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Texas Book Festival 2017: Sisters First: A Celebration of Sisterhood

Sisters First: A Celebration of Sisterhood was a panel held in the House Chamber of the Texas Capitol building for the 2017 Texas Book Festival. The panel was a conversation with Barbara Pierce Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, moderated by actress and model Brooklyn Decker. The Bush twins were at the festival to discuss their new memoir, “Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life.” Their mother, Laura Bush, was also in attendance and they announced immediately that it was her birthday, leading the chamber to sing “Happy Birthday” to her.

Barbara and Jenna are currently on a tour promoting their book, and Texas Book Festival was their third of 13 stops, and according to them, a sort of homecoming. During the panel, Barbara said they had “always daydreamed of writing a book” together, but they thought it would be a children’s book because, in her words, “it’s more doable.”

The memoir covers a lot of ground and the twins were open to talking about the topics covered, both lighthearted and dark. Decker was a great moderator who seemed intimately familiar with the book and its stories, but she also asked the sisters about how they came to be where they are today. Barbara spoke of her nonprofit, Global Health Corps, and how it really started because she had been “shocked and infuriated” by the state of medical care, especially for HIV, when visiting Uganda at the age of 21. Jenna spoke about her experience as a teacher and how people often said that was cute: “It is not cute. It is hard. I’m exhausted and I dream of my students.”

There are chapters of the book focused on the period of time when Jenna was dating her now-husband, Henry Hager, and the attempts to get him to bond with her father, George W. Bush. She talked openly about her excitement to get married from the start and shared a funny anecdote featuring a fancy dinner that led to an even funnier line from the Washington Post.

In a heavier moment, Barbara told the tragic story of a friend who committed suicide in high school and how it affected her life and choices. “It always felt like it was my responsibility to live a bigger life because I got to live,” she said. The book “Sisters First” is the first time she shared her innermost thoughts on the subject, even with Jenna, and how she was constantly wishing that her friend could make it into heaven.

Of course there’s no dodging politics when speaking with the Bush family, so Barbara and Jenna talked about that too. “Our parents always encouraged us to be curious, creative,” said Barbara. She spoke specifically of her views on gay rights, which she’s held since being a teenager, and the pro-marriage equality video she did in New York years later that surprised a lot of people.

On a less specific note, the twins stressed that sisterhood does not just apply to those who are sisters by blood. Jenna spoke of encouraging her daughters to dream big and of letting them know that they could be president too someday. “It needs to be across all fields, not just in politics…we need to be lifting our friends and family up,” she said. According to the sisters, Barbara’s “ultimate girl crush” is Melinda Gates, another powerful woman using her position to do good.

The panel ended with Jenna reading a touching passage from “Sisters First” and the two women elaborating on how their bond is due to the fact that their parents never compared them and they never felt envy or jealousy toward each other. It ended on a note of both personal sisterhood for the Bushes and a wider view of sisterhood as empowerment for women, who made up most of the panel’s audience. The Bush twins were well-spoken and charming, a possible testament to the fact that they largely grew up in the limelight. “Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life” is now available in stores and online.

You can learn more about the Texas Book Festival here. Stay tuned for more interviews and recaps from the fest! 

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