Texas writers, part 2: Point of clarification

I’ve gotten some interesting responses to yesterday’s post on the dearth of Texas writers—none yet in the comments section, but I’m crossing my fingers—and one careful reader reminded me that I should have clarified something here. When I refer to Texas writers, I was thinking primarily in terms of prose, poetry, or drama. There’s certainly no lack of songwriters in the Lone Star state.

The reader, a budding screenwriter, pointed out that there’s no void when it comes to filmmakers, either. He’s right. Orson Welles set one of his few true masterpieces, Touch of Evil, in a Texas border town. A fictional Texas border town is the site of one of my favorite movies of all-time (and on which I’m working on an essay). Robert Altman directed an interesting failure, Dr. T and the Women in Dallas, and a cool sci-fi film—Primer—was also shot and filmed in Dallas. Wes Anderson, Terence Malick, Robert Rodriguez, and Richard Linklater all hail from Texas; the latter two continue to shoot most of their movies in and around Austin. Hell, the most famous soap opera of all time bares the name Dallas, so it’s not as if screenwriters haven’t found something in the state.

But cinema emphasizes visual splendor and spectacle, the mad interplay of color and light, and grand vistas. Texas has all of this in spades. Dallas, my hometown, is especially glitzy; it prides itself on spit and polish more than any other place I’ve ever been. But visual pop doesn’t necessarily equate to emotional depth, and maybe the overabundance of the former combined with the lack of the latter is why Dallasites have such a hard time writing about the place. Or, at least, they have a hard time with the city when they know what they write isn’t likely to make it to the TV screen. One recent novel, by the magnificent Poppy Z. Brite, gets my hometown right:

They were in a revolving cocktail lounge atop the glittering orb of Reunion Tower, fifty stories above the city. It was cheesy as hell, but Rickey was glad Coop had brought him here, since he had never before seen anything like this view of nighttime Dallas. If a very rich woman with very gaudy taste had upended her jewelry box onto a huge piece of dark blue satin, it might have looked a little like this. There were buildings that seemed to sparkle with gold dust, buildings topped with ruby beacons, a huge building completely outlined in emerald-colored argon tubing, a slightly smaller one whose lights made a pattern like a DNA helix. Far below, traffic moved in glowing chains among it all.

That’s from Brite’s newest novel, Prime. She gets at how beautiful Dallas is, but also how surface-level that beauty is. You get the sense that there’s little foundation between the glitz. Brite gets more to the point later on, when Coop is further showing off the sights:

“Oh, the Big D on the TransWorld Communication Tower?” said Coop. “That’s just the city fathers’ latest addition to the skyline. It’s going to be the world’s largest D.”

“But why?” said Rickey. “Is it advertising something?”

“Dallas is advertising itself. That’s what they do here.”

That’s perfect. So, maybe it just takes outsiders to get Dallas right. Brite, after all, is from New Orleans.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Atlanta, GA. He is the co-author (with Daniel Couch) of Bob Mould's Workbook (Bloomsbury, 2017). His work has been published in The Quarterly Conversation, RogerEbert.com, Bookslut (RIP), The Comics Journal, The Baseball Chronicle, and other periodicals. Twitter: @walter_biggins.
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4 Responses to Texas writers, part 2: Point of clarification

  1. Susan says:

    QB, William Humphrey might be your guy. Check out “The Collected Stories of William Humphrey.” It’s been ages since I read it, but from what I remember the stories are all about East Texas. Did you mention him already? Excellent writer.
    Also, isn’t a lot of Sandra Cisneros’s work is linked to San Antonio? Another fine writer.
    I can think of a couple of other Texas writers; ones with Mississippi connections! Rick Bass, who grew up in Houston (?), lived in Jackson for a while & worked in the oil business. He lives out in Wyoming or Montana and has written a lot about the that area’s natural history. His new one, The Diezmo, however, is all about Texas history. (I have not seen it yet.)
    Beverly Lowry, who grew up in the Miss. Delta, and wrote an excellent book (Crossed Over) about Karla Faye Tucker, the death-row prisoner who was executed several years ago. Her novel “Breaking Gentle” is set in the hill country, but I have not read it.
    Rosellen Brown, who taught at Tougaloo years ago, is the author of “Half a Heart,” set in Houston, is about a Jewish woman and her estranged biracial daughter. Incidentally, Brown’s “Civil War” is one of the best novels about Jackson I’ve read. A liberal couple, veterans of Jackson’s civil rights movement, must take in their racist sibling’s children after a car accident.

  2. Susan says:

    How could I forget? Texas also produced one of the great children’s book authors, the late James Marshall (“The Cut-Ups,” “Space Case,” plus a number of funny & fabulous adaptations of fairy tales, and more). If I’m remembering correctly, he grew up in Beaumont and San Antonio. A Lone Star flag almost always appears in his picture books when he draws a school.

  3. Susan says:

    One more.
    Major poet: Naomi Shihab Nye. Lives in San Antonio.
    Link to her poem “San Antonio”:

  4. QB says:

    Susan, thanks for all of these. I’ve heard of Shihab Nye from various sources, but have never bothered to read. I’ll have to rectify that. And I feel terrible for neglecting Cisneros, whose work I love.

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