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What makes a place a
top bookish destination?


Most of the readers and writers we know, far from being the sort to only haunt the recesses of their town's library or curl up on the couch when the sun's shining, like to get out and visit the places they've read about. Or the places that inspire them.


We polled our staff—in a most informal but serious way—about the places in Texas that fueled their bookish imaginations. What literary  destinations called to them, to get out the map, get in the car, and go? Was it a whim to attend a festival, a desire to follow in a favorite author's footsteps, an urge to browse the shelves of an unusual bookshop, a hunt for a novel's real-life inspiration?


It didn't take long for our list to grow. In fact, things got a bit heated as we tried to decide which destination might trump another. We noted alluring locales from the pineywoods to the prairies, in big cities and small, from the coast to the mountains. We ranked and researched and ranked some more.


If you read last week's installment, you'll recognize how highly subjective our writeups and rankings are. The book scene is ever-changing, and we have to own up to not always being able to mention every recent development, or to acknowledge every worthy author, publisher, or bookstore in our pages. Though we concentrated primarily on those aspects of literary life that make a place "visitable," we are striving to capture the bookish flavor and fabric of each place that depend on the ongoing products of its writers behind closed doors, or the experiences shared by locals that visitors can only occasionally tap into. We promise to work harder to discover and share more!


All we can hope is that Lone Star Literary Life readers will find something here they didn't know before—and even if they have to just toss all ten names in a hat and take turns choosing the next goal for a road trip, they'll enjoy what they find when they get there.


Read on, share this issue with a friend, and send us your own thoughts when you're done:

Above: Stephens Central Library, San Angelo. Right: Elmer Kelton mural (photos courtesy San Angelo CVB)


San Angelo

As a reader you can’t help but admire a city that showcases a mural, a statue and a lily for its best known author. Elmer Kelton (1926-2009) wrote more than 40 books, including The Time it Never Rained, The Wolf and the Buffalo, The Day the Cowboys Quit, and The Good Old Boys, which became a Turner Network movie directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones. Kelton was named the Best Western Writer of All Time by his peers in the Western Writers of America. >>READ MORE









Over millennia the slow drama of erosion into colorfully layered rocks played out at the edge of flat prairie to create the nation's second largest canyon system. And over centuries of human habitation a more vivid drama of Native Americans and settlers, ranchers and farmers, railroads and open ranges played out here in the Texas Panhandle.. >>READ MORE




El Paso

Perched on the spur of Texas’s boot heel between the Rio Grande border with Mexico and the Franklin Mountains, through which the pass gave the city its Spanish name, El Paso is a cultural and literary melting pot of the highest order. Every flavor and genre of writing is richly intermingled here, predominantly, but not only, in English and Spanish. And no author better exemplifies the range of accomplishment here than Benjamín Alire Sáenz, the first Latino writer ever to win the PEN/Faulkner award. >>READ MORE



If literature is the telling of a good story, then Dallas holds one of the more unique waystations as a literary destination.


Oral Fixation (An Obsession with True Life Tales) is a live storytelling series created by former actress and blogger Nicole Stewart in Dallas. The mission of the series is to bring people together through sharing true, personal stories. Now in its fourth season, Oral Fixation features an hour-long evening of fresh true, personal stories each month with a new theme read aloud by a cross-section of seven storytellers. >>READ MORE




San Marcos/Kyle

Kyle and San Marcos are both in Hays County about ten miles apart. Both are twenty minutes from the Travis County line and Austin. They share a rich literary tradition that starts with Katherine Anne Porter but continues to wealth of archives of contemporary authors.


Katherine Anne Porter was born on May 15, 1890 in Indian Creek, Texas. When she was two years old, her mother, Mary Alice Jones Porter, died. Her father, Harrison Boone Porter, moved the family to Kyle to live with his mother, Catherine Ann Skaggs Porter. Porter lived in Kyle until 1901, when her grandmother passed away. >>READ MORE



Songwriter Bob Gibson had never laid eyes on Abilene, Texas, when he immortalized the city in 1956 as the “prettiest town I’ve ever seen.” Today the city celebrates that ditty, and a great cultural legacy that includes some of Texas’s strongest journalist-authors; a long-running regional book festival; a university press; and a vibrant historic downtown with museums, galleries, library, book and gift stores, and a national center for illustrated children’s books. >>READ MORE




San Antonio

“The winding, doubling streets, leading nowhere, bewildered him. And then there was a little river, crooked as a pot-hook, that crawled through the middle of the town, crossed by a hundred little bridges so nearly alike that they got on Curly’s nerves.”


That was how one writer from San Antonio’s past described the Alamo City 130 years ago—when short-story master and temporary Texan William Sidney Porter, later and better known by the pseudonym O. Henry—was honing his craft here. The North Carolina native, who came with his father to a friend’s Texas ranch in 1882 and spent a year writing and publishing a humor rag in a two-room German stone house on San Antonio’s Presa Street in 1885, drew deeply on his varied experiences in the Lone Star State (read more under Austin). Today you can visit the tiny house, relocated along with its Texas historical marker to the corner of Laredo and Dolorosa Streets, where O. Henry first published The Rolling Stone. >>READ MORE





Houston’s a booming city with a population of more than 2 million—making it Texas’s most populous city and the nation’s fourth largest—and the literary muscle to match. The University of Houston’s number-two-ranked creative writing program and the prestigious program at Rice University go a long way toward assuring the city’s bookish reputation, but so do its roster of native and transplanted authors, its inviting bookstores, and its array of opportunities for writers.


Houston lays claim to the earliest literary contribution about Texas. After running aground near Galveston Island in 1528, Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and his companions wandered more than 2,400 miles of the region that would centuries later become Texas. He published the account of his travels in 1542 as the Relación, the first literary work with Texas as its subject. >>READ MORE



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.’ >>READ MORE





If you were old enough to read in the 1970s and you were in Texas, you recall a new statewide magazine called Texas Monthly that launched in 1973 in Austin. TM seemed to foreshadow the next generation of Texas letters. Bylines included names like Jan Reid, Gary Cartwright, Joe Nick Patoski, Prudence Mackintosh, Harry L. Hurt III, Stephen Harrigan, Larry L. King, Gregory Curtis, William Broyles, and Billy Lee Brammer.


Brammer (1929–1978), a Dallas native and a Texas and Washington, DC, political insider, is also celebrated as the author of one novel (three novellas, really): The Gay Place, a 1961 cult classic described as one of the best political novels ever written. Its title taken from a poem by F. Scott Fitzgerald (“Under a white moon—I heard Helena In a haunted doze  / Say: ‘I know a gay place Nobody knows.’”), the book features a wheeling-and-dealing governor said to be based on LBJ, Brammer’s real-life mentor. >>READ MORE




Archer City

No look at literary locales in Texas would be complete without a nod to Archer City, hometown of novelist, essayist, bookseller and screenwriter Larry McMurtry. A generation of Texans came of age watching The Last Picture Show (1971), which seemed to foreshadow the end of an era for small towns.


As life and art mingled, it seemed only fitting that the Royal Theater, the last picture show in Archer City, had met its demise by fire in 1965 and had laid in ruins for thirty-five years. Then a group of Archer City citizens changed the arc of the story.


On August 24, 2000, the 35th anniversary of the day it burned, the Royal Theater reopened. Since its rebirth, the Royal has regularly hosted a variety of theatrical and musical productions and various other events.


In 1986 McMurtry moved back to Archer City and began buying vacant buildings and creating Booked Up, a used bookstore which at one point had four locations in a city with a population was less than 2,000. In 2012 the state’s most famous author downsized to one bookstore in his hometown.




The author of Old Yeller, Fred Gipson, hailed from this central West Texas city.


The city library features a bronze sculpture by Garland Weeks which pays tribute to the characters in Gipson's 1956 children's book. The library foyer displays Gipson memorabilia.


Mason’s Odeon Theater, built in 1928, is one of Texas’s longest running theaters. It was here, in 1957, where the movie Old Yeller premiered. Today the Odeon boasts high-definition digital projection and Dolby surround sound.


In the fall, Mason hosts Old Yeller Day, which in past years has featured re-enactors of the 1870s, when Old Yeller was set; lookalike contests for boys and dogs; pet parades; cinema expert discussions; and film festivals.




Since 2000 Kathy L. Murphy, from first Jefferson, Texas, and now the smaller town of Hawkins, has influenced the world of books from her hair salon with her 500+book club chapters across the globe known as The Pulpwood Queens. Every January authors and readers from around the world don tiaras and pink boas, among other costumes, and gather in East Texas. In 2015 the extravaganza took place in Nacogdoches, and the city metaphorically rolled out the pink carpet and leopard prints for attendees with downtown shops decorated with Pulpwood Queens flair and many shop owners sporting tiaras.


Other literary notables in the Nacogdoches area include Joe R. Lansdale, who has written stories and novels in a variety of genres including Western, horror, science fiction, mystery, and suspense and won nine Bram Stoker awards is the writer-in-residence at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches.


Jack Heifner, playwright-in-residence at SFSU. is the author of over thirty plays and musicals produced in New York, Los Angeles, and theatres around the world. He is best known for the play version of Vanities, which ran for five years in New York, and became one of the longest running plays in Off-Broadway history. He is also the author of many other plays and musicals.





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