February 17, 2018

Devo Carpenter | Movers & Shakers 2008

Not Clowning Around

Many people know Devona Carpenter as a storyteller at the Austin Public Library. Some know her from her spare-time roles as “Devo the Clown” or as the puppeteer who staged a two-minute production of The Wizard of Oz, complete with tornado, wicked witches, and flying monkeys. But to teens at Austin’s Gardner-Betts Juvenile Justice Center, she’s the woman who changed their lives, bringing them books and treating them like people with a future.

Carpenter created the award-winning Second Chance Books program when her own son briefly landed in jail “for a stupid teenage thing that would have gotten his hand slapped 20 years ago,” she says. A probation officer told her that the only books they had at the center were some “Barbara Cartland novels and a ‘how to’ for surviving prostate cancer.” She felt it was her “duty as a mom and a library staff person to find a way to get books to these kids.”

Using library discards, donated books, and some grant funding, Carpenter built a satellite library for them. The program was later extended to the long-term detention center as well. Although the teens had never been readers, case manager Laura Rodriguez says they were soon devouring the carefully chosen fiction and nonfiction that matched their interests or told stories of teens overcoming desperate circumstances.

In addition to her own book talks and discussions with the kids, Carpenter enlisted local YA authors, including Masha Hamilton, who found the teens eager to write their own stories, which were “nothing short of inspiring.” You could say that about Carpenter, too.


CURRENT POSITION Program Specialist, Austin Public Library, TX

WINNER 2006 Texas Library Association Project of the Year award

WEB SITE www.cityofaustin.org/library/2ndchance.htm; devotheclown.tripod.com