A year ago, as the Covid-19 pandemic began bearing down on the U.S., the Texas Library Association was one of the first major conferences in the U.S. to announce the cancellation of its in-person event, replaced by a quickly organized—and remarkably successful—digital event. In 2021, the pandemic has again forced TLA’s annual conference online. But conference organizers have had a year to plan this year’s virtual event, and librarians and conference organizers have learned much from the past year of Zoom meetings and other necessary digital innovations.

Set to run online Thursday–Saturday, April 22–24, the TLA 2021 Annual Conference will feature 200 educational sessions and a strong lineup of live speakers, and organizers are confident that it will inspire, educate, and entertain attendees. Registration will remain open through April 24, and the conference recordings will be available to registered attendees through June 22. Below are some program highlights.

General sessions

Writer, marketer, and media representation advocate Frederick Joseph will deliver the opening keynote at the TLA’s opening General Session (Thursday, 8:30 a.m.). Joseph, who was recently selected for the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, will discuss his latest book The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person (Candlewick). In it, he touches on everything from cultural appropriation to power dynamics, “reverse racism,” white privilege, microaggressions, and the tragic results of overt racism.

Author Isabel Wilkerson will keynote TLA’s General Session II (Friday, 9 a.m.). Wilkerson is the author most recently of the bestselling Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (Random House). In 1994, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing as the New York Times’ Chicago bureau chief, making her the first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism.

And rounding out the main program speakers, bestselling author Linda Sue Park will keynote TLA’s General Session III (Saturday, 9 a.m.). Park will discuss her latest novel, the highly praised Prairie Lotus (Clarion), a middle grade historical about a half-Asian girl growing up in a small town in the U.S. in 1880. She’ll also discuss her upcoming work, The One Thing You’d Save (Clarion). Park is also deeply involved with equity, diversity, and inclusion work for We Need Diverse Books and the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators.

Note: All general session talks will be live events.

More featured authors

Topping the list of great authors at TLA 2021 will be Matthew McConaughey, the Academy Award–winning actor, author, and maybe the future governor of Texas? McConaughey will speak on day one of the show in a live presentation at 11:30 a.m. He will discuss his bestselling memoir, Greenlights (Crown). In 2009, McConaughey and his wife Camila founded the Just Keep Livin’ Foundation, which helps at-risk high school students make healthier mind, body, and spiritual choices.

In another live session, Ilyasah Shabazz and Tiffany D. Jackson will feature at the Black Caucus Round Table Author Session (Thursday, 1:45 p.m.). Shabazz and Jackson will discuss their new book, The Awakening of Malcolm X: A Novel (FSG), an intimate look at Malcolm X’s young adult years that broaches larger discussions on Black power, prison reform, and civil rights. Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, is an author, motivational speaker, and community organizer. Jackson is the author of several YA novels, including Monday’s Not Coming, which was a Walter Dean Myers Honor Book and a Coretta Scott King John Steptoe New Talent Award winner.

Danny Trejo, one of Hollywood’s most recognizable character actors, will deliver this year’s TLA After Hours Keynote (Thursday, 6:30 p.m.), where he’ll discuss his forthcoming memoir, Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood, due out from Atria this summer. Famed for his decades-spanning career, which has included roles in AMC’s Breaking Bad, FX’s Sons of Anarchy, and in director Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids and Machete film franchises, Trejo is also a successful restaurateur.

Dwayne Reed and Gary Paulsen will speak at the Library Friends, Trustees & Advocates Author Session (Friday, noon). Reed, a Chicago educator better known as “America’s favorite rapping teacher,” spreads his message of empowerment to more than 50,000 followers, subscribers, readers, listeners, and fans each month through live seminars and interactive workshops. His first book, Simon B. Rhymin’ (Little, Brown), was published this month. Paulsen is the author of more than 100 books for children and teens. His newest book is Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood (FSG).

This year’s Closing Author Session will be keynoted by Houston native Attica Locke (Saturday, 3 p.m.), whose latest novel, Heaven, My Home (Mulholland), is the sequel to the Edgar Award–winning Bluebird, Bluebird, which is the TLA 2021 “All Conference Read.” A former fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Feature Filmmaker’s Lab, Locke works as a screenwriter as well. Most recently, she was a writer and producer on Netflix’s "When They See Us" and the Hulu adaptation of "Little Fires Everywhere." The conference will offer multiple opportunities to engage with Bluebird, Bluebird, culminating in Locke’s talk, which will close the event.

The Bluebonnets

Always a highlight of TLA, the Texas Bluebonnet Award is a nationally recognized children’s choice award. The program is designed to encourage reading for pleasure among students in grades three through six. Each year 20 books are chosen for the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List by a selection committee. If students read a minimum of five books from the master list, they can vote for their favorite title each January.

The 2021 Texas Bluebonnet has been awarded to Chris Van Dusen for If I Built a School (Dial). This year, almost 55,000 students from 1,275 registered institutions (school libraries, public libraries, and homeschooling groups) submitted their votes—an especially impressive feat considering the library and school closures due to the pandemic. Students representing 10 Texas school districts will present the award to Van Dusen at the Texas Bluebonnet Award Author Session (Saturday, 12:15–1 p.m.).

Professional program highlights

This year’s TLA 2021 will be held on a new virtual, interactive conference platform that will feature strong education sessions for all types of libraries. They include multiple, concurrent prerecorded education programs, many of which will have live chat sessions with speakers and panelists. In accordance with this year’s conference theme, “Celebrate Differences, Empower Voices,” the professional program is loaded with useful sessions designed to help attendees celebrate difference, and to get more comfortable confronting uncomfortable but vital topics. As always, consult the online program for a final and complete list. We’ve highlighted a selection of panels below.

Leaning into Discomfort: Talking about Race and Anti-racism in Libraries (Thursday, 10:15–11:15 a.m.). In this session, attendees can learn professional development strategies for guiding librarians through anti-racist work and discuss and share ideas about how to continually grow in these practices. Featuring Shannon Houston and Ami Uselman, Round Rock ISD.

It’s Not Imposter Syndrome (Thursday, 1:45–2:45 p.m.). By examining the origins of imposter syndrome, we can uncover how library organizations and managers play a role in constructing the phenomenon, and its effect on library workers. Attendees will learn how white supremacy, organizational culture, and other workplace conditions contribute to the problem, and how to identify opportunities for improvement. Featuring Nicola Andrews, University of San Francisco.

Your Public Library Presents: Andrew Aydin (Friday, 3–4 p.m.). Celebrate the life and work of civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis with Andrew Aydin, who coauthored the March graphic novel trilogy with Lewis. Aydin, the former digital director and policy advisor to Lewis, is also coauthor, with Lewis, of the forthcoming Run graphic novels.

A Conversation with Neal Shusterman (Saturday, 10:15–11:15 a.m.). A discussion with the charismatic Shusterman, the bestselling author of more than 30 novels for children, teens, and adults.

Marginalized Voices Rise Up: A Conversation with Sharon Flake and Tami Charles (Saturday, 1:45–2:45 p.m.). Sharon G. Flake discusses writing strong characters from marginalized communities over her lifetime and her latest YA novel, The Life I’m In (Scholastic Press). Tami Charles is the bestselling author of the children’s book All Because You Matter, an ode to Black and brown children everywhere.

Exhibits and more

In addition to the main speakers and professional program, attendees can visit with exhibitors to discover the latest books, products, and services offered in the virtual exhibit hall. They can also connect with colleagues during conference hours and make new connections in live chat rooms, live virtual social events, a virtual photo booth, and more. For a complete list of scheduled events and for more on this year’s virtual offerings, visit the TLA 2021 conference website.