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Karl Jacoby

The Strange Career of William Ellis, The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire

W.W. Norton & Company

Hardcover, 978-0-393-23925-6, 336 pages, $27.95, June 2016

Reviewed by Si Dunn

 

William Henry Ellis was a toddler in a slave family on a cotton plantation near Victoria, Texas, when Union soldiers brought news in 1865 that the Civil War was over and slaves were free.

 

Most of the newly liberated slaves would end up working as sharecroppers or laborers and living in poverty amid growing racial tensions. Yet, within just a few decades, William Henry Ellis would be both a millionaire and a trickster who was pulling cons against racial prejudices within the United States and Mexico.

 

Karl Jacoby’s excellent book explains how Ellis became fluent in Mexican Spanish as a child and later figured out a way he could move across tightly enforced racial lines. >>READ MORE

 

Texas Reads

>> archive

Texas songwriters featured in new books

 

 

Fans of Texas music have several new books to choose from this fall. All involve, in one way or another, the art of songwriting. Three of the titles are non-fiction, while the other one is a novel based on an actual song.

 

First, the novel. More than fifty years ago, Willie Nelson wrote a melancholy song, “Pretty Paper,” about a street vendor selling wrapping paper and ribbons while busy shoppers pass by without noticing him. It was recorded by Roy Orbison and became a holiday hit. Nelson penned the lyrics after seeing a legless man on a cart in front of a downtown Fort Worth department store. But he always wondered about the man’s real life. Who was he? How had his life come to this?

 

Pretty Paper: A Christmas Tale by Willie Nelson (Blue Rider Press, $23 hardcover) offers an inspiring, fictionalized account of the man behind the lyrics. With the help of co-author David Ritz, Nelson spins a fast-paced story that is hard to put down. I literally read it in one evening.

 

Texas A&M University Press has published three hardcover volumes in its Texas music series sponsored by the Center for Texas Music History at Texas State University. Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark by Tamara Saviano ($29.95) is the definitive biography of the late, beloved Clark, who grew up in Texas and became a guru to dozens, if not hundreds, of aspiring songwriters in Texas and Nashville.

 

Saviano, a Nashville music journalist, began working on the biography in 2008, spending numerous hours interviewing him as well as about a hundr3ed of his friends and fellow musicians.  “From the first interview,” she writes, “Guy surprised me. The moment I turned on the recorder, Guy opened his mouth and spilled stories that many of his closest friends hadn’t heard.” She finished the book shortly before Clark passed away last spring.

 

Saviano also has a piece on Clark in a new collection of essays, Pickers and Poets: The Ruthlessly Poetic Singer-Songwriters of Texas ($29.95). Edited by Craig Clifford and Craig Hillis, Pickers and Poets includes more than thirty stories about such noted Texas songwriters as Townes Van Zandt, Kris Kristofferson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Kinky Friedman, Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Willie Nelson, Robert Earl Keen, Rodney Crowell, and Miranda Lambert.

 

Kent Finlay, Dreamer: The Musical Legend Behind Cheatham Street Warehouse by Brian Atkinson and Jenni Finlay (Eight 30 records, $25.95) tells the story of a songwriter/dance hall proprietor who helped launch a number of aspiring musicians’ careers through his San Marcos venue. George Strait was one of them, and he writes about Finlay in a foreword: “He and his great little honky-tonk with indoor toilets gave me and a whole host of others a place to learn our craft.” Finlay died in 2015.

 

Glenn Dromgoole’s latest book is West Texas Stories. Contact him at g.dromgoole@suddenlink.net.

 

>> Check out his previous Texas Reads columns in Lone Star Literary Life

 

Alfred A. Knopf

Hardcover, 978-0-3075-9411-2 (also available as an ebook and on Audible), 400 pgs., $27.95

October 2016

 

Every Austinite, every Texan, knows the basic facts of this horrific crime. On Friday, December 6, 1991, the Austin Fire Department responded to a report of a fire at an I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt! shop in northwest Austin. Inside the shop, they discovered the bodies of Eliza Hope Thomas (17), sisters Jennifer Ann Harbison (17) and Sarah Louise Harbison (15), and Amy Leigh Ayers (13).

 

Finally, in 1999, four young men (“three aimless dudes, one troublemaker with firepower and wheels”) were arrested, despite the complete lack of physical evidence. Two were never brought to trial because the case against one was dismissed, and a grand jury twice refused to indict the other; but two confessed, later recanting confessions that ultimately turned out to be false (“I’m scared I have information and don’t know I have information”). They were convicted, but those convictions were reversed and the cases remanded by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In 2008, DNA results, thanks to more sophisticated testing than was previously available, excluded all four suspects.  >>READ MORE

Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company

Hardcover, 978-1-6314-9224-2 (also available as an ebook and on Audible), 496 pgs., $27.95

October 4, 2016

 

In 1916, Arthur Shaughnessy is a vice president and general manager of New England & Pacific Railroad Company, which was won by his father, “Colonel” Shaughnessy, in a card game. The railroad is in financial trouble due to the Colonel’s profligate ways. The Colonel appreciates the finer things: yachts, summer houses, his cattle ranch in the northern Mexico state of Chihuahua.

 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Pancho Villa is poaching cattle to feed his Great Northern Army in furtherance of the Mexican Revolution of 1916. The Colonel decides to drive his cattle herd from the ranch in Mexico to El Paso, both to save the valuable herd from Villa and to sell the cattle at auction to meet the railroad’s payroll. Disaster ensues when the Colonel takes the whole family along and his grandchildren are kidnapped for ransom by an equally cash-strapped Villa.  >>READ MORE

LONE STAR LISTENS interviews   >> archive

12.4.2016  Dobie Paisano fellow and San Antonio author Nan Cuba on bringing out the best in herself — and other writers

 

If you follow Texas letters for any length of time, you’ll run into Nan Cuba either literally or figuratively, and we have done both. Whether she is supporting an aspiring author event or receiving notice for her latest accolade—member of the Texas Institute of Letters, 2016 Dobie Paisano Fellow, and the like — the San Antonio author is seemingly everywhere. She took time from her busy schedule to be interviewed by email for this week’s Lone Star Listens.

 

LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: Nan, you’ve just completed your Dobie Paisano fellowship sponsored by the Texas Institute of Letters. I don’t think it would be hyperbole to call this experience Texas’s literary rite of passage. What was it like for you?

 

NAN CUBA: The Paisano fellowship is a major international award. My husband calls it the Texas Pulitzer, but no other award anywhere in the world gives a writer a healthy stipend and invites her to live by herself for six months on 264 acres of natural wilderness.

 

Barton Creek and its surrounding bluffs were visible from my office window in Dobie’s ranch house. Daily walks revealed the iconic roadrunner skittering beside a fence, white-tailed deer galloping across the road, Charlie the blue heron (a former fellow’s spiritual manifestation of her father) swooping from the creek bank toward the horizon, coyotes howling from what seemed like the front door, and jackrabbits munching grass each morning as I watched from the covered porch. Once one ran across the yard then dove into the brush, and when I turned, a cougar watched me from a few yards away. The next week, a large black racer snake curled into a hall corner in the house. For six weeks, I was marooned while the creek flooded its low-water crossing. Animal noises and earth smells, like the night’s stars, intensified, but best was the quiet, the solitude. I woke earlier; meditated; assessed. I wrote every day, an exhilarating ritual that almost allowed me to finish my second book. >>READ MORE

 

Texas's only statewide, weekly calendar of book events

Bookish Texas event highlights  12.4.2016
>> GO this week   Michelle Newby, Contributing Editor

 

LUBBOCK Mon., Dec. 5  Groves Branch Library, Jodi Thomas discusses and signs her Ransom Canyon series, 7PM. Also appearing in AMARILLO, Sat., Dec. 10, Washington Avenue Christian Church, 11:30AM
  • Groves Branch Library, Jodi Thomas discusses and signs her Ransom Canyon series, 7PM
  • Also signing AMARILLO, Sat., Dec. 10, Washington Avenue Christian Church, 11:30AM
 
AUSTIN  Tues., Dec. 6  BookPeople, CAROL DAWSON & ROGER ALLEN POLSON speaking & signing Miles and Miles of Texas: 100 Years of the Texas Highway Department, 7PMBookPeople, CAROL DAWSON & ROGER ALLEN POLSON speaking & signing Miles and Miles of Texas: 100 Years of the Texas Highway Department, 7PMAUSTIN   Wed., Dec. 7  Austin Public Library - Cepeda Branch, Holiday Open House: Choctaw storyteller and author Tim Tingle tells Christmas stories, 5:30PMAustin Public Library - Cepeda Branch, Holiday Open House: Choctaw storyteller and author Tim Tingle tells Christmas stories, 5:30PMBURNET  Thurs., Dec. 8, Herman Brown Free Library, Kay Ellington and Barbara Brannon read and sign The Paragraph Ranch, 1:30PMDALLAS Thurs., Dec, 8  The Wild Detectives, First Hearings Series from Wordspace Dallas: Christopher Carmona reads and signs The Road to Llorona Park, 7:30PMHOUSTON  Thurs., Dec.. 8, Architecture Center Houston, Authors in Architecture: Robert C. Trumpbour and Kenneth Womack present The Eighth Wonder of the World: The Life of Houston's Iconic Astrodome, 5:30PMLUBBOCK  Fri. Dec. 9 and Sat., Dec. 10  National Ranching Heritage Center - Cogdell’s General Store, As part of "Candlelight at the Ranch," Texas State Photographer Wyman Meinzer will sell and sign Horses to Ride, Cattle to Cut, and Nathan Dahlstrom will sell and sign The Green Colt, 6:30PM

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News Briefs 12.4.16

Reading Rock Stars rock it at Crockett Dec. 1

 

The Texas Book Festival hosted one of its annual Reading Rock Stars presentations last week at Crockett Elementary School in Houston. Beginning at 8:15 a.m., the school hosted three authors — nationally recognized author Kathi Appelt (right, with her book Counting Crows), NFL veteran and Pro Bowl player from Dallas Wade Smith, and New York Times bestselling author Nathan Hale—to present their books for students.

 >>READ MORE

 

Writers in Performance to host 26th annual Emily Dickinson Birthday Celebration with poets at The Woodlands, Dec. 8

 

Writers in Performance will hold its annual Gathering of Poets at 7 pm Thurs., Dec. 8, at the Black Walnut Café in The Woodlands. The event will feature some twenty published poets. Each will read a favorite Dickinson poem as well as one of their own. Featured poets include Michael Anania, Alan Ainsworth, Mary Margaret Carlisle, Sarah Cortez, Carolyn Dahl, Houston Poet Laureate Robin Davidson, Sybil Estess, Lyman Grant,  Dede Fox,  John Gorman, Ken Jones, Sharon Klander, Janet Lowery, Deseree Probasco, Kevin Prufer, Kathryn Lane, John Milkereit, Daniel Rifenburgh, Melissa Studdard, Randall Watson, and Mick Lowell White. The readings will be led by 2011 Texas Poet Laureate Dave Parsons>>READ MORE

Lone Star Lit’s Literary Tour of Texas: Austin

 

Members of the Lone Star Lit team are just now unpacking from trips to Austin (and more exotic places, like India) and downloading loads of digital photos. Here are a few highlights from our visit during Texas Book Festival week earlier this month — before we head off to Burnet, Kyle, San Antonio, and other bookish destinations in a few days.

 

 

Where better to begin a literary tour of the capital city than with the good people of BookPeople? Kay and Barbara visited with marketing director Abby Fennewald and enjoyed a welcome cup of coffee on a rainy Austin day.

 

Another must-see destination for lovers of letters is the Harry Ransom Center, situated in the heart of the University of Texas campus. The Ransom Center (or HRC, as many of us have long known it) will celebrate 60 years of collecting with a “World of Wonders” gala April 22, 2017. While the Ransom Center is primarily a research archive and museum, and its Hazel Ransom Reading Room is open only to registered users, its dramatic public spaces offer glimpses into the repository’s treasures through rotating exhibitions year-round.

 

We had a delightful tour and visit with Jennifer Tisdale and Suzanne Krause of the Public Affairs office — and we’ll look forward to coming back and spending even more time!

 

We rounded out our Austin trip with another engine of scholarly and literary production, the University of Texas Press. Moving last year to spacious new headquarters at the university’s Lake Austin campus, the Press now boasts ample space for producing some 100 new books and ten journals annually — and displaying highlights from its backlist of more than 3,000 titles from more than six decades of publishing. Staff members Brady Dyer and Colleen Ellis, along with visitor Kathryn Marguy from Johns Hopkins University Press, welcomed us to come see the new digs for ourselves.   >>READ MORE

 

 

 

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COMING UP ON TOUR: FICTION

THE WEST TEXAS PILGRIMAGE
by Matt Wolthoff

Visit with Matt December 5–14

12/5 Guest Post 1 Reading By Moonlight

12/6 Review Syd Savvy

12/7 Promo Country Girl Bookaholic

12/8 Author Interview 1 Kara The Redhead

12/9 Review Forgotten Winds

12/10 Guest Post 2 Byers Editing Reviews & Blog

12/11 Promo Blogging for the Love of Authors and Their Books

12/12 Review StoreyBook Reviews

12/13 Author Interview 2 The Page Unbound

12/14 Review Missus Gonzo

 

CONTINUING ON TOUR: FICTION

FOR THE RECORD by Regina Jennings

Visit with Regina through December 10

12/4 Promo Kara The Redhead

12/5 Review The Page Unbound

12/6 Guest Post Margie's Must Reads

12/7 Author Interview 2 StoreyBook Reviews

12/8 Review Byers Editing Reviews & Blog

12/9 Excerpt 2 Reading By Moonlight

12/10 Review Chapter Break Book Blog

 

CONTINUING ON TOUR: FICTION

MOVED, LEFT NO ADDRESS
by Vickie Phelps

Visit with Vickie through December 7

12/4 Blogging for the Love of Authors and Their Books

12/5 Country Girl Bookaholic

12/6 Missus Gonzo

12/7 The Page Unbound

 

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