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Great Texas Wind Rush
University of Texas Press
Great Texas Wind Rush

Few people in Texas know more about the state’s energy promises and pitfalls than Kate Galbraith and Asher Price. Galbraith just left her post as energy and environment reporter at The Texas Tribune for her home state of California, while Price continues as the Austin American-Statesman‘s go-to guy for reporting on the environment.

The two recently teamed up for The Great Texas Wind Rush: How George Bush, Ann Richards, and a Bunch of Tinkerers Helped the Oil and Gas State Win the Race to Wind Power (University of Texas Press). It’s a timely look at one of Texas’ most unlikely energy assets, and a work lauded by The Washington Post for its rich information and compelling storytelling.

Galbraith will return from the Golden State to talk wind with Price at BookPeople on August 10 at 4 PM. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about some of the most important challenges and opportunities facing Texas when it comes to keeping the lights on.

In the meantime, check out the Observer‘s Q&A with Galbraith here.

“DWR Picture,” 2010. Found plexiglass, frame, tape, wood, metal, plastic.

Texas artist Andy Coolquitt makes locally inspired art in the most literal sense. His works are sculptural collections of materials he finds in the streets around his East Austin home, the kinds of items most people would call trash: lighters, metal tubes, discarded bags.

As Coolquitt told the Austin American-Statesman, he sees these items as “residue of human activity, of social interaction.” On paper Coolquitt’s work might seem to make somewhat predictable statements about homelessness or drug addiction (many of the materials Coolquitt has used come from locations where crack cocaine users gather), but his sculptures also suggest a deeper inquiry into the construction of social and domestic spaces.

Coolquitt, a native of Mesquite who has been making art in and out of Texas for 25 years, once spent some time in California designing furniture, and that experience seems to inform his work as well. You could almost mistake some of his pieces for minimalist fixtures in a hip home goods store, if it weren’t for a strange poignancy that takes them  beyond the detached, deconstructed urban chic found in overpriced lofts. The question Coolquitt seems to ask is: how do people arrange otherwise overlooked spaces and materials to humanize them, to make them places suitable for gathering and living?

You can see Coolquitt’s exploration of that question at the University of Houston’s Blaffer Art Museum, where the artist has a site-specific installation of 60 of his works titled “Attainable Exellence.” The show runs until August 17.

Goodbye to John Graves


Today brings the news that John Graves, the quintessential man of Texas letters, has died.

From Kip Stratton, president of the Texas Institute of Letters:

Dear TIL Members:

I have received the sad word that John Graves died at his home, Hardscrabble, outside Glen Rose, either last night or early this morning. He was 92 and, of course, a giant of American letters, as well as a past TIL President and a TIL Fellow and Lon Tinkle Award winner. I’ll send along more details as I receive them.

This is a dark day.


Graves, of course, authored Goodbye to a River: A Narrative, one of the undisputed classics of Texas literature, published by Knopf in 1960 and in print ever since. Though lesser known, his short story “The Last Running” is widely lauded as an epitome of the form. Several books of essays (Hardscrabble: Observations on a Patch of Land and From A Limestone Ledge), a couple of memoirs (Myself and Strangers: A Memoir of Apprenticeship and My Dogs & Guns), collaborations with photographer Wyman Meinzer (Texas Hill Country and Texas Rivers) and the retrospective John Graves Reader round out Graves’ narrow but deep bibliography. Works about the work include John Graves, Writer, and John Graves and the Making of Goodbye to a River: Selected Letters, 1957-1960.

Graves never wrote for the Observer, alas, but the magazine has reviewed some of his later published work. To mark his passing, we’ve collected some links to those reviews:

John Graves, Writer

Myself and Strangers

And then of course there’s Larry McMurtry’s famous Observer piece, Ever a Bridegroom: Reflections on the Failure of Texas Literature, wherein McMurtry wrote:

… Graves has to some degree been made heir to the Dobie-Webb-Bedichek tradition, with the surely unwelcome responsibility of keeping that branch of Texas letters vital.

That he is quite restive in this role is constantly apparent in his writing; one of his most frequent rhetorical devices, used almost to the point of abuse, is to undercut himself: questioning a story he has just retold, doubting an observation he has just made, twisting out from under a position. Often he simply reverses his field and abandons whatever line of thought he has been pursuing.

He is popularly thought to be a kind of country explainer, when in fact he seems more interested in increasing our store of mysteries than our store of knowledge. He loves the obscure, indeterminate nature of rural legend and likes nothing better than to retell stories the full truth of which can never be known. If nature continues to stimulate him it may be because it too is elusive, feminine, never completely knowable.

Certainly he is not looking forward to becoming the Sage of Glen Rose. His best writing is based on doubt and ambivalence—or, at least, two-sidedness; he is not eager to arrive at too many certainties, or any certainty too quickly. The persona he adopts most frequently is that of the man who considers. He may choose to consider a goat, a book, an anecdote, or some vagary of nature, but the process of considering is more important to the texture of his books than any conclusions that may get drawn.

Graves’ longevity, along with the unremitting canonization of his work (former First Lady Laura Bush frequently tagged Goodbye as her favorite Texas book, which was a solid choice, if a safe one) also led to some gentle ribbing. McMurtry bemoaned Graves’ apparent preference for farming over writing, and Don Graham, poking fun at the seemingly static state of the Texas-lit pantheon in an Observer piece titled “Deathless Prose,” imagined a future in which Graves’ Olympian reputation only continues to grow:

In 2043, Texas literature was much the same as ever, only more so. John Graves was still living off the fame of his first book, and devotees of the Lone Star State’s greatest writer were still making treks to his hardscrabble ranch to record the latest shavings from his sageness, or taking little homage canoe trips down the still undammed stream that flowed through his beloved book. Texans could not bring themselves to say goodbye to that book. Graves had won all the awards that Texas had to offer, and the awards-givers had started over, giving him all the awards a second time, making him a revered pioneer again. All the schoolchildren in the state (those who could read, and that number was falling) were required to read one book, Goodbye to a River. It took some of them years to finish it.

Still, it was the reputation that came in for mockery, and the reputation is a readerly creation. About the work itself, it would be hard to find an unkind word. As it should be.

Watchinlewis-blackg Lewis Black’s already-famous takedown of Rick Perry last Wednesday on The Daily Show with some native Texans was a rollercoaster ride that opened apparently chronic wounds from the “Texas vs. New York” culture wars. Warning: the cursing in that link is not safe for work, or anywhere with a Texas flag nearby.

It all started out well enough; when Black says he’s not a huge fan of politicians, we’re right there with him. Then he replayed Perry’s “Oops” moment for the millionth time, and my friends settled in for some good laughs at the expense of the outgoing guv, who is indeed, as Black says, “the gift who has no idea he keeps on giving.”

We all rolled our eyes at Perry’s hare-brained scheme to steal jobs from other states and guffawed at the fact that our governor pronounces the word “escape” with an x. Somewhere along the line, though, the laughter turned  pensive. It stopped altogether around the time Black pointed his finger at the camera and began addressing the entire state of Texas.

What followed was a brutal reiteration of age-old New York triumphalism culminating in a grand finale of middle fingers, F-bombs and crotch-grabs directed at the entire Lone Star State. Cue the stony silence in a room full of normally rabid Daily Show fans.

Yes, Mr. Black, I’m pretty sure Texas can spell “Bhutanese,” considering that the state of Texas takes the second-highest number of refugees from Bhutan of any state, ahead of New York. And while the ability to order sushi pizza at 8 a.m. may be a benefit of life in the Big Apple (I guess?), I’m not sure most folks are willing to pay $2,000 a month to share a cramped efficiency with five of their hippest friends to access that opportunity. As this recent Slate article points out, even if Perry’s job-grabbing caper  is misguided, Texas does have its perks.

I’m not about to mediate this debate—I’m from Ohio, which apparently exists only during presidential elections, and where the official response to slights against our state is a half-hearted shrug. But the whole thing did make me wonder: proud Texans who are nonetheless embarrassed by Perry, what would you tell Lewis Black about Texas to change his mind?

I’m sure there will plenty of discussion on this subject at tonight’s Rangers game. They’re playing the Yankees, after all.



glenn_frankelTexas’ larger-than-life identity is founded on a number of myths, and few are more compelling than the story of Cynthia Ann Parker. In 1836, the nine-year-old Parker was taken from her north-central Texas home by Comanches, who had raided the Parker homestead and killed her family. She lived with them for 24 years, wedding and giving birth to three children, before being recovered and returned to her family by a group of Texas Rangers.

It’s an old trope–the maiden in distress–but the reality of Parker’s story is infinitely more complex. Pulitzer Prize-winner and director of the University of Texas School of Journalism Glenn Frankel seeks to untangle the complex knots of truth and myth in his recent book The Searchers.

Parker’s abduction would inspire countless retellings, most notably Alan LeMay’s classic 1954 western novel The Searchers, which in turn inspired the 1956 John Wood movie by the same name starring John Wayne. With each retelling, the story changed, got bigger, and more symbolic of Texas identity.

Frankel traces the evolution of the Parker story through the pride and politics of Texas’ pioneer era, poring over early retellings of Parker’s abduction, and follows its ultimate journey to the myth-making machinery of the pulp novel industry and golden-era Hollywood. Throughout, he tells the stories of the people behind the myth, from Cynthia Anne  and her son Quanah Parker, who went on to become famous in western lore as “the last free chief of the Comanches,” to filmmaker John Ford and John Wayne, whose legends are as tied up in the story as the Parkers’ are.

Frankel unwinds the story with a delicate balancing act between the facts surrounding Parker’s abduction and return and an appreciation for the mythology that has grown up around them. This isn’t just an attempt to tell the “true story” of Cynthia Ann Parker–it’s an exegesis of the way myths are made.

The book has been getting rave reviews, with The New York Times calling it “vivid” and “revelatory.”  The Washington Post was similarly impressed, as was CNN, which has an interview with Frankel here.

It’s an especially interesting topic for Texas, and one worth hearing Frankel speak about. He’ll be at Brazos Books in Houston on Thursday the 18th at 7 PM to read from the book and talk about how Texas makes its myths.

Since the 1975-64-87_web2012 presidential election, much has been said about America’s shifting demographic makeup and its deeper political and cultural meanings. Texas has seen some of the most dramatic of these shifts, so it’s only fitting a Texas museum would present exhibitions exploring America’s continuously shifting notions of identity.

Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum has put together a double header of sorts on the subject. “We the People: Picturing American Identity” takes a decidedly wide focus approach, surveying painting, photography, sculpture and other media from the 1850s to the 20th century and beyond for insights into four questions: Who is America, Who is the American Woman, Who Shapes America and Who Defines America? The questions are both rooted in history and urgently contemporary, and the works on display provide a kind of visual timeline for our country’s complex, contradictory and always dynamic struggle with its self-conception. “We the People” runs until September 6.

Also at the Carter Museum is “Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey,” another rumination on identity that is both more tightly focused in its subject matter and ambiguous in its implications. In the late 1970s, Bearden created magnificently-colored, highly-stylized depictions of Homer’s Odyssey with water color and collage, depicting all the characters as black women and men. The work both universalizes the epic poem and presents a  jumping-off point for discussion about the long journey black identity has taken through a world usually dominated by white artists and writers. “Romare Bearden” runs until August 11.

Both exhibits contextualize and complicate debates going on at state and national levels, giving viewers new (and historic) perspectives on America’s ever-dynamic identity crises.

MotorcyclesThough the term “Civil Rights” usually brings up memories of the 1960s, many of the struggles and issues surrounding the movement are startlingly contemporary. This is especially true in Texas’ Mexican-American communities. The Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn key portions of the Voting Rights Act, the increasing number of Mexican-Americans in Texas, and intense battles over issues like immigration reform make the current political moment as vital a time as any for a discussion on Mexican-American civil rights.

One upcoming contribution to that conversation is Justica: The Struggle for Mexican-American Civil Rights in Dallas, Texas 1920-2012, a multimedia exhibition put on by Dallas’ Latino Cultural Center and the Dallas Mexican-American Historical League. Tracing the often under-reported stories of workers, activists, political leaders and other  civil rights figures in Dallas through the past century, the exhibit touches on Mexican- Americans’ struggle for equality during the Great Depression, through the turbulent 1960s, up to current issues, visiting  key events and important people along the way. It features video interviews and oral histories from Dallas civil rights leaders, an interactive timeline, and panel discussions about issues related to the continuing struggle for Mexican-American civil rights.

The exhibit kicks off this Friday with an opening reception at 6 PM at the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas. It runs until August 31, and will include other special events TBA.

Marion Winik
Marion Winik

Though she works as a creative writing professor at the University of Baltimore these days, it’s fair to say that acclaimed memoirist Marion Winik got her start in Texas. Her personal essays appeared in the Austin Chronicle in late 1980s and 1990s, where NPR’s Austin-based John Burnett read them and helped Winik snag appearances on All Things Considered. Increasing attention led to a creative nonfiction fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Publication of a series of memoirs and essay collections followed.

While Winik’s writing career has the look of steady success, her personal life has seen plenty of challenges. Winik lost her first husband to AIDS, lived through the ups and downs of single motherhood, and saw her second marriage end in divorce. Through it all, Winik kept writing, turning out deeply personal but accessible books and essay collections like Telling and First Comes Love, which the New York Times said possesses “an unblinking narrative tone that is frequently very funny, in spite of the fact that much of what [Winik] has to impart is painfully sad.”

Winik’s latest, Highs in the Low Fifties, relates her adventures as a middle-aged woman re-entering the dating world. She approaches the topic with her characteristic no-holds-barred honesty, plumbing both the emotional depths and surface hilarity of her subject. Check out an excerpt over at the Austin Chronicle.

Winik will talk about Highs in the Low Fifties on Wednesday, 7 PM, at Book People in Austin. Come ask about writing, dating, what Austin was like before it got so hip, or pretty much anything else. As her memoirs reveal, Winik has pretty much seen it all.

When Observer staff and interns aren’t writing articles, shooting video, posting blogs or keeping the lights on, we’re avid readers. So I thought it’d be fun to poll the office on our summer books. Here’s what we’re reading when we’re not writing.

DivideBrad Tyer, Managing Editor: “I just finished Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the Border Wall, photographer/writer Krista Schlyer’s deeply informative and visually head-turning ode to the rich borderland ecosystems being undone in the mad—in every sense of the word—rush to build a wall between one side of a line in the sand and the other. Should be required reading for any legislator with a hand in federal immigration policy.”

Krissi Trumeter, Controller—“I’m reading The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. The famous Pooh (that bear that loves honey) signifies an existence of simplicity and joy, appreciating the life we have versus the life we think we want … In this tiny book, Pooh bestows the wisdom of how to smile when the world seems sour.”

Caitlin Perrone, Editorial Intern: “I’m currently reading Khaled Hosseini’s new book And the Mountains Echoed, which is a multigenerational story that details the lives of an Afghan family while also covering the history of the country. Hosseini is the author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, which are known for their haunting depictions of life in Afghanistan. I’m preparing for another tragic story that might cause some tears, but don’t let that scare you. I cannot recommend this author more.”

Jonathan McNamara, Web Editor: “Maybe it’s how inescapable Brad Pitt has become thanks to his multibillion-dollar action flick World War Z, but I’ve been drawn back to the Anne Rice classic Interview With the Vampire. So far I’ve found the first in Rice’s Vampire Chronicles to be full of whiny-ass self-loathing on the part of principal character Louis. Still beats the hell the out of anything Stephanie Meyer can cobble together, though.”

Emily DePrang, Staff Writer (Houston Office): “I’m reading a collection of short stories by SearchersRaymond Chandler called The Simple Art of Murder. He’s the detective fiction writer best known for novels like The Big Sleep, but I think his short stories are way more fun because he wrote them fast, for pulp magazines. Since he’s not stuck with his choices for 200 pages like he would be in a novel, you can see him playing around on the page. In “I’ll Be Waiting,” Chandler obviously just wrote a description of a girl listening to jazz that he really liked, and then had to figure out how to built a crazy detective plot around it so that he could publish, ‘The light in there was dim, but the violet of her eyes almost hurt.’ There are probably two phrases on every page that make me swoon.”

And finally, your humble books blogger has been reading The Searchers, UT professor Glenn Frankel’s book about the classic John Ford western of the same name. The movie itself was inspired by a novel by Alan LeMay based roughly on the true story of Cynthia Ann Parker’s 1836 abduction by Comanches in the Texas frontier. So just to keep score, you’re now reading a book blog about me reading a book that’s about a movie that’s about a book based loosely on actual events. How meta…

Hutchison on Powerful Women


The furor over the Texas Legislature’s anti-abortion shenanigans has made this week all about strong Texas women—we’re looking at you, state Sen. Wendy Davis. That makes this a perfect time for a book talk about courageous women in Texas history, right?

Former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison will be talking about her book, Unflinching Courage: Pioneering Women Who Shaped Texas, on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Barnes and Noble in Plano. Republican Hutchison comes at the topic from a decidedly conservative viewpoint, though she considers herself an advocate for working women and has at times stepped away from her party’s far-right contingent on issues like abortion.

Hutchison’s book is mostly about the role women played in the often-mythologized settling of Texas. Interestingly, one of the stories Hutchison relates is that of Cynthia Ann Parker, whose 1839 abduction by Comanches and subsequent rescue 21 years later are foundational stories in the narrative of Texas settlement. The facts and circumstances of the story–including Parker’s agency in her rescue—have  been heavily debated. UT journalism professor Glenn Frankel’s recent book The Searchers uses Parker’s story to interrogate the mythologizing of Texas’ founding legends through the lens of the classic John Ford western.

Make no mistake, Hutchison’s book reflects her conservative perspective, celebrating the traditional roles played by white, mostly privileged, 19th and 20th century Texas women like Margaret Lea Houston, wife of Sam Houston, and Mary Ann Goodnight, wife of the powerful cattle baron. The book sometimes veers into a celebration of the ways in which these women supported their powerful husbands, but it also explores the power they wielded in their own right.

The Dallas Morning News reviewed the book recently, and you can find an excerpt and an interview with Hutchison from NPR here.

Whether you love her politics or loathe them, it’s hard to argue that Hutchison isn’t a pioneer herself. She’s the first woman to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate, a position she held for 20 years before retiring in January. Her unique position as a powerful, conservative woman makes her talk about Unflinching Courage an interesting opportunity to consider women’s history and ask hard questions about their current status in Texas.