It’s a rainy Sunday night and we are racing to put the final touches on the magazine before sending it back to our exceedingly patient art director and then on to the printer. (Some Observer traditions never grow old.) Almost a year ago, when we began thinking about an anniversary issue—a 50th anniversary issue—we knew the occasion demanded something special. There is nothing like this magazine. For 50 years, it has chronicled one of the strangest states in the union, holding a mirror to its often-deadly shortcomings and appealing to its better angels.
The issue would need to be big, of course. Big enough to travel from the executioner’s chamber in Huntsville, as Sister Helen Prejean does in “Stopping the Death Machine,” to travails on the mighty Rio Grande featured in Jan Reid’s “Homeland Security on the Río Bravo.” It would require the black humor that keeps us grinning instead of crying, a specialty of former Observer editor Molly Ivins, who reminds us that “Sometimes You Just Have to Laugh.” From its beginning, the Observer has tried to be a force for positive change and Larry Goodwyn (“An Essay on ‘Strong and Clear'”) excavates lessons from the past as pointers for the future. The issue would need to touch upon Texas’ rich cultural heritage: Its poetry (Lorenzo Thomas’ “Keeping the Flame Alive”) and literature (Don Graham’s “The State of Texas Lit”). In the 50 years since the Observer began, the influence of Texas has been felt throughout the nation, and particularly in Washington, D.C., a focus of contributing writer Robert Bryce’s “Texas’ Biz is America’s Biz,” and the issue’s final piece by founding editor and publisher Ronnie Dugger, “The Texafication of the USA.” Lastly, an anniversary issue had to offer a contrarian and often polemical perspective that’s expected from The Texas Observer (a “Journal of Free Voices”) and a state whose depth and complexity are seemingly without limit.
Through five decades, the Observer has played host to an amazing group of talented writers, photographers, and illustrators. Anyone doubting the depth and beauty of their body of work need look no further than the photographs of Russell Lee and Alan Pogue (“Compassionate Observers”). While some of the hundreds of contributors are represented here—mainstays like Bob Sherrill and too-long absent friends like Dave Hickey, Ruperto Garcia, and Garry Trudeau—many more are present in spirit. For them and for the most thoughtful and dedicated readership any magazine could hope to have, we offer thanks for these 50 years. We look forward to seeing you in the next 50.