In 1968, Larry McMurtry wrote In a Narrow Grave, a collection of essays from Encino Press; in one of those essays he postulated that Austin had "surging mobs of the insecure, all rushing to confirm themselves by association." He then hesitated, somewhat: "I am told that my view of Austin is too limited, that higher on the slopes, in secluded dells, the significant political and intellectual work of Austin goes on, serious, responsible, mature. Maybe, and again, maybe not." Thirty years later, if Austin has a cohesive literary scene, it's an unpresumptuous one, where serious work does occur, though typically not in secluded dells. Even for writers - perhaps especially for them - play is serious work, as it was April 10 at the Continental Club for the release party of Marion Winik's new book, The Lunch-Box Chronicles.
Winik's son Vince, who's the ripe old age of eight, and his friend Sam Shahin, whose father, American Way editor Jim Shahin, would drum later in the evening as part of the Bitter Herbs, began the evening appropriately with the world-premiere performance from their band the Wild Monkeys. Who Do then took the stage to the immediate swaying of much of the crowd (swaying being a fine mode of physical activity for an audience come to view a "literary" band). Not all the crowd was swaying, though; beautiful Carol Dawson, author of Meeting the Minotaur, took occasion to slink around the impromptu dance floor and then later onstage when the Bitter Herbs began playing after Winik had read a performance poem and the first chapter of Chronicles. Before Winik took center stage, Quen White, stepdaughter of Texas Monthly executive editor Gregory Curtis and sometime-channeler of a tenacious blues sensibility, sang from the depths of a vocal force she marshals with amazing dexterity. Calm and bemused, Larry Wright, keyboardist, and guitarist Rico "El Tigre" Ainslie, UT psychology professor and author of The Psychology of Twinship, took it all in with wonder. Lanky and loose John Burnett, NPR contributor, clearly was aware of the wonderful experience he was having as vocalist and harmonica man.
But more welcome than the sight of some of Austin's writers leaving their writing rooms and partying was the sense that all in attendance were celebrating Winik and the release of her book. As she stepped onstage, a hush did not ensue, but when she said, "This is the part of the night when everyone should stop talking," stop talking they did, except for one laggard drunk at the back of the club who by all appearances had it in mind to stage a reading of his own. Winik read with a verve and intensity that made it manifestly apparent that she was reading to friends - the best audience, right?
Copious amounts of coercion had taken place earlier that Friday to convince Chronicle senior editor Margaret Moser to join the stage with the Bitter Herbs, a reprise of her frequent early Eighties appearances with Dino Lee's Jam & Jelly Girls. Playing maracas, Moser nearly upstaged her bandmates, including rock & roll detective novelist/ex-Skunks bassist Jesse Sublett and Texas Monthly associate editor/ex-Wild Seeds frontman Michael Hall, and Shahin. She did join the band, but when she bent down during "Roadrunner" to collect what I thought were small souvenirs from the adoring crowds before her feet (but which turned out to be cascarones celebrating Easter and Passover), I thought I'd witnessed just about all the literary carousing I could handle for one evening. -C.S.