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Conversations with Texas Writers

Conversations with Texas Writers
Photographs by Ramona Cearley; introduction and essays by Joe Holley

The largest single-volume collection of interviews with 50 of Texas’s most important writers—including a photo and bibliography for each author.

Series: Jack and Doris Smothers Endowment in Texas History, Life, and Culture, Number Sixteen

March 2005
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432 pages | 6 1/8 x 9 1/4 | 50 b&w photos |

Larry McMurtry declares, "Texas itself doesn't have anything to do with why I write. It never did." Horton Foote, on the other hand, says, "I've just never had a desire to write about any place else." In between those figurative bookends are hundreds of other writers—some internationally recognized, others just becoming known—who draw inspiration and often subject matter from the unique places and people that are Texas. To give everyone who is interested in Texas writing a representative sampling of the breadth and vitality of the state's current literary production, this volume features conversations with fifty of Texas's most notable established writers and emerging talents.

The writers included here work in a wide variety of genres—novels, short stories, poetry, plays, screenplays, essays, nonfiction, and magazine journalism. In their conversations with interviewers from the Writers' League of Texas and other authors' organizations, the writers speak of their apprenticeships, literary influences, working habits, connections with their readers, and the domestic and public events that have shaped their writing. Accompanying the interviews are excerpts from the writers' work, as well as their photographs, biographies, and bibliographies. Joe Holley's introductory essay—an overview of Texas writing from Cabeza de Vaca's 1542 Relación to the work of today's generation of writers, who are equally at home in Hollywood as in Texas—provides the necessary context to appreciate such a diverse collection of literary voices.

A sampling from the book:

"This land has been my subject matter. One thing that distinguishes me from the true naturalist is that I've never been able to look at land without thinking of the people who've been on it. It's fundamental to me."

—John Graves

"Writing is a way to keep ourselves more in touch with everything we experience. It seems the best gifts and thoughts are given to us when we pause, take a deep breath, look around, see what's there, and return to where we were, revived."

—Naomi Shihab Nye

"I've said this many times in print: the novel is the middle-age genre. Very few people have written really good novels when they are young, and few people have written really good novels when they are old. You just tail off, and lose a certain level of concentration. Your imaginative energy begins to lag. I feel like I'm repeating myself, and most writers do repeat themselves."

—Larry McMurtry

"I was a pretty poor cowhand. I grew up on the Macaraw Ranch, east of Crane, Texas. My father tried very hard to make a cowboy out of me, but in my case it never seemed to work too well. I had more of a literary bent. I loved to read, and very early on I began to write small stories, short stories, out of the things I liked to read."

—Elmer Kelton

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Texas Writing
  • Conversations with Texas Writers, with Essays by Joe Holley
    • Wendy Barker
    • Sarah Bird
    • Jay Brandon
    • Bobby Byrd
    • Lee Byrd
    • Viola Canales
    • Gary Cartwright
    • Paul Christensen
    • J. California Cooper
    • Elizabeth Crook
    • Angela De Hoyos
    • Mylène Dressler
    • Horton Foote essay
    • Horton Foote
    • Kinky Friedman
    • Laura Furman
    • Dagoberto Gilb
    • William H. Goetzmann
    • John Graves essay
    • John Graves
    • James L. Haley
    • Stephen Harrigan
    • Jim Hightower
    • Rolando Hinojosa-Smith essay
    • Rolando Hinojosa-Smith
    • Edward Hirsch
    • Robert E. Howard essay
    • Robert E. Howard
    • Molly Ivins
    • Mary Karr
    • Elmer Kelton essay
    • Elmer Kelton
    • Joe R. Lansdale
    • David Lindsey essay
    • David Lindsey
    • Arturo Longoria
    • Phillip Lopate
    • James Magnuson
    • Larry McMurtry essay
    • Larry McMurtry
    • Pat Mora
    • Frances Nail
    • Naomi Shihab Nye essay
    • Naomi Shihab Nye
    • Karen Olsson
    • Louis Sachar
    • Edwin "Bud" Shrake
    • Evan Smith
    • Bruce Sterling essay
    • Bruce Sterling
    • Katherine Tanney
    • Lorenzo Thomas
    • Lori Aurelia Williams
    • Mary Willis Walker
    • Bill Wittliff
    • Bill Wright
    • Lawrence Wright
    • Sharon Wyse
    • Suzan Zeder
  • Project Notes
  • Author Biographies
  • Contributor Biographies
  • Bibliography of Authors' Works
  • Index

Frances Leonard is a former Director of the Humanities Texas Resource Center in Austin. She organized the Humanities Texas (formerly Texas Council for the Humanities) traveling exhibition on Texas writers that provided the impetus for this book.

Ramona Cearley is a freelance photographer in Austin whose work has been featured in humanities-related exhibits and publications.

Joe Holley is a reporter for the Washington Post.


In observance of its thirtieth anniversary, Humanities Texas, formerly the Texas Council for the Humanities, is honored to present this volume of interviews with fifty Texas authors. These conversations document the breadth and vitality of current Texas writing while providing extraordinary reflections on writers' lives, choice of subjects, and connections to their real and imagined audiences. The interviews also reveal the influences that have shaped writers' careers, including a fascinating thread of literary inspiration that Texas writers such as J. Frank Dobie and Américo Paredes passed down to succeeding generations.

This book has its genesis in "Texas Writers," one of three humanities exhibitions devoted wholly or in part to Texas authors. Joe Holley's introductory essay was written to accompany the exhibition, and Ramona Cearley's compelling photographs, which depict the authors in their informal settings, were also prominent features of the exhibition.

The selection of writers originated with the exhibition but was not confined to it. Joe Holley and colleagues at the Texas Institute of Letters identified authors to represent the many varieties of literature favored by Texas readers. Our broad definition of "Texas writers" encompasses authors who were born in Texas, as well as those who have lived in Texas for a few years and have produced works during, or as a result of, their tenure in the state.

Any collection of this nature invites questions about the inclusion of some authors and the omission of others. While many fine writers escaped our grasp, usually because time schedules prevented their participation, others were inevitably overlooked. Even so, a remarkable number of the state's leading writers participated in this endeavor. If the present volume finds a receptive audience, a subsequent book will attempt to fill the gap and include an even broader representation of authors.

Texas writers are as varied as the state's landscape, and this volume offers an enchanting glimpse of the state's literary riches. These conversations between people who share a passion for the written word create a tapestry of literary influences—of bright threads that gleam in surprising places. Poet Edward Hirsch states that when he moved to Houston in 1986, he suffered a shock of transition that inspired his poems about Georgia O'Keeffe's coming to terms with the landscape of the Texas Panhandle. But, he observes, the Texas experience extends beyond the western; in its diversity and combination of cultures, Texas has become a radically American place. It is this radical new Texas with its new voices, as well as the traditional Texas of the twentieth century, that shapes this book.

—Frances Leonard


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