Connecting Texas books and writers with those who most want to discover them
Michelle Newby is a reviewer for Kirkus Reviews and Foreword Reviews, writer, blogger at TexasBookLover.com, member of the Permian Basin Writers' Workshop advisory committee, and a moderator for the Texas Book Festival. Her reviews appear in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, Concho River Review, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, The Rumpus, PANK Magazine, and The Collagist.
Joe Holley is a former editorial page editor and columnist for newspapers in San Antonio and San Diego and a staff writer for the Washington Post. He has been a regular contributor to Texas Monthly and the Columbia Journalism Review and is the author of two books, including a biography of football hero Slingin’ Sammy Baugh. In 2009 he joined the Houston Chronicle, where his column “Native Texan” appears on Sundays.
Peter Brown has photographed landscapes and small towns for twenty-five years. He is the author of Seasons of Light, On the Plains, and West of Last Chance, a collaboration with novelist Kent Haruf that won the Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize. His work has been collected by the Menil Collection, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, MoMA New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Getty Museum, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He teaches photography in the Glasscock School at Rice University and lives in Houston.
Joe Holley, with photographs by Peter Brown
Hardcover, 978-1-5953-4807-7 (also available as an e-book), 304 pgs., $32.50
November 7, 2017
The datelines are Mobeetie and the Boquillas Crossing, Cotulla and Paducah, Comfort and Aurora (the Roswell of Texas), Bigfoot (named for Bigfoot Wallace) and Indianola, Canton and Hawkins. The subjects are as disparate as Temple Lea Houston, Italian prisoners of World War II, water witches, and aliens. There is cowboy poetry in Alpine, Chataqua in Waxahachie, the Sanctified Sisters of Belton (a commune whose book collection became the Belton Public Library), the world’s only beauty salon/bookstore (Beauty and the Book), man-heads buried in Malakoff, Port Arthur trying to talk Hollywood into blowing up its downtown, and that time the Marx brothers were arrested for playing cards on Sunday in Nacogdoches.
Hometown Texas is a handsome new volume of essays and photography from Trinity University Press’s Maverick Books. The essays are reproduced from the Houston Chronicle’s “Native Texan” column written by Pulitzer Prize finalist Joe Holley, an author, a former editor, a former staff writer for the Washington Post and a regular contributor to Texas Monthly and the Columbia Journalism Review, among other outlets. The photography is courtesy of Peter Brown, an award-winning photographer who teaches at the Glasscock School at Rice University, whose work has been collected by the Menil Collection, MoMA New York, and the Getty Museum, among others.
The Texas Holley wants us to appreciate is “rural, small-town, and slower-paced … intimately connected to [our] frontier heritage … beyond the metropolitan areas spreading amoeba-like into the surrounding countryside.” Three things draw Holley to these places: “intriguing people, the pervasive influence of place, and the enduring significance of the past on present-day lives.” Holley knows that “towns, like people, are intelligible. They have distinctive personalities.” Muleshoe is not like Valentine, which is not like Llano, which is not like Smithville, which is not like Gladewater.
Brown states in his introduction that he didn’t try to summarize the whole of Texas in a documentary style, but rather uses “lyric documentary style,” defined by Brown as “descriptive and personal, more fictional or poetic than photojournalistic.” Hometown Texas is divided into five geographical regions: West, North, Central, South, and East Texas. Brown provides an “impressionistic” set of photographs, basically his artistic responses to each of these five regions.
Hometown Texas brings home the daily relevance of history, and the truism that truth is stranger than fiction. I’d use this book as a travel guide, and a primer on how small towns survive, thrive, or don’t. “There is much to be seen, heard, and appreciated in these little towns,” Brown writes, “there are creative and energetic people working with good ideas that they apply locally, and that their stories are worth passing on and celebrating.” Indeed.
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