Page 14


BOOKS & THE CULTURE The Range of Texas Writing BY BRYCE MILLIGAN RANGE WARS: Heated Debates, Sober Reflections, and Other Assessments of Texas Writing Edited by Craig Clifford and Tom Pilkington Dallas: SMU Press, 1989 ALTHOUGH THIS is the time, and most certainly the place, this is in fact not the Great Texas essay that will debunk Larry McMurtry’s infamousgrown-merely-famous “Ever a Bridegroom: Reflections on the Failure of Texas Literature,” published in these pages on October 23, 1981. Fact of the matter is, Larry’s lambasting of the state of Texas letters has been low-balled, high-balled, and just balled a few dozen times already. If ever a single essay could be called a literary father of sorts, McMurtry’s qualifies. His “Bridegroom” engendered a bevy of raconteurish pieces of literary criticism. Writers toting academic and/or journalistic credentials instead of six-guns most of whom were actually older than McMurtry scribbled away at the enfant terrible turned Godfather. The spectacle was at once Oedipal and Atrean, a thing which could perhaps only be carried off in the land of e pluribus unum with no kings but commodities, cotton, cattle, and oil. \(Whether Lonesome Dove has defined its author as an enfant prodigue or a returning It takes two to tango, even among Texas egos, and the bride in this case was A. C. Greene’s “Fifty Best Texas Books” essay, which appeared on the scene two months prior to the bridegroom and on the other side of the literary fence, so to speak, in Texas Monthly. But as I said, or was going to say, this is not the essay to assay McMurtry’s critical nuggets. The doggies in this writer’s drove are book reviews, not essays, some 400 at last count but who the hell’s counting; Bryce Milligan founded the Annual Texas Small Press Bookfair \(now the San Antonio the book critic for the San Antonio Light and editor of Vortex: A Critical Review. it’s a long damn way to Dodge. I’ll leave the essaying to somebody with silver spurs. Or golden. On the other hand, some might find this a ghostly task at hand: it is the souls absent rather than the bodies present that generally cause the biggest fracases in Texas criticism, the present volume being no exception. Craig Clifford’s and Tom Pilkington’s aptly titled Range Wars: Heated Debates, Sober Reflections, and Other Assessments of Texas Writing, let out of the chute this month by SMU .Press, opens with the aforementioned bride and groom, then ushers in the more notable children: “Horseman, Hang On: The Reality of Myth “A ‘Southern Renaissance’ for Texas The battlefield is littered with the missing: women, minorities, poets and playwrights ‘ Does It Take to Be a Texas Writer?” by “Palefaces vs. Redskins: A Literary “Arbiters of Texas Literary Taste,” by and “Herding Words: Texas Literature as Trail Drive,” by Tom Pilkington \(1984, As usual, the battlefield is littered with the missing: Women, Blacks, Chicanos, Native Americans, Poets, Playwrights, Small Press Advocates. Celia Morris’s essay in part explains the absence of more women by making it abundantly clear that if Texas is hell on women and horses, the Texas Letters Range War is doubly hell on women the horses do just fine. But one wonders why, for instance, Betsy Colquitt’s excellent essay “The Landed Heritage of Texas Writing” was omitted. Or why, if Marshall Terry could write a piece exclusively for this volume, the editors could not have sought out something closer to equal representation among the critics. I can just imagine what Molly Ivins might have to say on the subject \(though even Ivins would be hard pressed to beat Morris’s opening sentence for pitch contributions from Kaye Northcott, or Shelby Hearon, or Naomi Nye, or Pat Ellis Taylor, or Judith Rigler? Josd Lim& obliquely approaches what should have been his main topic \(that some of the best writing in Texas of late has cpme from the Chicano/Chicana/Mexicanconditions preceding the “Southern Renaissance” to the state of Texas Letters. After spending half his essay in sideling up his thesis: “It seems to me that there is at least a possibility for such a Texas literary/intellectual culture of the ‘here,’ one which to some degree might resemble that of the Southern Renaissance.” \(Italics Hinojosa, Tomds Rivera, Carmen Tafolla, Gloria Anzalchia, Ramon Saldivar, Juan Rodriguez, and a few others. Limon’s strong suit, needless to say, is not la retorica del movimiento. Not to beat a dead horse here, but a few years ago I asked Tom Pilkington to speak at the second Annual Texas Small Press Bookfair on the topic of “The Influence of Chicano Writing on Texas Letters.” Tom duly delivered the paper, focusing on the fact that the first European writer to say much about Texas was Cabeza de Vaca, and pointing out that a certain old story-telling vaquero was partially responsible for turning Frank Dobie from cow punching to pen pushing. Now, I’d be first in line to give the old conquistador posthumous membership in the Texas Institute of Letters he spent more time in Texas than have THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19