Genre Session Leaders


Salima Alikhan (Picture Book/Middle Grade/Young Adult) has created covers and interior illustrations for Kahani and Confetti magazines. She collaborated with the Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta, Georgia, to turn her award-winning artwork into a planetarium show. Alikhan is the illustrator of Rocky Mountain Night Before Christmas and The Pied Piper of Austin. She resides in Austin, Texas.    


Christopher Brown (Science Fiction and Fantasy) is the author of Tropic of Kansas, a novel forthcoming in 2017 from Harper Voyager. He was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for the anthology Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including MIT Technology Review’s Twelve Tomorrows, The Baffler, and Stories for Chip. He lives in Austin, Texas, where he also practices technology law.


Chris Cander (Historical Fiction) is the author of Whisper Hollow and 11 Stories and a storyteller with many outlets: writing novels, children's books, articles, essays, and screenplays, and teaching for Houston-based Writers in the Schools (WITS), which engages children in the pleasure and power of reading and writing. She well knows that the pen is mightier than the sword, but she's willing to wield one of those, too. A former fitness competitor and model, she currently holds a second dan in taekwondo.   


Brian Contine (General Fiction) is a Sales Manager for Penguin adult sales and sells to independent bookstores in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Prior to taking his position at Penguin, he worked at The University of Texas Press, where he spent time working in Sales, Marketing & Publicity, Editorial (acquisitions), and the Director’s Office. He began his bookselling career at BookPeople Bookstore, where he managed the floor for a number of years. He runs a public discussion of literature called The Voyage Out Book Group, which has been meeting the last Sunday of each month at BookPeople for the past eight years. He lives in Austin with his wife and two boys.   


Kate Winkler Dawson (Nonfiction) joined the University of Texas at Austin's School of Journalism as a senior lecturer in 2009. Before then, she was on the faculty of Fordham University's Marymount College for two years. A seasoned documentary producer, news writer and TV news producer, her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, United Press International in London, WCBS News, ABC News Radio, Fox News Channel, “PBS NewsHour” and “Nightline.” She's on the board of the Texas Center for Actual Innocence and lives in Austin, Texas with her family. Her debut book, Death in the Air, will be published in October.


Walt Gragg (Mystery/Thriller) is an attorney and former state prosecutor. He is a Vietnam veteran, who served at United States European Headquarters in Germany, where the idea for his debut novel The Red Line took shape. Being privy to the actual American plan for the conduct of the defense of Germany, and having participated in a number of war games while in Germany, gave Gragg the knowledge and experience to lend authenticity to many of the novel's events.      


James L. Haley (Historical Fiction) is an award-winning historian and author of numerous books on Texas and Western history, as well as several works of fiction, including The Buffalo War, which has been in print for thirty-nine years and remains the definitive history of the final war of the Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne Indians against Anglo domination; the multiple award winning biography Sam Houston; and Wolf: The Lives of Jack London; among others. Haley’s work has garnered many awards, including two Spur Awards (2002 and 2011) from the Western Writers of America. The Shores of Tripoli is the first thrilling installment in his new nineteenth-century American naval fiction series.   


Donna M. Johnson (Memoir) is the author of Holy Ghost Girl, a memoir deemed “enthralling” by the New York Times and “compulsively readable” by Texas Monthly. The book made the Memoirs We Love list twice and took top honors at the Books for a Better Life Awards in New York. Donna’s work has appeared in several anthologies as well as the Huffington Post, Shambhala Sun, The Rumpus, Psychology Today and other publications. She is currently at work on a second memoir as well as a journalistic project.


Alison Macor (Nonfiction) is the author of Rewrite Man: The Life and Career of Screenwriter Warren Skaaren (a Publishers Weekly Staff Pick) and the award-winning Chainsaws, Slackers, and Spy Kids: Thirty Years of Filmmaking in Austin, Texas. Shes also a freelance writer and former film critic for The Austin Chronicle and the Austin American-Statesman. She holds a Ph.D. in Radio-TV-Film from the University of Texas at Austin and has taught film courses at the University of Texas, Austin Community College, and the Austin Museum of Art. She lives in Austin with her husband and son.


Sometime around sixth grade, Cory Putman Oakes (Picture Book/Middle Grade/Young Adult) had to face the sad truth that being a heroine in a Madeleine L'Engle book was not a valid career choice. Since then, she graduated from UCLA and Cornell Law School, worked as an associate at a big law firm, and taught at Texas State University. She finally decided that writing books was the best alternative to living in them. Cory is the author of The Veil, Dinosaur Boy, Dinosaur Boy Saves Mars, and Witchtown. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and kids.


Ex-cocktail waitress, ex-librarian, and unrepentant English major, Rebecca Schwarz (Science Fiction and Fantasy) is a mild-mannered editorial assistant for a scientific journal by day. By night, she writes science fiction and fantasy stories. Her work has appeared in Interzone, Podcastle, and Daily Science Fiction. She is currently writing her first novel.


Clay Smith (Memoir) is the editor in chief of Kirkus Reviews, an American book review magazine founded in 1933. Clay is the former literary director of the Texas Book Festival and a former editor and writer for the Sundance Film Festival website. He is a graduate of the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at New York University's graduate journalism school.


Lee Thomas (Mystery/Thriller) is the Bram Stoker Award and two-time Lambda Literary Award-winning author of Stained, The Dust of Wonderland, The German, Torn, Ash Street, and Like Light for Flies. His latest novels are Butcher’s Road, Down on Your Knees, and Distortion.


Sherry Thomas (Romance) writes both historical romance and young adult fantasy. On the romance side, she is one of the most acclaimed authors working in the genre today, her books regularly receiving starred reviews and best-of-the-year honors from trade publications. She is also a two-time winner of Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award. On the young adult fantasy side, her debut book, The Burning Sky, book 1 of the Elemental Trilogy, has received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and been named to the Autumn ’13 Kids’ Indie Next List. Sherry writes in her second language. She learned English by reading romance and science fiction—every word Isaac Asimov ever wrote, in fact.


Julie Wernersbach (General Fiction) serves as the literary director of the Texas Book Festival. She has ten years of experience as an independent bookseller, most recently serving as marketing director for BookPeople. Before moving to Austin in 2011, Julie served as publicist and events coordinator for Book Revue, a large independent bookstore on Long Island. Julie is the author of the books Vegan Survival Guide to Austin and Swimming Holes of Texas. Her short fiction has appeared in Arcadia magazine.


Kirk Wilson (General Fiction) is the author of award-winning fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. His stories and poems can be found in literary journals, anthologies, and chapbooks. His non-fiction classic Unsolved, an investigation into ten high-profile murders, has been published in six editions in the US and UK.