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Library Love Stories: Kent Cummins Is Living Proof That Reading Is Magic

(The Fantastic) Kent Cummins has been doing magic for 70 years.
Julia Reihs
(The Fantastic) Kent Cummins has been doing magic for 70 years.

Earlier this year, KUT partnered with Austin's Library Foundation to gather your stories about what the public library means to you. We selected a few of the writers to come record their essays at KUT. Over the next few weeks, you'll hear more of those. 

Kent Cummins has been doing magic for 70 years. He got his start as a kid growing up in Del Rio, Texas.

READ and magic will happen! 

The library is a magical place. Everybody knows that. But for me, it's literal. Libraries helped me become a full-time professional magician. In fact, 2019 is my 70th year as a magician ... and libraries have been an important part of the story for seven decades.

It started when I was 6 years old, when my Grampa gave me a simple magic trick called “The Magic Coin Box.” My dad noticed how much I liked the trick, and he gave me an A.C. Gilbert Mysto Magic Set for Christmas. When I opened that box full of mysterious wonders, I said, “I'm going to be a magician!”

Magicians are not known for sharing their secrets. There was no magic store in Del Rio, no big theater, obviously no Internet. We didn't even have TV.

Where could I learn the secrets of magic?

The Del Rio Public Library had some magic books for kids. Dewey Decimal Number 793.8 became my own private entrance into the otherwise hidden world of magic. (An interesting side note: When I looked up “magic” in the card catalog, I only got adult books about demons and such. The books I was looking for were listed under “conjuring,” the British word for magic tricks.)

I checked out every magic book, and learned every trick.

When we moved to New Orleans, I found libraries with even more books. Before long, I had devoured all of the magic books in the kids section. The librarian, who knew me from all the books I had been getting, finally took me upstairs to the grown-up section. The number on the shelves was still 793.8, but the books were bigger, with more words and fewer pictures. My study of the art of “conjuring” moved up another level.

By the time we moved to Baton Rouge, I was starting to do more shows. And I found a few library magic books that I had not yet studied. I even did a show for the Baton Rouge Public Library summer reading program.

Life continued, as it does, and I got married and had kids and moved to Austin. Now I was making a significant part of my living by doing magic shows. In 1978, I helped sponsor the Austin Public Library's magic-themed summer reading program. I performed at every branch, and in each show I sawed the children's librarian in half ... with a power saw!

When the Texas Book Festival started, my “Magic of Books” show was perfect for the Children's Entertainment Tent. I magically appear out of a giant book, with 793.8 on the spine. And in every show, I tell the story of how libraries helped me become a magician.

In 2015, I was honored to be chosen for the Austin Public Library's celebrity READ poster. There is a photo of me with my granddaughter, “The Amazing Adele.” (She also loves libraries.) The headline on the poster says: READ ... and magic will happen!

Matt Largey is the Projects Editor at KUT. That means doing a little bit of everything: editing reporters, producing podcasts, reporting, training, producing live events and always being on the lookout for things that make his ears perk up. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mattlargey.