AUSTIN (KXAN) — For nearly 30 years, thousands have gathered in downtown Austin for the Texas Book Festival, an annual tradition that unites hundreds of authors and connects them with readers.

In advance of the two-day festivities on Saturday and Sunday, the Texas Book Festival will host its First Edition Literary Gala Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m., hosted at the Fairmont Hotel. The event is headlined by authors Ann Patchett, Roger Reeves and Abraham Verghese, per a TBF release.

The gala helps raise proceeds for TBF’s efforts, including providing books and author visits to 14,000 students learning in Title 1 schools every year, the release said. TBF’s work beyond the festival also includes awarding grants to Texas public library systems, as well as using its funds to keep the downtown festival free and open to the general public.

In its efforts to expand and support literacy statewide, TBF has awarded more than $3.5 million in grants to over 600 libraries statewide, nonprofit organizations said in a programs fact sheet.

Dalia Azim, interim executive director at TBF, told KXAN Wednesday this year’s weekend festival will include 325 authors and more than 200 planned conversations for visitors to enjoy. It’s a now-annual tradition that has grown substantially since former First Lady of Texas Laura Bush founded TBF in 1995.

Last year’s festival marked the return to a fully in-person format, following virtual and hybrid options offered in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 2022’s event attracted 40,000 attendees and featured more than 300 authors, per a 2022 TBF annual report.

Officials estimated this weekend’s two-day event will see 50,000 book lovers in attendance.

“Reading connects us to each other and to the larger world,” Azim said. “I feel like that is a big part of my love of books, is just that tapping into these worlds I don’t know much about or I’m able to gain an understanding of from picking up books.”