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Midland/Odessa/Permian Basin


In significant ways Texas’s Permian Basin stands at the crossroads of the state’s literary culture in 2017. Visitors to the Ellen Noël Art Museum in Odessa can view an impressive WPA-era mural by the late El Paso artist Tom Lea (see El Paso, 2017 Bookish Destination #9). That same Lea mural is featured prominently in a book that Texas A&M University Press has recently made available again in reprint, Philip Parisi’s The Texas Post Office Murals: Art for the People.


Lea in the Basin

“Stampede” (right) was displayed for decades inside Odessa’s downtown post office as one of the city’s most prominent artworks, depicting a rider thrown to the ground amid panicked longhorns as a thunderstorm rages in the background. Odessa snagged “Stampede” in 1940, when Lea won commissions as part of a Great Depression-era program that placed murals in federal buildings.


AUTHORS IN THE BASIN  A few of the renowned authors associated with the Midland/Odessa area: From upper left, Patrick Dearen, Laura Drake, Raymond Benson, Seth Fishman, Ann Swann, Robert Brescia.


In 2015 the Odessa Council for Arts and Humanities invested some $100,000 to restore the 75-year-old painting and arranged a second life and a new home at the Noël, where it will remain on a tweny-five-year lease from its owner, the federal government.


The Noël features other bookish activities as well, such as a regular monthly book club, or Art Tales, a weekly story time and art activity every Wednesday. Or take a book from the Little Free Library situated in the museum’s lush, quiet sculpture courtyard.


PRESIDENTS AND PLAYMAKERS  Book lovers will appreciate the varied collections at Odessa’s Presidential Archives and Leadership Library (above, left and center, with Martin Van Buren’s pathbreaking campaign biography) and presentations at the Globe Theatre (right).


Volumes of presidents

Just across the parking lot from the Ellen Noël Art Museum is the Presidential Archives and Leadership Library, located at 4919 East University Blvd. on the campus of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. Unlike many presidential libraries, this archive is dedicated to the office of the president of the United States from Washington onward, rather than to any particular president, and it also features exhibits on the presidents of the Republic of Texas, and on first ladies of the U.S.


Functioning as an interpretive museum as well as an active research and teaching center, the Presidential Archives, in this remote location far from any major metro area, richly rewards the student of Amercan history and the bookish traveler. Hundreds of genuine books, pamphlets, and letters are on display, with enlightening, eye-catching interpretation. Do you know, for instance, which American president is considered to have published the first campaign biography? Or that the Garfield/Arthur ticket stumped in 1880 with a song book?


From early campaign buttons and an array of portraits and mementos to a recently donated seat from the president’s Marine One helicopter and Midland native and former first lady Laura Bush’s high school yearbook, you’ll find an eclectic array of artifacts representing more than two hundred years of history. For the scholar of presidential history, the library is a treasure trove of presidential biographies, memoirs, and related histories. A new interactive feature allows visitors to access further information about selected exhibits via electronic tablets mounted nearby. And finally, an on-site bookstore ensures that visitors may depart with a memorable souvenir of their visit.






“The Bard Is Back” at Odessa’s Globe

A commitment to literary legacy, thanks to the Odessa Council for Arts and Humanities and executive director Randy Ham, has returned the first Shakespeare Festival in more than a decade to Odessa’s Globe Theatre.


The Globe, at 2308 Shakespeare Road on the campus of Odessa College, was inspired by William Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre in London. The idea of the reconstruction of a Shakespearean theatre in Odessa, Texas, originated in 1948 in Marjorie Morris’s senior English class at Odessa High School as a project of the OHS Shakespeare Club. By the 1960s, Morris had joined the facilty of Odessa College, and her vision came to fruition in the construction of the Globe on the college campus. Morris oversaw the Globe until her death in 2001, and the theatre—by then expanded to include a reconstructed Anne Hathaway Cottage across the courtyard—underwent several transitions in creative direction in the years that followed. In 2015, Odessa College became solely responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the theatre complex.


For the past decade, though no Shakespeare work had been performed at the theatre originally designed to host the master’s plays. Although it hosted an array of community theater performances, monthly country-western shows called “The Brand New Opree,” and other community activities, the house had let the Montagues and Capulets, the kings and princes and Caesars and Cleopatras, lapse.

Until this March, when OCAH sponsored a festival featuring Romeo and Juliet performed by a national touring company, a Shakespeare-themed Literary Death Match, and a children’s performance at the Globe. As the OCAH marketing campaign put it, “The Bard is back.”


Books in the Basin

Odessa College is also the setting for Books in the Basin, a bi-annual book festival formerly co-hosted with sister city Midland, that brings together a cross-section of authors in all genres from across the U.S. The two-day book festival is the natural heir to the Writers’ Round-up Contest that Marjorie Morris founded and oversaw until her passing.


Odessa College recently played host to the Writers’ League of Texas’s “Texas Independents Day” program, a statewide showcase of independent publishing, bookselling, and writing with panel discussions slated in half a dozen Texas cities throughout March 2017. According to WLT executive director Becka Oliver, the organization hopes to make the event an annual undertaking, shining a spotlight on a vibrant sector of the state’s literary life.


The bi-annual One Book, One Odessa is held at the Wagner-Noël Performing Arts Center, which is situated just across the county line in Midland, seats hearly 2,000 people. One Book, One Odessa, also sponsored by the OCAH, has played host to the likes of popular writers Neil Gaiman and Christopher Moore. In addition to hosting world-class authors and performers, The Wagner-Noël has achieved a nearly miraculous feat in bringing a high level of cooperation from civic rivals—Midland and Odessa—with each municipality matching dollar for dollar the investment in one jointly used, architecturally stunning performing arts center.


While Odessa regrettably lost both a Hastings Books & Entertainment store and a Family Christian Stores (left) when chains closed in 2016 and 2017, book lovers may still shop locally at Ye Old Bookstore downtown. And borrowers and researchers, and visitors are welcome at the downtown Ector County Library, (right), which boasts an excellent local history and geneaology section.


Where Friday Night Lights lives on

Fans of football and, specifically, the Texas classic Friday Night Lights, may want to make a pilgrimage to Ratliff Stadium (right), the home of Odessa’s Permian Panthers. Philadelphia sportswriter Buzz Bissinger captured a year in the life of the “Mojo” team in 1980, and subsequent movie and TV adaptations a 25th anniversary edition in 2015 sparked renewed interest.


For help in planning travel, lodging, dining, and recreation in Odessa, go to



Museums and more in Midland

Twenty miles away Midland, the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum, 1500 W. I-20, reopened in 2016 after undergoing an $18 million, two-year renovation. Any bookish traveler interested in science, geology, and the role of energy in Texas’s economy is sure to find numerous exhibits and books of interest at the Petroleum Museum.


The museum also hosts a distinguished lecturer series which includes authors on a cross-section of topics, and it also offers a gift shop with related books.


The Midland Public Library, 2503 Loop 250 Frontage Rd., and Midland College, 3600 N. Garfield St., are continually offering innovative arts and literary initiatives, including hosting the Third Annual Permian Basin Writers’ Workshop coming up this fall. Aspiring and established writers alike learn firsthand from authors, editors, and agents what it takes to make it in publishing at this three-day event, September 15–17, 2017.


Midland’s Centennial branch library, which moved into the space formerly occupied by the local Barnes & Noble when the bookseller shifted a few doors down in 2013, continues to innovate in ways that serve a diverse population of patrons. The library welcomed its one millionth visitor in late 2016 to take advantage of its circulating collections, technology, meeting rooms, Texana collections, and dedicated spaces for teens and children.


BRANCHES, BOOKS AND LEAVES  While most libraries plan trees outside, the Midland Public Library Centennial Branch (above) features them on the inside—with life-sized replicas indicating four common Texas species, including the state tree, the pecan.


The Museum of the Southwest, 1705 W. Missouri Ave., produces exhibitions, programs, and events about science, art, astronomy, archaeology, history and culture. Celebrating its fiftieth anniversary in 2016, the museum commemorated the occasion with a new book from the University of Oklahoma Press: Museum of the Southwest: Selections from the Permanent Collection, edited by Wendy Earle, Jenni Opalinski, and Melissa Rowland.


Nearby, the Haley Memorial Library and History Center, 1805 W. Indiana Ave., features more than 30,000 volumes covering western exploration, early railroads, and the development of ranching, mining, petroleum, and politics. Founded by Texas historian J. Evetts Haley (1901–1995) and named in honor of his late wife, the library also features extensive information on the Lincoln County War and Billy the Kid, and a collection of bronze sculptures, paintings, and artifacts. As the late historian T. R. Fehrenbach put it, “In a country where more cows are kept than books. he became a scholar...[Haley] made himself master of the English language in all its manifestations. Steeped in the pragmatism of the frontier, he reads the philosophers of the ages.”


For lovers of the outdoors, the Sibley Nature Center, 1307 E. Wadley Ave., celebrates the environment of the Permian Basin at programs given at its 49-acre site in Hogan Park in Midland. Topical experts deliver talks and workshops on regional environment and history. The Sibley Center also houses informational exhibits, an extensive research library, and rotating displays. Enthusiasts may also appreciate yet another legacy of the Bush and Welch families: the I-20 Wildlife Preserve and Jenna Welch Nature Center.


Presidential legacy

No bookish visit to Midland would be complete without a visit to the George W. Bush Childhood Home, 1412 W Ohio Ave. Presidential history — and community literacy — are preserved in this restored house museum. 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 stocked with selections suitable for a range of ages, and any young visitor from pre-K to high school may pick a book for free to take home—one book per day.


For help in planning travel, lodging, dining, and recreation in the Tall City, go to


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