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Above: Odessa's Ratliff Stadium, home to Texas high school football—and literary—fame. In fall 2016, Ratliff Stadium will be the home of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin Falcons in their inaugural football season.
Below: Buzz Bissinger's Friday Night Lights captured the zeitgeist of small-town Texas football in the 1980s.
TOP 10 TEXAS BOOKISH DESTINATIONS 2016
Ratliff Stadium, the home of Odessa’s Permian Panthers, familiarly known as Mojo, has been called one of the nation’s ten must-see high school football venues. Built in 1982 at a cost of $5.6 million, the 19,302-seat stadium figures prominently in the chronicle of a year in the life of a team—Friday Night Lights by Philadelphia sportswriter Buzz Bissinger.
Nostalgia was running high for Mojo last year as author Bissinger released the 25th anniversary edition of the famous book. In this latest update Bissinger revisited many of the high school football players, now middle-aged men, and he returned to the Permian Basin with his book tour. Famously, when his title was released in the 1980s, some considered it an exposé, and Bissinger was not exactly a popular figure in Odessa for a while. But through the movie, the TV series, and several editions of the FNL books, locals have mellowed in their responses to their literary and screen fame. It's no exaggeration to say that Bissinger's book has been a factor in the ranking of Odessa a Texas bookish destination.
This fall Ratliff Stadium will be the setting for a new era in football in Odessa. The University of Texas of the Permian Basin is bringing college football to its hometown and will play in the historic venue. In addition to the passion that Odessa has had for Friday Night Lights, it will now have the opportunity to exert that enthusiasm on Saturday afternoons. UTPB has raised more than $9 million to add a football program that will begin play in the 2016 season, with the Falcons joining NCAA Division II’s Lone Star Conference. The effort to bring football to UTPB was launched in order to help increase the school’s student enrollment from its current 5,500 to around 8,000 by 2022.
Another academic institution, Odessa College, is playing host to the Permian Basin’s biggest literary event in 2016—Books in the Basin, April 9-10. The Odessa Council for the Arts and the Humanities, Odessa College, and the Friends of the Ector County Library will host more than forty authors from across the country, state, and region. Featured authors include Lev Grossman (SyFy's The Magicians), Judd Winick (Hilo), Alfredo Corchado (Midnight in Mexico), The Cooking Channel's The Fabulous Beekman Boys, Sandra Brown (Friction), and Jodi Thomas (Rustler’s Moon). Special events include a Writer's League of Texas session and Literary Death Match, returning to West Texas. The book festival will showcase authors from the entire spectrum of literature including children’s, middle grade, young adult, romance, mystery, science fiction, literary, non-fiction, cookbooks, and more.
The Ellen Noël Art Museum of the Permian Basin, located near the UTPB campus, is a destination that supports reading and literary initiatives in a variety of ways—including a little free library and story time with interactive art activities for youngsters.
Two other museums near the UTPB campus should also be on any literary traveler’s list when visiting Odessa — The John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute and the Presidential Museum.
John Ben Shepperd spent his life describing with great clarity the value of public service, mutual respect, ethics, and public leadership. Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock created the institute in 1995 to honor those values and provide a mechanism for educating young Texans about them. The Shepherd Leadership Institute often hosts nationally known authors and pundits in special programs, lectures, and discussions on the meaning of public service.
Odessa's Presidential Museum and Leadership Library is an exceptional repository for presidential portraits, documents, campaign memorabilia, signatures and collectibles that represent each of the country's presidents. The museum was conceived as a memorial to the highest office in the land shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. Today it has an outstanding collection of one of a kind exhibits that tell the history of the office in a dramatic, memorable way. Also included at the museum are artifacts of the nation's first ladies, vice presidents, and presidential candidates, as well as presidents of the Republic of Texas and the Confederate States of America.
Authors who call Odessa home or who have connections to Odessa include romance author Ann Swann and true crime writer Glen Aaron.
Back in the seventies they used to say that the 23-mile hyphen separating Midland-Odessa was one of the longest short drives around. But the oil boom and new expressways have changed that. Midland and Odessa have seemed to grow together literally and perhaps philosophically, although civic sibling rivalry will rear its head from time to time. One of the venues that has bridged that gap can be found between the two cities—the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center, which has hosted such literary luminaries such as Charlaine Harris and Neil Gaiman (featured author for One Book, One Odessa 2015).
In neighboring Midland, presidential history — and community literacy — are preserved in the George W. Bush Childhood Home. The mission of the institution is to express and interpret the history of one of America’s great families by telling the story of the Bush Family and the childhood of George W. Bush in Midland, and to celebrate the lives of two presidents, two governors, and two first ladies.
The home's Laura Bush Literacy Bookshelf is always stocked at the George W. Bush Childhood Home, and any child can pick a book for free from pre-K to high school—one book per day.
The Midland Public Library is continually offering innovative arts and literary intiatives. As a polling place for the Texas primary, the Centennial Library branch anticipated long lines when voters got off work — and arranged for members of the Midland Symphony to play from 5 to 7 p.m. to create a better experience on voting day.
On Friday, March 18, 2016, Centennial welcomes the author of this year's best non-fiction children's book, Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras. Duncan Tonatiuh's presentation will be part of the library’s Otra Vez, exhibit which included a documentary film screening and interactive art activities. Library cardholders may pick up a free copy of Funny Bones through April 30, the last day of Otra Vez, courtesy of the Midland County Public Library Foundation.
Centennial time and again offers the community an opportunity to experience art, music, technology, science, health—and literature. On any given weekend afternoon you’ll find library staff popping popcorn for patrons and engaging citizens of all ages in culture in its award-winning interior design.
Fans of science fiction may find the burgeoning space travel business in Midland intriguing. The Tall City has created the nation’s first spaceport co-located with a commercial airport, anticipating the availability of private passenger travel to space. It’s also developed a space-based business park adjacent to its airport with the sole purpose of developing public—and private—space travel industries. Tenants include Orbital Outfitters and XCor Aerospace.
Back on earth current Midland writers include authors Patrick Dearen, Laura Drake, and native son Seth Fishman.
Dearen won a Western Writers of America for a 2015 Spur award winner for his most recent novel, The Big Drift. Drake was the 2014 RITA award winner from the Romance Writers of America for Best First Book, for The Sweet Spot.
Fishman’s most recent book, The Dark Water, is a fantasy based upon a young child falling down a well. Fishman has mentioned that he was influenced by a story from his Midland youth of Jessica McClure, the baby who fell down a well in Midland in the 1980s and the story that gripped the nation for hours until she was rescued.
Midland's Permian Basin Petroleum Museum, undergoing an $18 million renovation since 2014, will reopen April 1. Anyone interested in science, geology, and the role of energy in Texas’s economy is sure to find many exhibits and books of interest at the Petroleum Museum.
When the museum reopens it will continue its distinguished lecturer series which includes authors on a cross-section of topics.
For help in planning travel, lodging, dining, and recreation in the Tall City, go to www.VisitMidlandTX.com.
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