Bridegrooms Past and Present


Bridegrooms Past and Present mong the most provocative articles to ever appear in the Observer was Larry McMurtry’s “Ever a Bridegroom: Reflections on the Failure of Texas Literature,” published on October 23, 1981. The article was so provocative, in fact, that even before it was published hackles were raised and ire was piqued. McMurtry had read the entire piece to a packed audience at the Fort Worth Museum, and then spent another 40 minutes answering questions, “never wavering in his conviction,” according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “that the ‘new’ Texas literature is something less than has recently been made of it.” This was news! The state’s preeminent author had delivered a broadside against his fellow writers, who had “paid too much attention to nature, not enough to human nature” and were somehow oblivious to the fact that most of them lived in cities, “urbanites for decades… veterans not only of the Texas cities, but of the cities of the East Coast, the West Coast, and Europe.” “Where has this experience gone?” he wondered aloud. “Where are the novels, stories, poems, and plays that ought to be using it? Why are there still cows to be milked and chickens to be fed in every Texas book that comes along? When is enough going to be allowed to be enough?” He then went on to name names and pluck away at the local literati one by one, with the notable exception of the late poet Vassar Miller, for whom McMurtry expressed his “unequivocal admiration.” Of course, as critics have since pointed out, McMurtry did not completely abandon the cows and the chickens in his own fiction. But he had made his point: The state had gone from a rural to an urban population and writers, who are supposed to be ahead of the game on this sort of thing, were way behind. Nearly 25 years later, the article is a classic and well worth reading. It’s also in desperate need of an update, as is the very phrase “Texas writer.” This issue of the Observer is intended as a dialogue with Texas writers, past and present. Picking up where McMurtry left off, we open with a look at a group of young writers—”Texas Writers Observed”—and end with a weighty list of summer reading recommendations—”Texas Readers Observed.” In between are reviews of new fiction from Cormac McCarthy and Rick Bass, a review of a recently re-released 19th-century Texas travelogue by Frederick Law Olmsted, “A Butter Take on Texas History,” an interview with Austin playwright Steve Moore, “The Philosophers and the Playwright,” and Ruperto Garcia’s great gift to the magazine, “Summer of the Salamanders,” evidence that there are still plenty of stories to be mined from rural Texas. In an issue devoted to books, it’s only fitting to mention the many young Observer writers who have recently published or are about to publish a first book. Former Observer editor Nate Blakeslee’s long-awaited book, Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small West Texas Town, will be published next September; followed soon after by Waterloo, former editor Karen Olsson’s novel set in Austin. Alix Ohlin, who wrote about the arts for the Observer, is the author of a new novel, The Missing Person. Reviewer James E. McWilliams is the author of A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America (history the way it should be taught), and contributing writer Michael Erard’s book on verbal blundering (yes, indeed) will be published next fall. Finally, Emily Rapp, who so diligently toiled on our books issue during the three years that she was an Observer intern, is busily finishing the first draft of a memoir to be published by Random House. Congratulations to all, and happy reading to our loyal readers—in Texas and beyond. May you find something in this issue to raise your hackles and pique your ire.—BB