Monday, July 29, 2013

Stealing a Scene in Alpine, Texas

Michael Hall
He wore faded blue jeans, an unbuttoned plaid shirt over a crisp white T-shirt, and a pair of Keds-style sneakers, the latter a kind of low-top once an obligatory fashion statement for every all-American boy back in the 1950s. Today, in many parts of the fashion world, Keds are about as rare as Studebakers or DeSotos. Yet, if you can find them, they remain sensible shoes to wear, especially if one lives in blue-state Austin. He had found them. He wore his Keds with panache as he headed to his place at the front of the room, an impish grin spread across his face.
“Welcome to the seminar,” he said. “I’m Mike Hall, senior editor of Texas Monthly magazine. We will be dealing with long form journalism for the next five days.” We already knew that, of course, because he was the reason why we found ourselves seated in front of him. Our group of thirteen people constituted a baker’s dozen of writers who had come to Alpine, Texas to hear him say that. We would be his students for the week in a Writer’s League of Texas workshop held on the campus of Sul Ross State University.
Those of us seated around his seminar table had already spilled much ink in our respective writing careers, in some cases achieving wordsmithing success well beyond novice levels. His students for the week had authored books, served as magazine editors, and regularly wrote non-fiction articles appearing in academic journals, mass-distribution periodicals, and newspapers including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and most of the major ones in Texas.
Mike grabbed a magic marker and began writing on large white poster paper attached to an easel. He diagrammed in detail the structure of an article from the March 2013 issue of Texas Monthly he had written about bicyclist Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace. He dissected the essay with a brain surgeon’s precision as he peppered us with observations about how he worked. “All good long form journalism, “he explained,“ starts with a scene. Articles are like movies, they have to be written as if readers are seeing them in their heads. Good magazine pieces are composed of blocks, each of which should have a scene.”  He stressed that the “nut graph” is the most important block of the story. This is the part of the piece that contains the main point of the article, stated concisely and clearly. "Any questions?" They came quickly and steadily for the next hour.

Light Cummins reading at Front Street Books from his seminar
article as edited by Michael Hall
This set the scene for an intense week of writing, editing, revising, and rewriting. We found new ways to say old things, while we learned how to smile in the face of "upend editing," which constitutes a thorough rearranging and restructuring down to the heart of the matter. A successful upend edit can deflate a writer's ego much like a pin against a balloon. Nonetheless, we happily took upending in stride and pressed on with vigor. We discussed up and down for five days the ins and outs of long form journalism. We talked a lot, laughed a lot, thought a lot, and wrote a lot. Mike Hall edited a lot. He taught us how to write scenes. And,  in the process of all this, he stole the scene himself in our estimation. There was only one disappointment: his seminar lasted for one week, not two.

Click here for the Writer's League of Texas

Click here for Michael Hall's March 2013 Texas Monthly article on Lance Armstrong

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Sad Day for the Austin College Community

Sherman -- Austin College Information Services: "The Austin College community lost a treasured and much-beloved friend with the death of Sara Bernice Moseley, 95, on July 19. Her contributions to the life of the College and the thousands of alumni, faculty, staff, and friends she has touched are beyond measure. The community offers heartfelt condolences to her family, including three children, Sara Caroline, John, and Rebecca, and their spouses, plus four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.For a quarter of a century, 1953 to 1978, Mrs. Moseley served the Austin College and Sherman communities as first lady of Austin College while her late husband John D. Moseley served as one of the most successful and forward-thinking leaders in the College’s history. Upon his retirement in 1978, he spent three years as chancellor, at which time the Moseleys built a home in Sherman and remained on Grand Avenue, right across from the College.

Since that time, Mrs. Moseley has been a welcome participant in nearly every major activity at the College—through the arrival of three new presidents to the College. Her home on Grand Avenue gave her a view of the College and her interest in its students and their activities never waned. She watched with excitement as construction changed the face of the campus just outside her front door—from the Sandra J. Williams Founders Plaza to the cottages of the Village on Grand that brought her many new student neighbors that she delighted to see. This May, she attended her 60th Commencement exercises, as proud of the graduates today as she was when her husband presented the graduates’ diplomas.
“Sara Bernice’s love for the College, established as she served as First Lady, continued throughout all her remaining years,” said Austin College President Marjorie Hass. “She helped welcome me to the Austin College family and was a great advisor and friend to me.”
Mrs. Moseley was a trailblazing Presbyterian woman. In 1965, she became the first woman elected as a ruling elder of First Presbyterian Church, Sherman. In 1975, she became the first woman in the Presbyterian Church in the United States to be endorsed by a presbytery for moderator of the General Assembly, the highest elected official of the church, and in 1978, Mrs. Moseley became the first woman elected moderator of the General Assembly. In that role, she was an instrumental figure in the reunion of the two major branches of the Presbyterian Church, which came about in 1983. She served as co-chair of Friends for Reunion in 1981-1982 and as the first chair of the General Assembly Council of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1983-1984.
Reporting on an interview after she was elected moderator in 1978, The Presbyterian Outlook quoted Mrs. Moseley as holding two “profound hopes” for the Presbyterian Church: one, that “God will equip His people in effective ways to live out their faith,” and two, that “with the integrity of the Presbyterian system, we will keep the church open to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.”
Born Sara Bernice Honea, a native of Anson, Texas, Mrs. Moseley served as vice president of the Synod of Texas Youth Council in 1935. (The president that year was a young man named John D. Moseley.) She graduated from Texas State College for Women (now Texas Woman’s University) in 1937 with a B.A. in music. She studied further at the University of Michigan and the University of Texas. She married John D. Moseley in 1941. She was 34 years old when the couple moved to Sherman in 1953, when her husband was appointed the 12th president of Austin College.
Austin College named Mrs. Moseley an honorary alumna in 1974, and she received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the College in 1978. TWU named Mrs. Moseley a distinguished alumna in 1977, and she was named the American Association of University Women’s Outstanding Woman in Sherman in 1980.
The Austin College Board of Trustees approved the establishment of the Sara Bernice Moseley Scholarships for Outstanding Presbyterian Students in 1995, recognizing Mrs. Moseley’s contributions to the church and the College. In 2002, The Moseleys’ nearly 50 years of service to the College were recognized with the dedication of the College Green in Honor of John D. and Sara Bernice Moseley and Distinguished Faculty. In 2012, the Board of Trustees approved the naming of the John D. and Sara Bernice Moseley Covenant Society, which recognizes individuals who have included Austin College in their estate planning.
For those of the College community who had the privilege to know her, no amount of recognition and honor are sufficient to memorialize the graciousness and loyalty of the quintessential First Lady of Austin College. She will be greatly missed.'

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Researching West Texas Women at the Southwest Collection Texas Tech

Southwest Collection Building
Victoria Cummins and I are just back from spending a lively and productive week researching in the Southwest Collection at Texas Tech, where our work was greatly facilitated by our old friend, archivist Dr. Monte Monroe. He knows more about the history of the South Plains than just about any other person. We particularly enjoyed having a gala lunch with Monte at the elegant Texas Tech Club which sits behind plate glass windows high up in the stands above the impressive new football stadium.
The Southwest Collection at Texas Tech is one of the premier historical archives in the state, especially for the history of West Texas, the Panhandle area, and the Caprock area through the High Plains. This collection hearkens back to the early work in the 1920s of Tech librarian Elizabeth Howard West when she began collecting materials on the history of the region. The collection expanded tremendously due to the hard work and dedication of Dr. W. C Holden and his wife Frances, who became legendary historians and historical writers at Tech, where they established themselves at Tech from the late 1920s until their passing. Curry Holden died in 1993 and Frances in 2007. It was my honor to have known both of them personally and it is always a pleasure to sit in the reading room named for Dr. Holden. My favorite place is the table nearest to the portrait of Frances Mayhugh Holden by Henriette Wyeth Hurd. It vividly captures all of Fran Holden's dignity and nobility.
H. Allen Anderson is
writing the history of
Texas Tech
We also enjoyed visiting with historian H. Allen Anderson, who was also working in the archives. Allen, a long-time friend, has won a number of awards for his Texas history publications. These days he is writing the official history of Texas Tech University. I enjoyed discussing this project with him because I wrote a history of Austin College that was published in 1999. We traded stories about the legendary Pete Cawthon, who was the football coach at Austin College before he went to Tech in the 1930s, helping to establish that sport at both schools. Importantly, Vicki and I found a tremendous amount of material directly relating to our project "Muses to Modern Culture: Women and the Promotion of the Visual Arts in Texas, 1919-1942." It is our working hypothesis that Texas women, especially those involved in the club movement and the various groups affiliated with the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs, did much to promote the visual arts in Texas through patronage activities, sponsoring art shows, and the founding of museums prior to World War II. The Southwest Collection contains an impressive group of records that detail the early twentieth century history of these women's clubs for a number of towns including Anson, Colorado City, Lubbock, Sterling City, Sudan, and several others. Our visit once again proves that any Texas historian researching on the western parts of the state must visit the Southwest Collection at Texas Tech.

Click here for the Southwest Collection Web Site.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Summer Reading II: The Great Texas Wind Rush

I have just finished reading The Great Texas Wind Rush written by journalists Kate Galbraith and Asher Price. Both authors have spent a good bit of time over recent years tracking the story of wind power in the state, in the process writing a number of articles for Texas newspapers and magazines. Galbraith, although she will soon be leaving Austin and the Texas Tribune for new ventures in California, has established herself as an accomplished Texas journalist dealing with energy and environmental issues. So too has Asher Price, whose articles on the environment and related concerns regularly appear in the Austin American-Statesman. Published by the University of Texas Press, on first glance one might consider the book to be current events. What attracted my attention as a Texas historian is the fact that it is predominately a history book dealing with events that transpired during the last four decades. Galbraith and Price detail the history of wind power in Texas from the early days of self-generated electricity on the part West Texas farmers before rural electrification in the 1930s up to the modern era of mega-wind farms scattered across the state. The primary area of focus in this volume falls squarely on West Texas because this is were where the Texas wind power industry began, grew over the 1980s and 1990s, and where it predominates today. The authors do note that in recent years the Gulf Coast has also become an important area for Texas wind generation. 

This book is the result of exhaustive library research along with a significant number of interviews. In fact, interviews form the bedrock of sources for this volume. The authors talked on the record to over seventy-five people who have been involved in Texas wind power from the 1930s until the present day. Their research is also based on extensive use of the online New Handbook of Texas and the growing bibliography about wind as a national energy resource. In that regard, Galbraith and Price highlight as their background the work of the distinguished Texas historian T. Lindsay Baker, who knows more about windmills on the frontier than any other person today.

The authors present a very even-handed and balanced discussion of wind power without engaging in polemics, taking care to offer the reader all of the pros and cons surrounding the ongoing debate about the environmental, aesthetic, and economic issues associated with wind farms. They 
clearly establish that wind power depends economically on a partnership between private initiative and governmental support, the latter coming in the form of tax abatements and favorable legislation that encourages development of new facilities. In that regard, the authors acknowledge the support of Texas governors Ann Richards and George W. Bush as important motivations for the development of the Texas wind power industry. 

This book also drives home the point that much of the viability of wind power depends on the availability of transmission lines to the urban areas of Texas where the electricity is needed. Transmission lines can be just as expensive and controversial in their construction as the wind farms themselves. All in all, this book marks an important milestone in writing about the history of Texas because wind power has become a inescapable reality for the state. 

Click here for the University of Texas Press