Monday, March 21, 2011

Texas Institute of Letters Celebrates 75th Anniversary

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Texas Institute of Letters, of which I am a member. The year 1936 marked the one hundred year celebration of the Texas Revolution with a series of events, expositions, and special programs across the state. As one of many activities during the Texas Centennial, Governor James V. Allred proclaimed the first week of November as Texas Literature Week. That week saw the founding of a new literary organization created for the purpose of furthering and advancing the cause of Texas letters. As The Handbook of Texas notes: "The organizational meeting of the Texas Institute of Letters convened in the lecture room of the Hall of State on the grounds of the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas on November 9, 1936. The idea for the organization came from William H. Vann, a professor of English at what is now the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, in Belton. He and others had been inspired by the celebration of the Texas Centennial to form an organization to promote interest in Texas literature and to recognize literary and cultural achievement." Fifty Texas writers and poets composed the list of charter members. Today, induction into the TIL is based on literary achievement. Application for membership is not accepted. Instead, a proposed member must be nominated and seconded by a member and then voted upon by the entire membership. Members must be authors associated wtih Texas. The TIL each year offers a series of literary prizes for works of fiction, non-fiction, short stories, poetry, children's books, and excellence in book production. Later this spring, the Texas Institute of Letters will induct the following authors as new members:

Kathi Appelt. She is the author of more than thirty books – novels, picture books, poetry, and nonfiction for children and young adults. She has won numerous awards, among them the PEN USA award.

Alwyn Barr is professor of history at Texas Tech University He is a former president of the Texas State Historical Association and a former board member of Humanities Texas.

Douglas Brinkley is the fellow in history at the Baker Institute and a professor of history at Rice University. He is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, and American Heritage, as well as a frequent contributor to the New York Times, the New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly.

Bryan Burrough is a special correspondent at Vanity Fair and the author of numerous bestselling books. A former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, he is a three-time winner of the John Hancock Award for excellence in financial journalism.

Annette Gordon-Reed is the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for History. On February 25, 2010, President Barack Obama honored Gordon-Reed with the National Humanities Medal at a White House ceremony.

S.C. Gwynne is an award-winning journalist and author whose work has appeared extensively in Time, for which he worked as bureau chief, national correspondent and senior editor from 1988 to 2000, and in Texas Monthly, where he was executive editor.

Russell L. Martin III is director of the DeGolyer Library at Southern Methodist University.He has been published in a number of professional journals.

Karla Morton is the 2010 Texas Poet Laureate. As an author, she has won numerous prizes, including the Betsy Colquitt Award and the Indie National Book Award.

Jake Silverstein is editor of Texas Monthly. His work has appeared in a number of anthologies  He is the author of Nothing Happened, And Then It Did.

James Smallwood received his Ph.D. in history from Texas Tech University in 1974. He is a fellow of the Texas State Historical Association and is a member of various other professional societies. His Time of Hope, Time of Despair: Black Texans During Reconstruction won the Texas Historical Association's Coral H. Tullis Award for being the best Texas history book to appear in 1981.

Dominic Smith  is a visiting professor at SMU. He holds an MFA in writing from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. His short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including the "Atlantic Monthly."

Jerry Thompson is Regents Professor at Texas A&M International University and is considered to be among the best and most prolific historians of the Southwestern campaigns of the American Civil War. He has edited and written twenty books on the history of Texas and the Southwest, in addition to numerous articles in national and regional journals.

John Waugh is a journalist turned historical reporter. He is the author of at least eleven books, including "The Class of 1846" and "On the Brink of Civil War."

Robert Wooster is professor of history at Texas A&M Univesity Corpus Christi, where he has taught for more than twenty years. He is a recognized authority on Texas and United States history and an expert on the U.S. Military and the Civil War.

For more information about the Texas Institute of Letters, visit its website at

The TIL also offers a writer-in-residence fellowship at Paisano Ranch, the rural retreat near Austin once owned by Texas author J. Frank Dobie. For more informaitoin, see

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Texas Historian Lonn Taylor Reports on the Annual Meeting of the Texas State Historical Association

Texas Historian Lonn Taylor
Texas Historian Lonn Taylor is one of the most respected historical experts and commentators in the Lone Star state. He is a specialist in material culture, especially furniture. His expertise commands the admiration of academic historians who publish books filled with footnotes, some of which he has written. Members of the general public interested in the history of the Lone Star state also hold him in high regard. At present, he lives in Fort Davis, Texas where he has retired from an active career in history, including many years on the staff of the Smithsonian Institution. He writes a regular newspaper column while he serves on the Board of Directors of the Texas State Historical Association.

Like many other Texans, Lonn Taylor is concerned about the current status of the historical community in the state. In his March 10th newspaper column, which appears in Big Bend area outlets, he writes: "History is taking a beating in Texas this spring. In the name of economy, Governor Rick Perry has called for the abolition of the Texas Historical Commission, a state agency that since 1953 has promoted heritage tourism in Texas by putting up historical markers, preserving historic courthouses (including those in Marfa and Fort Davis), creating Heritage Trails, and sponsoring Main Street programs."

Taylor nonetheless notes: "Heritage tourism is the fastest-growing segment of Texas’s tourism industry, which generates $44 billion and half a million jobs each year. The governor says that the Texas Historical Commission does not contribute to his mission for state government: bringing more money and jobs into the state. Go figure."

In a related matter about the status of American history in Texas public schools, Lonn Taylor continues: "At the same time, the new history curriculum for Texas public schools adopted last year by the State Board of Education was given a grade of 'D' last month by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank that focuses on public education. The Institute summarized its point-by-point critique of the curriculum by saying 'history is distorted throughout the document in the interest of political talking points.' The curriculum, the subject of a huge public fight last year over its right-wing bias (Thomas Jefferson was too liberal to be included in a list of important political philosophers), turned out to be too conservative, or maybe just too nutty, for the conservatives."

In spite of these problems for the enterprise of Texas history, Lonn Taylor nevertheless is very pleased and encouraged with the current status of the Texas State Historical Association. He notes in his column of two days ago "In the face of all of this, I am happy to report that the 115th annual meeting of the Texas State Historical Association in El Paso, which I mentioned in a column a few weeks ago, took place in El Paso last week and was a great success. Five hundred and sixty academics and lay historians with an interest in the Southwest gathered from all over the country to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Texas independence and the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution by sampling the latest scholarship on both subjects and related southwestern topics".

It is well worth reading Lonn Taylor's entire report regarding the recent meeting in El Paso of the Texas State Historical Association. His assessment of this successful meeting provides encouragement to all of us who are concerned about the status of Texas history in these difficult times.

Click Here for Lonn Taylor's report on the March 3-5 meeting of the Texas State Historical Association, which appears on the site Big Bend Now, the online presence of the "Big Bend Sentinel" and the "Presidio International." To learn more about Lonn Taylor and his career as an historian, click here.