Author Diana Lopez reads the book "Tomas and the Library Lady" to an audience at Magik Reader’s Theatre.
Author Diana Lopez reads the book "Tomas and the Library Lady" to an audience at Magik Reader’s Theatre. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

While the modern entertainment world is dominated with virtual reality, digital animation, and handheld devices, a new Magik Theatre program aims to reconnect audiences of all ages with books and live theater.

The Magik Reader’s Theatre brought author and onetime San Antonian Diana López to read onstage, along with Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) and local storyteller Xelena González.

López, who recently wrote a book inspired by the hit Disney Pixar movie Coco, read Tomás and the Library Lady to an eager audience of 75 parents and children. The Tomás tale brings López full-circle with her formative years as a writer, having taken a workshop with its author, Pat Mora, 20 years ago at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, López said.

“It was my first writing workshop,” López said. “I had a very warm welcome to the world of writing through [Mora], because she’s just so generous. I’m really excited to be here reading this story … I get to celebrate both of them!” she said of Mora and Tomás Rivera, the real-life subject of the book.

Tomás and the Library Lady is based on the true story of Rivera, and neatly parallels the ethnic heritage of San Antonio as a confluence of classes and cultures. Rivera was pulled out of school because his parents were migrant workers, said Rebekah Williams, education coordinator of Magik Performing Arts Center, the Northside education-based arm of Magik Theatre. “He met a German library lady, who taught him to read and speak English,” and went on to become a famous educator and advocate for the arts, Williams said.

López is familiar with the book. “I think of [Rivera] as one of the grandfathers of Latino literature,” she said. She has used his book And the Earth Did Not Devour Him in her own classes as an associate professor of English at the University of Houston in Victoria.

“One of the really nice details of [Tomás and the Library Lady], is that it captures the moment when you’re reading, and you leave your world and enter into another world,” López said. “Your imagination goes there.”

Having adapted the Coco screenplay by Adriana Molina into the book, Coco: A Story About Music, Shoes, and Family, López attests to the importance of reading as active, different from the more passive engagement of seeing a movie.

“What happens when you’re reading, is that you’re kind of co-creating the world with the writer,” she said, “because you have to hear the voices in your imagination, you have to see it, and it’s very mentally engaging.”

The Reader’s Theatre connects audiences with authors and community leaders, to promote the importance of reading and literacy, said JoJanie Moreno, the director of education and outreach for the Magik Performing Arts Center who founded the reading program.

“Everybody needs to read,” Moreno said. “Reading is such an important part of growing the imagination and creativity.”

The first Reader’s Theatre in January focused on Dreamweek, and upcoming readings will highlight women, the armed forces, and deaf awareness, Moreno said. “We’re really trying to include all different kinds of social groups, ethnicities and cultures.”

On Saturday, Xelena González and Adriana Garcia read a bilingual story called All Around Us, written by González and illustrated by Garcia. The story revolves around an abuelo encouraging his granddaughter to see all the circles in the world, including the sun, the moon, bicycle wheels, and a less apparent circle, the cycle of life. Coco also revolves around life and death, bringing the Dia de los Muertos tradition to a wide audience.

A post-reading question-and-answer session allowed interaction between audience members and the readers on stage. Pelaez also raised his hand and asked: are they — all authors who are alone when they write — nervous when reading to a live audience?

(From left) Xelena González, Diana Lopez, Adriana Garcia, and Councilman Manny Peláez answer questions from the audience at Magik Reader's Theatre.
(From left) Xelena González, Diana Lopez, Adriana Garcia, and Councilman Manny Peláez answer questions from the audience at Magik Reader’s Theatre, with moderator JoJanie Moreno. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

López offered sound, tried and true advice. “The more you practice, the better you get,” she said toward the children in the audience. Her mother was her own version of the “Library Lady,” who instilled a love of reading in López and her brother, she said.

“Take your children to the library,” López told the audience. “You can be your children’s library lady, or man, and share that joy with them,” she said.

Audience members of the Reader’s Theatre also received discounted tickets to the Magik Theatre’s concurrent production of Tomas and the Library Lady, running now through Feb. 17. Ticket information is available here.

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...