Panel Moderators

Wendi Aarons is an award-winning humor writer and blogger who lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two sons. In the past few years, she has written for a number of publications including McSweeneys, and for Esther’s Follies, Austin’s famous comedy revue. She has also been a commentator on Austin’s NPR station, KUT. Wendi is one of the creators of Mouthy Housewives and the much-lauded twitter feed @paulryangosling. She is also a writer for US Weekly magazine’s Fashion Police.

Salima Alikhan 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.

Robert Ashcroft is the author of the forthcoming science fiction novel, The Megarothke. He has worked as a State Department contractor and was recently mobilized to serve abroad with the U.S. Army Reserve. A lifelong fan of science fiction, Ashcroft spent nearly a decade after college staying up late to write novels, at one point going so far as to quit his job and rent an apartment in Mexico City. For nearly a year, he wrote, crafted stories, and visited subjects of interest such as the canals of Xochimilco and the shrine of the Santa Muerte in Tepíto. The study of foreign cultures, languages and belief systems has been a lifelong priority and his main goal for the foreseeable future is to be able to travel and encounter interesting people and ideas.   

Dalia Azim's stories and essays have appeared in American Short FictionGlimmer TrainApertureOther VoicesPindeldyboz, and Columbia Journal, among other places. She has been a recipient of Glimmer Train's Short Story Award for New Writers and is perpetually at work—and nearing completion—on her first novel. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her family and is the manager of special projects at the Blanton Museum of Art

Sindya Bhanoo is a fellow at the Michener Center at the University of Texas and a former columnist for The New York Times.

Samantha M. Clark is the author of the middle-grade novel The Boy, The Boat, and the Beast. In a past life, Samantha was a photojournalist and managing editor for newspapers and magazines. She has lived in a land of rainforests, the land of the Queen, two Caribbean islands, and now lives with her husband and crazy dog in Austin, Texas (the land of the weird). Samantha is the regional advisor for the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.

Charlotte Gullick is Chair of the Creative Writing Department at Austin Community College. She holds BA in Literature/Creative Writing from UC Santa Cruz  and a MA in English/Creative Writing from UC Davis as well as a MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her awards include a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship for Fiction, a Colorado Council on the Arts Fellowship for Poetry, and residencies at  MacDowell and Ragdale.

Bethany Hegedus’ books include the award-winning Grandfather Gandhi and the newly released Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story, both co-written with Arun Gandhi, grandson to the Mahatma and illustrated by Evan Turk.  The Grandfather Gandhi books join Bethany’s novels Truth with a Capital T and Between us Baxters in gracefully handling race, class and diversity issues. A graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults, Bethany is prior editor of the literary journal Hunger Mountain. Bethany is the Owner and Creative Director of The Writing Barn, a writing retreat, workshop and event space in Austin, Texas.

Levis Keltner is the author of the novel Into that Good Night. He is the editor-in-chief at Newfound and teaches writing at Texas State University.

Sara Kocek is the author of Promise Me Something (Albert Whitman, 2013) and the founder of Yellow Bird Editors, an Austin-based collective of independent editors and writing coaches. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University, where she taught fiction and poetry to undergraduates and worked as a full-time editorial intern at Random House and Penguin. Prior to pursuing her MFA, Sara graduated with a B.A. in English from Yale University, where she worked as Writing Fellow, tutoring undergraduate and graduate students in academic and creative writing.

Vanessa Lee began her career in children’s literature writing critical theory for a Master’s Degree from Illinois State University. Not long afterwards, she set aside academics to write computer code professionally, something she had previously only done for fun. Three sons and a dare later, she reconnected with her kid lit roots and wrote her first middle grade novel.

Alison Macor is the author of Rewrite Man: The Life and Career of Screenwriter Warren Skaaren (2017, UT Press) and Chainsaws, Slackers, and Spy Kids: Thirty Years of Filmmaking in Austin, Texas (UT Press), which won the 2012 Peter C. Rollins Book of the Year Award from the Southwest Pop­ular/American Culture Association. She holds a PhD in film history and taught for more than 20 years at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas State University, Austin Community College, and the Austin Museum of Art. Alison is also a freelance writer and ghostwriter.

Allison Grace Myers is an MFA candidate in fiction at Texas State University, where she holds the W. Morgan and Lou Claire Rose Fellowship. Her work has won Reed Magazine’s John Steinbeck Award for Fiction, and has appeared in Image and Crazyhorse.

Jason Neulander is the founder of the Austin-based avant-garde company Salvage Vanguard Theater and during his fifteen-year run as Artistic Director developed and directed more than 50 original plays and music-theater productions. During his tenure he was named “Best Theatre Director” three times by the readers of the Austin Chronicle and won numerous awards for his work. In his final years at Salvage Vanguard Theater, he designed and oversaw the construction of the company’s current home, a venue with two small theaters and a gallery for visual art. His current project, the independently-produced transmedia sci-fi multiverse The Intergalactic Nemesis, takes the form of graphic novels, radio plays, podcasts, novels, e-books, web series, and live stage productions. The “Live-Action Graphic Novel” Intergalactic trilogy has been booked into more than 150 venues around the world, including runs on Broadway and sold-out performances at the Kennedy Center.

Stephanie Noll studied fiction writing at Texas State University, where she earned her MFA. She is a frequent storyteller at The Story Department, a monthly fundraiser for the non-profit Austin Bat Cave, and has also told stories at Listen to Your Mother, Backyard Story Night, Hyde Park Story Night, and the Tellers. Stephanie has 18 years of teaching experience and works as a senior lecturer in the English department at Texas State where she recently was awarded an Excellence in Teaching award. Stephanie is the director of Old Books for New Teachers, an organization that helps first-year teachers build classroom libraries. She has written a novel about a standardized test cheating scandal at an inner-city Houston high school.

Maya Perez is a screenwriter and fiction writer. She is a producer on the Emmy Award-winning television series On Story, which just wrapped up its sixth season on PBS, and co-editor of the books On Story: Screenwriters and Their Craft (University of Texas Press, October 2013) and On Story II: Screenwriters and Filmmakers on Their Iconic Films (University of Texas Press, October 2016). Perez is a former Michener Fellow, Sundance Screenwriters Intensive Fellow, and New York Stage & Film Emerging Filmmaker. Perez holds a BA from Vassar College and an MFA from The University of Texas at Austin. Her stories have appeared in The Masters Review and Electric Literature.

Ben Reed’s fiction has appeared in The Seattle Review, Big Fiction, [PANK], West Branch, Arcadia Magazine, Blue Mesa Review, Sou’wester, and The Southern Quarterly. He won the 2016 Texas Observer Short Story Contest, the 2013 Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest, and the 2nd Annual Avery Anthology Small Spaces Prize.

Nettie Reynolds is a playwright and marketing/branding consultant. She is an award-winning humor writer and blogger who lives in Austin, Texas. She has appeared in Frontera Fest Austin three times.  She has produced three variety shows at The North Door.  Reynolds has spoken on branding and marketing at many national conferences including Book Expo America, Social Venture Network Conference and Erma Bombeck Writers Conference. She is currently working on her memoir "It Wasn't That Funny When It Happened."

Richard Santos teaches English at Cedars International Academy in Austin and writes book reviews for Kirkus Reviews. His work has been published at The San Antonio Express NewsThe Huffington PostThe Texas ObserverKirkus Magazine, and The Rumpus. He's a member of the National Book Critics Circle and PEN America.  In a previous career, Richard worked for some of the nation's top political consulting firms, national campaigns, and labor unions.  

Rebekah Schwarz is an ex-cocktail waitress, ex-librarian, and unrepentant English major, and she's currently 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.

Maya Payne Smart is a writer and literacy ambassador who shares book reviews, interviews and musings at MayaSmart.com and BookRiot.com. Before relocating to Texas, she served on the boards of the YWCA of Richmond and The Community Foundation serving Richmond and Central Virginia. She also raised funds and awareness for numerous local nonprofits including FRIENDS Association for Children and The Richmond Christmas Mother Fund. She is a former chair of James River Writers and served on the national board of governors of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Her honors include Style Weekly’s 40 under 40 award and an Excellence in Journalism award from The Press Club of Cleveland.

Olga Vilkotskaya is a fellow at the Michener Center at the University of Texas. She hails from Seattle, where she spent a decade trying to locate the sun. She is the recipient of an Arthur Oberg prize in poetry and an Innis Arden Friends of the Arts Scholarship.

Bradley P. Wilson is a freelance editor and writer in Central Texas. Some of his clients include CBAY Books and Greenleaf Book Group. While he loves working on anything from picture books to historical novels, he’s never outgrown his love of space ships and talking animals. Which is why he’s happiest when he’s creating and honing speculative fiction, especially YA and middle grade.

Michael B. Yang’s stories have appeared in Amazon's Day One, Ploughshares, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Seattle Review, and other places.