 years later, students and members of the community will come together this weekend to celebrate Mexican American children’s literature at the 20th annual Tomás Rivera Award Conference and Literature Fair.

Jesse Gainer, assistant professor in the College of Education and director of the fair, said the weekend would be dedicated to educating individuals on the importance of reading.

“We have two events that are associated with the Tomás Rivera Award, a conference and a fair,” Gainer said. “Because this year is the 20th anniversary, we are making it a special two-day event.”

Gainer said the first portion of the event took place Sept. 25 and featured an awards presentation by President Denise Trauth to honor Duncan Tonatiuh and Isabel Quintero, this year’s recipients.

The conference included speeches and presentations by several authors and illustrators who received the award in the past, Gainer said.

Gainer said 300 people attended the event.

“The conference portion of the event (had) 14 authors and illustrators who have won the Tomás Rivera Award in the past,” Gainer said.

The conference portion of the event featured a presentation from Carmen Tafolla, the poet laureate of Texas and Juan Herrera, U.S. poet laureate.

Gainer said both individuals had previously received the award.

“The position of poet laureate is an honorary selection of the best poet in whichever state or country they’re selected from,” Gainer said. “It’s really quite amazing that we are getting to have both the poet laureate of Texas and the United States as presenters.”

Gainer said the second portion of the event is open to everyone and features a variety of hands-on activities and free books.

“On Saturday—what all the flyers and promotions are about—is when the literature fair will take place,” Gainer said. “This day is directed (to) kids and parents of the community and whoever wants to come.”

The event will began this morning at 10 a.m. with a parade led by Mayor Daniel Guerrero, who declared Sept. 26 Tomás Rivera Children’s Book Award Day.

“Children participating will even dress up as characters from the award-winning books,” Gainer said.

Gainer said the fair features a diverse lineup of presentations, including readings of children’s poems and writings inspired by the winning novels.

Gainer said the award is named after Tomás Rivera, a distinguished alumnus of Texas State who was a migrant farmworker as a child.

“(Rivera) overcame obstacles and ended up being a highly distinguished Mexican-American writer, humanitarian and professor,” Gainer said.

Patrice Werner, associate dean for Teacher Education and Academic Affairs, said she was on the committee that started the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Book Award 20 years ago.

“We were a group of professors who taught reading for teachers and we like to use a lot of children’s literature for the course,” Werner said. “From that we noticed there wasn’t very much children’s literature that reflected the lives of Mexican-American children.”

Mary Esther Huerta, assistant professor of culture, literacy and language, said the event is a great way to recognize books that are relatable and show diversity.

“I got involved with the Tomás Rivera Book Award because there is a scarcity of literature that focuses on the accomplishments of the Mexican Americans,” Huerta said. “The book award not only showcases new literature but is a venue for authors and illustrators to show off their abilities.”

Gainer said the fair has something to offer everyone.

“I recommend attending the fair this Saturday because you can learn about some really great children’s literature, receive signed, award-winning books and even potentially become inspired to read and write more,” Gainer said.

Follow Sarah Bradley on Twitter @sarah_bradskies.