Friday, October 31, 2014

The 10 Books Every Texan Should Read

In the November issue of Texas Monthly, freelance filmmaker, producer, journalist, and author John Phillip Santos shared his list of the greatest Texas books ever written -- also tapping a number of prolific Texas writers for their own selections.

"As a writer born in San Antonio, I have always felt myself anointed, or perhaps branded, by the conflicted literary legacies of the Lone Star State," writes Santos.

"That a canon of Texas literature notionally exists cannot be denied;" Santos goes on to say. "J. Frank Dobie first made the case for one in 1943 with his Guide to Life and Literature in the Southwest, and it was the pantheon of Texas literati that later inspired Larry McMurtry's curmudgeonly takedown of our letters in his essays "Southwestern Literature?" (1968) and "Ever a Bridegroom" (1981).

As publishers both of Texas literature and groundbreaking Texas history, Texas A&M University Press and the Texas Book Consortium loom large on many writers' personal lists of required reading.

Jeff Guinn, author of Glorious, listed A Texas Jubilee: Thirteen Stories from the Lone Star State by James Ward Lee (TCU Press, 2013) as one Texas book deserving a greater audience.

Set primarily during the early 1940s, the book is a collection of short stories about life in fictional Bodark Springs, Texas. Through these stories, author Jim Lee paints a humorous picture of the politics, friendships, and secrets that are part of day-to-day life in this eccentric little Texas town.

TCU Press, which has the reissuing rights to the late Elmer Kelton's famous "cowboy" novels, also received a nod on Guinn's personal reading list and that of Steven L. Davis, curator at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University in San Marcos. Davis is also co-author of Dallas 1963, for his book The Time it Never Rained (TCU Press, 1984).

Of Kelton's novel, Davis wrote, "No historian will ever describe the Great Drought better than Elmer does in this novel."

Davis also selected Windfall and Other Stories by Winifred Sanford (SMU Press, 1988) among his favorites, saying the fictional stories depict the immense changes wrought by the oil boom.

Texas A&M University Press books -- and especially those dealing with Mexican American history -- were picked by several Texas authors.

With Santa Anna in Texas: A Personal Narrative of the Revolution by José Enrique de la Peña -- one of the first books published by Texas A&M Press after it was established in 1974 -- appeared on writer James Donovan's personal list.

Donovan, author of The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo -- and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation, called the book, an account of the March 6, 1836 assault on the Alamo from the Mexican army officer's perspective, "excellent reportage of the Texas revolution."

Cecilia Balli, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Texas, listed Caballero: A Historical Novel by Jovita González and Eve Raleigh (Texas A&M University Press, 1996), a milestone in Mexican-American and Texas literature written during the 1930s and 1940s centered on a mid-nineteenth-century Mexican landowner and his family living in the heart of southern Texas during a time of tumultuous change. 

Also on her list was Tejanos and Texas under the Mexican Flag, 1821-1836 by Andrés Tijerina (Texas A&M University Press, 1994).
Tijerina's work focuses on Texas between 1821 and 1836, providing background facts for a better understanding of the exchange of land, power, culture, and social institutions that took place between the Anglo-American frontier and the Hispanic frontier.

Guinn, a fan of Kelton's western novel, also stated that he loved Lon Tinkle's book 13 Days to Glory: The Siege of the Alamo (Texas A&M University Press, 1996) as a kid and still enjoy it as an adult.

In the book, Tinkle tells the day-by-day story of how 182 men fought a losing battle but won for their cause an almost unparalleled measure of fame.

For more notable Texas literature and history, including works by noted Texas writers J. Frank DobieA. C. GreeneDon Graham, and many others, check out the Texas A&M University Press and Texas Book Consortium website.

Read Santos's full article here.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Historic Trees Stand as Witnesses to History

What better way is there to celebrate the Texas Forest Service’s 100-year anniversary than publishing a second edition of Famous Tress of Texas: Texas A&M Forest Service that recognizes 101 historic trees across the state of Texas?

Authored by Gretchen Riley and Peter D. Smith, Famous Trees of Texas is great for Texans of all ages. The trees Riley and Smith chose to highlight are not necessarily grandeur in their size, age, or rarity, but significant for the vivacious and rich stories associated with them.These trees were witnesses to and participants in some of the most notable events in Texas history.

Riley and Smith show how these tangible, living specimens are a bridge from the past to the present. While some have succumbed to age, natural disasters, or human development, you can also see how they foster camaraderie in a community, such as in the case of the Treaty Oak in Austin. After being poisoned in 1989, the catastrophe brought tree experts, the public, and members of the Texas government together to save the beloved oak.   

Chances are that most state residents live within an hour or two drive from at least one of these historic trees. Most of them are found in state parks or on other public lands for viewing. And while some of the trees discussed are no longer living, their sites and scenery are still worth visiting. Where these living icons once stood, commemorative plaques continue to memorialize their story and location.   

For a taste of what Famous Trees of Texas has to offer, read Suzanne Halko’s article “Tall Tales” in Texas Co-Op Power. Follow her journey as she visits locations, interviews residents, and learns about some of the lesser-known trees across the state.

Along with the new edition of Famous Trees of Texas, the Texas Forest Service also plans to observe its 100-year anniversary by planting 100 new trees across Texas. Perhaps these fledgling shoots will be the next living landmarks to nurture a new era of legendary tales and add to the already remarkable history of the state.   

--Gina Marie Wadas

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Chicago Native Reviews Fritos Pie: Stories, Recipes, and More

Gina Marie Wadas is the publishing intern for Texas A&M University Press.  She is a native of Chicago and has lived in Texas for a year while working on her masters of science degree in science and technology journalism at Texas A&M University.  Her previous publications have appeared in Science Editor and CVM Today magazines, and Women's Art: Women's Vision: Women's Voices Journal. She engages in all forms of writing and editing in both fiction and non-fiction literature. Writing this blog has reminded her of how much she dearly misses her hometown foods of deep-dish pizzas, Italian beef sammiches (or sandwich), and Chicago-style hot dogs.   

With the 2014 State Fair of Texas now underway in Dallas, anxious concessionaries are ready for their chance to fry up their unique and tastiest treats in hopes of winning the Big Tex Choice Award and exclusive membership into this deep frying community of winners.

Past winners satisfied hungry Texans with deep fried bubble gum, beer, banana splits, jambalaya, and butter. However, one past winner has had its food roots in Texas since the 1930s; Fritos® Pie: won the Best Taste category in 2010.

While this comfort food is a well-known Texas favorite, this Chicago-native had to pick several jaws off the floor when I asked, “What is a Fritos® Pie?” In order to learn more about what this treat had to offer me besides a delighted palate, I was encouraged to read the book Fritos® Pie: Stories, Recipes, and More (Texas A&M UniversityPress, 2011).

Fritos® Pie was published in 2011 by Kaleta Doolin, daughter of the Fritos Company founder Charles Elmer Doolin. This written-from-the-heart book highlights Kaleta’s family stories, recipes, and how marketing of the Fritos® Pie recipe, among other recipes developed by her family and company employees, made the company such a success. I enjoyed the author’s nostalgic collage of black and white photos of her family and hard-working company members in action, the vintage and modern recipes, and the patent drawings of the early machinery that made the delicious fried corn chips.

But the book is not all about fried corn chips and business strategies. It is also about the author and her journey to discover the father she lost at the young age of nine. She spent hours interviewing family members and former business associates of her father as well as researching the archive collection at the Frito-Lay Corporation. She discovered that C. E. Doolin was not just a savvy food marketer, but an inventor, agriculturist, and entrepreneur.
According to the book, Fritos Chili Pie was one of the first recipes given away at conventions as part of the Cooking with Fritos promotional campaign.

From the book:
It was chosen for this purpose because it used (and therefore sold) two Fritos products: Fritos corn chips and Fritos Brand Chili. The chili was produced by the company’s Champion Foods division. . .
While not a pie per se, variations in the recipe usually involve the placement and texture of the Fritos and even the vessel in which the “pie” is made. Sometimes it’s prepared as a casserole or started in a Crockpot, but sometimes it’s prepared directly in a cardboard boat, or, famously, in the past, when the bags were sturdier, in the Fritos bags themselves.

With my new Fritos® knowledge under my belt and several Fritos® Pies in my belly, I no longer feel like a castaway in the Fritos® Pie community. Perhaps now that Texas has deep fried one of their favorite goodies, I wonder if they will consider deep frying a long-time Chicago treat at the next State Fair: a pizza pie.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Keeping Open Space Open

The following article originally appeared on The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation blog. The post was written by David K. Langford, co-author of Hillingdon Ranch: Four Seasons, Six Generations (TAMU Press 2013). David K. Langford is the former executive vice president of the Texas Wildlife Association and owner of Western Photography Company. He lives on the Laurels Ranch, his piece of the Hillingdon family land near Comfort. To go to the original post, click here.

While it is easy to imagine that rural Texans and urban Texans are separated by insurmountable barriers of concrete and experience, it's simply not true. We stand on common ground. As humans, we all need the same things: healthy food, serviceable clothing, protective shelter, clean water, and productive open spaces that are not only home to our essential natural resources and processes, but also provide beautiful, natural settings that restore our collective spirit.

In the chaos of modern life, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that these essential life-giving elements come from somewhere. Food does not magically appear in supermarkets. Water does not magically appear in our taps. Open space land does not remain productive casually or by chance. These things directly result from the stewardship of hundreds of thousands of committed, resourceful people who are operating ranches and farms across the state.

In number they are few. In fact, less than two percent of our population provides food, clothes, and shelter while keeping open spaces productive and environmentally viable. Standing together, they are the thin green line of people who provide the raw materials that sustain our lives and fuel our economy. Imagine how different your life might be if you had to take time from your day to grow your own food. The amount of time that writers would have to write, teachers would have to teach, lawyers would have to litigate, physicians would have to heal, and entrepreneurs would have to deal, would be drastically reduced. Productivity, across the board, could plummet.

Other countries likely will be more than willing to produce food for us. Being our food supplier would not only help their balance of trade in the global marketplace, but could also make us dependent upon them for our foodstuffs. If our dependence on foreign oil has been considered a major national security concern, consider the implications of ceding control of our food supply to foreign powers.

From the beginnings of our country, we Americans have pinned our eyes and our hopes on the horizon believing that unlimited land and the promise of the fresh start it offers lay just beyond the sunset. In Texas, we never suspected that our famed wide-open spaces could ever become crowded. And yet the state is filling up at an unprecedented rate. By the year 2040, it is estimated that the Lone Star State will be home to more than 45.3 million residents, almost 20 million more than called Texas home in 2010. Each and every one will require food, clothing, shelter, plentiful clean water, and room to roam. And despite this burgeoning demand, Texas is losing productive open-space land faster than any other state in the nation. Unintentionally, through fragmentation, we are dismantling the very engine that produces agricultural products, renewable natural resources, and environmental benefits.
Somewhere along the way, we, as a society, lost sight of the true worth of open space land and began using attributes like location, access, development possibilities, condition, terms, investment potential, and comparables to establish marketplace values. In the process, we inadvertently created a system that encourages land to be broken up and sold in small pieces, instead of conserved, managed, and kept intact.

We are reaching a point in Texas where simply standing on common ground is not enough. The lives of urban and rural Texans are irreversibly intertwined, so we must all join forces to create and define initiatives and policies that conserve the common good, while protecting the heritage of private landowners.

Collectively, we can strengthen the lines of communication between urban and rural Texans. Collectively, we can help redefine the value of open-space land, recognizing that societal benefits such as clean water and air may trump the financial benefits of future development. Collectively, we can refine traditional solutions and explore creative ideas for addressing challenges like our state’s looming water crisis.

As historical and recent droughts have proven, water is our most precious resource. Too often it is in short supply. But our open spaces offer the promise of common sense solutions. As former President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a native of the Texas Hill Country, noted, “Saving the water and the soil must start where the first raindrop falls.”

As LBJ did, we must all understand that in Texas, virtually every drop of our ground and surface water supply originates with rain that falls on the land, and is then captured by a complex, large-scale processes involving plants, soil, and animals. When these processes function optimally, floods are reduced, aquifers are replenished, and water is released more slowly and steadily into streams, rivers, lakes, and eventually our bays and estuaries. If the land is in good condition, the quality and quantity of water—both surface and underground—available to all citizens reflect that condition.

While land stewards cannot make more rain, their efforts can make more out of what we have. By managing and improving the watershed’s condition, they help replenish both surface and underground water sources and ensure adequate instream and environmental flows. Their stewardship affects the water supply at its origins, not just at its destination.

Well-managed land is the greatest water supply enhancement tool on the planet. With adequate and appropriate vegetative cover, land is nature’s sponge. In Texas, open space covers almost 150 million acres. When the objective is making the most of every drop that falls from the sky, a sponge of this magnitude, and the land stewards who keep it functional, are essential to our way of life, no matter where we live.

Whether our roots are planted in the soil or our foundations are built on concrete, we must come to understand that as the land goes, so goes the water—and life as we know it. Building on this shared understanding, we can manage our natural resources so that our future is both bright and sustainable.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Ghost Towns Offer Glimpse into the Past

About a mile up an unnamed gravel road inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the back way into an abandoned neighborhood and hotel, some of which was originally constructed more than 100 years ago.

In the fully edited film below, "Tennessee Wonderland", hiker Jordan Liles explores the houses and the remains of what was once referred to as the Wonderland Club.

A piece in the Huffington Post Roadtrippers blog documents the abandoned town Liles spotted during his hike.

Ghost towns dot the landscape all across the southwestern United States, once-thriving cultural hubs abandoned and left in shambles.

In an Associated Press article that appeared Sunday, writer John Marshall highlights a handful of other popular ghost towns in the Southwest, many of which are still fairly well preserved and offer visitors a chance to see a piece of history -- even if, as Marshall writes, it is in pieces.

Among the towns he features are Death Valley Junction; California, Bodie California (located near the Nevada state line east of Yosemite National Park); Gleeson, Arizona (near the famous Wild West town of Tombstone); Rhyolite, Nevada (established in 1905 during the Gold Rush); and Goldfield, Arizona (featuring Old West gunfights, gold panning and rides on Arizona's only narrow-gauge train).

Can't get enough? Check out Thurber, Texas -- former home to coal miners and brick plant workers from Italy, Poland, and as many as 14 European nations, not to mention the many Mexican immigrants who came to the area.

Located 75 miles west of Fort Worth, Thurber was -- between 1888 and 1921 -- one of the largest producers of bituminous coal in Texas and the largest company town in the state with a population of over 10,000.

The city still boasts several landmarks, including the Thurber Cemetery -- which has more than 1,000 graves, the restored St. Barbara's Catholic Church, a restored and furnished coal miner's house, New York Hill, and more. A historic Thurber smokestack can clearly be seen from Interstate 20 near Thurber.[4] Also at Thurber is the W. K. Gordon Center for Industrial History of Texas, a museum containing information on historical Thurber (operated by nearby Tarleton State University),[3] as well as the historic Smokestack Restaurant, and the New York Hill Restaurant built on what was once the site of the town's Episcopal Church at the top of New York Hill.

Read more of on Thurber in Mary Jane Gentry's lively history of the city's rise and decline The Birth of a Texas Ghost Town: Thurber, 1886-1933.