Above: John Trischitti III -- Mr. T -- has led the Midland Public Library to national distinction.
Below: Midland authors include RITA winner Laura Drake and western historical writer Patrick Dearen.
Connecting Texas books and writers with those who most want to discover them
TEXAS TOP 10 BOOKISH DESTINATIONS 2015
Crowds stood in line for the grand opening of the state-of-the-art Centennial Library in Midland in 2013. It’s the sort of thing you might expect for a summer blockbuster movie or a chart-topping singer, but in the Permian Basin, they turn out to support their literary endeavors.
Former First Lady Laura Bush, author of a memoir, Spoken from the Heart, and General Tommy Franks, author of a memoir, American Soldier, were on hand for the ribbon cutting. Franks attended Midland High School and graduated from Robert E. Lee High School, one year ahead of Mrs. Bush.
Centennial Library opened in April 2013. By November of that year Library Journal had named Centennial one of its Destination Places, describing how it was “transformed from a stand-alone retail facility, the best case of ‘adaptive reuse.’ Among the high-tech amenities in the nearly $8 million building are dedicated children’s and teen spaces featuring an interactive work wall and an interactive floor. The library also includes a media lab, movable walls and partitions, and a variety of seating options.”
In 2014 John Trischitti III, who goes by Mr. T in his ongoing community outreach efforts using YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and other social media, was named Texas Librarian of the Year. The Midland Reporter-Telegram quoted Laura Bush as saying, “Midland’s libraries hold a special place in my heart, so I am especially proud that Midland’s librarian, John Trischitti, has been named Texas’ librarian of the year,” Bush said in a prepared statement. “Congratulations, Mr. T, and thank you for having such a great impact on the Midland community and for bringing a new energy to libraries across our great state.”
The list of initiatives by the Midland County Library systems and Friends of the Midland County Library includes successful pilot programs with the Midland Odessa Symphony & Chorale, the Midland Festival Ballet, and the Library Artist residency in 2014. Similar plans are in the works for 2015 as well.
Across town on West Ohio is another literary destination. At the George W. Bush Childhood Home in Midland, children get a free book each day that they visit. There are also many reading events and a leave-a-book option as well. The 43rd President himself has authored a memoir, Decision Points.
Current Midland writers include authors Patrick Dearen, nominated by the Western Writers of America for a Spur award for his most recent novel, The Big Drift. Laura Drake was the 2014 RITA award winner from the Romance Writers of America for Best First Book, for The Sweet Spot. Another of Dearen’s books is Halff of Texas: Merchant Rancher of the Old West, a biography of Mayer Halff, who owned or leased several ranches including the huge Quien Sabe Ranch, which would encompass five to six hundred square miles across Midland and Glasscock counties.
Down I-20 about 19 miles east of Midland, you’ll find Stanton, a cotton-farming town made famous by a billboard proclaiming it “Home of 3,000 Friendly People and a few old Soreheads.” (Elmer Kelton famously borrowed from the sign for the setting of his fictional Rio Seco.) Stanton is also the hometown of Stephen Graham Jones, author of five story collections and fifteen novels, including his 2014 After the People Lights Have Gone Off.
Western nature author (and Houston native) Rick Bass published a novel in 2013 with a Permian Basin setting that involves a a one-legged treasure-hunter, a renegade teacher, and an elephant trainer, All the Land to Hold Us. But for many, the book that most fully captures the spirit of the Permian Basin is Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream, a nonfiction account of the 1988 season of Odessa’s Permian High School football team by New York native H. G. “Buzz” Bissinger. Inspiration for the 1993 television series Against the Grain, a 2004 film, and a television series which debuted on NBC in 2006, Friday Night Lights has sold nearly two million copies and ranks #4 on Sports Illustrated list of best sports books and #1 on football. ESPN called Friday Night Lights the best book on sports over the past quarter century.
In October 2014 the Permian Basin hosted the two-day Books in the Basin with more than forty authors in every genre at venues in Midland and Odessa. The Rookie author Jim Morris opened the event with a reading and signing, and the following night Midland’s Yucca Theatre hosted the celebrated Literary Death Match with authors reading “against” each other—while visiting authors alternatively had the opportunity to join the crowds at another legendary gridiron meeting of Odessa Permian and Midland Lee; in a different twist, bestselling Sookie Stackhouse author Charlaine Harris talked with readers at the closing keynote held at the awe-inspiring Wager-Noel Performing Arts Center, located halfway between Midland and Odessa.
Odessa continues its literary tradition during spring 2015 with its third One Book Odessa, a community-wide reading and cultural experience focusing on the work of Neil Gaiman, culminating in a presentation by the author at the Wagner-Noel May 20, 2015.
Left: Ratliff Stadium, the setting for the movie, Friday Night Lights. Seating capacity: 18,000, 7th largest high school stadium in Texas, Top Ten High School Venues by USA Today, ESPN’s 100 Most Important Sports Venues, Largest High School Video Board in the Country, a MaxPreps’ Stadium to See Before You Die
In fall 2015, Ratliff Stadium will be the home of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin Falcons in their inaugural football season.
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