What were the big literary news stories in the region for 1999?

News of '99

The standards of what constitutes the news shifted, perhaps imperceptibly, in a year in which three dead authors, Thoreau, Hemingway, and Ralph Ellison, came out with previously unpublished works. Local literary news, though, was somewhat easier to spot, if only because of the dollar signs:

  • Just three years ago, the house in which Katherine Anne Porter grew up in Kyle was about to go on the market. Last April, however, Curt Engelhorn, a pharmaceutical magnate from Germany, came to Central Texas to visit the land where his mother had grown up as a childhood friend of Katherine Anne Porter and ended up donating $600,000 to restore the Porter house and transform it into a museum and residence for writers. His is not the only contribution, of course; the Burdine Johnson Foundation in Buda, the Katherine Anne Porter House Restoration Committee, various individual donors, and SWT deserve accolades for their efforts to raise nearly $1 million toward the restoration. Eventually, Porter's childhood home will become a writer's center, a locale for literary readings and events, and a library provided by Barnes & Noble accessible to the public. But ah! the irony: During her lifetime, Porter never really was accorded the respect she deserved from the state's literary establishment, and now nearly $1 million has been raised to transform a house bought in 1904 for $10 into what has the potential to be a stellar literary place. "I think [Porter] would find a certain sense of justice," Tom Grimes said at the time, "in the fact that she's in Best American Short Stories of the Century, her house is being preserved, and I think she'd like to know that TIL [Texas Institute of Letters] missed the mark about the more deserving writer," when, in 1939, TIL chose to award J. Frank Dobie for Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver over Porter's Pale Horse, Pale Rider.

  • The Center for the Study of the Southwest at SWT passed the first hurdle in the effort to become one of the nation's 10 Regional Humanities Centers. The National Endowment for the Humanities' Initiative for Regional Humanities Centers is an attempt to encourage Americans "to explore local history, rediscover their roots and learn how their 'sense of place' influences identity." The Center for the Study of the Southwest received $50,000 to study how it might best utilize the exciting but daunting prospect of hosting one of the centers, which entails receiving $5 million from the NEH with a responsibility to match that amount with $15 million. Mark Busby, the director of the Center for the Study of the Southwest, attributed the Center's initial victory to the existence of SWT's Southwestern Studies program and the Southwestern Writers Collection. SWT heads off against Arizona State University for the honor of hosting the Regional Humanities Center for the Southwest.

  • The Texas Book Festival raised more money than ever before, $300,000, to benefit various Texas libraries that will receive up to $2,500 per library. In its four years of existence, the Book Festival has donated almost $900,000 to Texas libraries.

  • Texas Writers Month extends its reach quite palpably beyond the traditional swell of literary activity in Austin with a crucial boost from Dave Hamrick at Barnes & Noble, which ended up donating $7,000 (70% of TWM's operating budget). TWM is a self-initiated program that depends on bookstores, arts organizations, libraries, and schools to be successful, but local writer Cary Roberts was the tireless man behind the entity.

  • A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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    More Postscripts
    The last time we heard about Karla Faye Tucker, she was being executed; now, almost four years later, there's a new novel about her. Or about someone very like her. And Beverly Lowry's classic Crossed Over, a memoir about getting to know Karla Faye Tucker, gets a reissue.

    Clay Smith, Jan. 18, 2002

    Not one day back from vacation and the growing list of noble souls who need to be congratulated is making Books Editor Clay Smith uneasy.

    Clay Smith, Jan. 11, 2002


    Tom Grimes, Center for the Study of the Southwest, Katherine Anne Porter, Mark Busby, Texas Book Festival, Texas Writers Month

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