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That Texas Tone In Literature

Texas writers on the Lone Star State of mind and Texas identity now.

Attendees to the 2013 Texas Book Festival gather for a session in the Texas State Capitol chambers in Austin, TX. (Courtesy Texas Book Festival)

Attendees to the 2013 Texas Book Festival gather for a session in the Texas State Capitol chambers in Austin, TX. (Courtesy Texas Book Festival)

Texas-born Lonesome Dove writer Larry McMurtry is out with his 46th book, “The Last Kind Words Saloon.”  It opens in Texas with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.  Old Wild West.  But Texas is moving on.  With writers who see the past and taste the future.  Who write the present – of new oil boom and poverty side by side.  Of immigration and fraught borderlands.  Of thirst and drought and cattle country gone urban.  Today we’ll talk with three:  Sarah Bird, Sergio Troncoso, Philipp Meyer.  About larger-than-life and real-life Texas.  This hour On Point:  Texas writers, Texas issues, now.

– Tom Ashbrook


Clay Smith, editor in chief at Kirkus Media.

Sarah Bird, novelist and author of “Above the East China Sea,” “Virgin of the Rodeo” and many other books. (@sarahbirdwriter)

Sergio Troncoso, novelist and author of “Our Lost Border: Essays on Life Amid the Narco-Violence,” “From This Wicked Patch of Dust” and other books. (@SergioTroncoso)

Philipp Meyer, novelist and author of “The Son,” “American Rust” and many other books.

From Tom’s Reading List

NBC News: Quakes Rattle Confidence in Texas Energy Boom — “It  wasn’t the semi-trucks rumbling down country roads, or the dust, or the natural gas wells that popped up around their homes that finally got to residents of Azle and Reno, Texas. It was the earthquakes. These weren’t major quakes, magnitude 3.6 was the biggest, but no one in those North Texas towns had ever felt tremors before. Now in just three months, between last November and January, 34 quakes large enough to be felt shook homes, cracked walls and foundations, scared horses and pets, and opened a few sinkholes.”

New York Times: For Wendy Davis, Filibuster Goes Only So Far in Race to Be Governor of Texas — “A year after her filibuster pumped her up into the kind of galvanizing candidate Texas Democrats have not had for decades, she seems very much dragged down to earth, dwarfed by the perception that Democrats’ chances of ending the Republican domination of Texas remain slim.”

Texas Tribune: 5th Circuit Opinion Favors Water Suppliers — “State and local water planning agencies in Texas and across the drought-stricken West were handed a narrow victory by federal judges on Monday, vindicating their decisions to supply more water to cities and industries at the potential expense of endangered wildlife.”

A Few Suggestions on Reading Texas

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  • geraldfnord

    Are you including Austin in ‘Texas’?—some Austinites and many extra-Austin Texans wouldn’t…. but

  • qxz

    Rich Hall made a BBC documentary called “You Can Go to Hell, I’m Going to Texas” on this topic. You should watch in; there are clips on YouTube.

  • Dab200

    Sorry but politicians that Texas elects totally turn me of that state – with a notable exception of Austin!

  • podmanic


  • AC

    i was stuck down there for months and the strangest place. the land is so flat that they squint constantly. by the time they’re 25, they have wrinkles around their eyes. it was annoying because everyone treated me like a ‘little girl’ and yes, i was called that. also, traveling during sunrise and sunset in east/west respectively, is suicidal. i had to get off the hwy because i was essentially blind and unable to read any back-lit signs…i think they must know where they are by landscape, it was terrifying…
    also, you never realize how much you miss bread and subs shops until you’re stuck there….

  • Balios

    Please excuse me, I’ve lived in Austin, Houston and now on a bitty ranch in rural Texas and was very disappointed with this typical bs radio. Arrogant, Self centered, Superficial people quick to parade examples to support their own beloved brand of bigotry. Little knowledge of Texas here! For example: The joke about Rick Perry in Texas is that no one ever votes for him but he always seems to win. Most of his races were against split tickets where he got a very small percentage of the vote. In the last gubernatorial race Debra Medina, a Ron Paul protegee, was experiencing huge popularity and support when Glenn Beck destroyed her candidacy with an unethical and nauseating ambush during a national interview. Perry is considered an embarrassment and detriment by one and all – but a very crafty politician. Who did I hear crusty old ranchers praise in the last presidential election? Herman Cain. This may not fit in your little ego bubble but it’s time npr and its listeners take the plank out of their own eyes so they can see what’s gong on.

    • Human2013

      To be honest, I have harbored some unfavorable and unfair opinions of TX. However, I know this state is capable of producing thoughtful, witty, progressive people. Ann Richards was a real Gem. RIP, Ann.

  • Human2013

    Your observations are not limited to TX. Don’t let the liberal Northeast fool you. I was born, raised and recently returned to Massachusetts.

    MA is very segregated. Our liberal residents love discussing the social uplifting of minority residents, but don’t wish to reside anywhere near them. Income inequality is so extreme, that in some cities, more than half of the residents receive some kind of housing subsidy. When MA passed a law requiring 10% of housing in all towns be made affordable, the towns quickly worked with non-profits to fill those slots with elderly as to avoid minority women and their children. We have some of the wealthiest people in the world living in this state — often within a few miles of children going hungry. If you’re interested in school rankings, look no further than than average income and property taxes to determine success rates.

    And who can forget our favorite Boston police officer who called a black Harvard professor a “banana eating jungle monkey.” And they say education is the great equalizer!

    • Katherine

      Ha! I am glad you brought this up. I’d already written a ton (obviously!) and felt saying anything about my experiences on in the Northeast would be outside the scope of my main comments. That said, I do agree with you. I lived in Philadelphia for four years and was struck my the very segregation of which you speak. I taught in a city school, and in that time, I taught exactly three non-African American children. Around the time I was moving back to Texas, Philadelphia unions were being accused of purposely, consciously excluding minorities from their ranks, and a private pool in the city denied entrance to Black children. …I couldn’t help but chuckle when some of my Philadelphia friends’ horror that I would move back to Texas – such a racist place. (“Of course,” several consoled me, “if you’re moving to Austin, you won’t have to worry about that sort of thing.”)

  • Regular_Listener

    I got about halfway thru this one. If it was a show about some sort of movement in Texas literature, or the unique characteristics of Texan writers and the like, then how come there didn’t seem to be much discussion of that?

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