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This anthology collects the ten winners of the 2012 Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, which is hosted by the Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism at the University of North Texas. The contest honors exemplary narrative work and encourages narrative nonfiction storytelling at newspapers across the United States. First place winner: Eli Saslow,“Life of a Salesman,” published by the Washington Post, is about a Manassas, Va., swimming pool salesman experiencing the unraveling of his decades-long success story. Second place: Kelley Benham, “Never Let Go,” published by the Tampa Bay Times, is her personal account of the months following the birth of her premature daughter. Third place: Anne Hull, “Breaking Free,” published by the Washington Post, traces a teenage girl’s climb out of poverty as she prepares for college. Runner-ups include: John Branch, “The Day a Mountain Moved” (New York Times); Dan Barry, “Donna’s Diner: In the Hard Fall of a Favorite Son, a Reminder of a City’s Scars” (New York Times); Rosalind Bentley, “The Nation’s Poet” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution); Mark Johnson, “I Boy” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel); Monica Rhor, “Homelessness” (Houston Chronicle); Louis Hansen, “The Girl Who Took Down the Gang” (Virginian-Pilot); and Martin Kuz, “Soldiers Recount 60-Second Attack That Left Them Reflecting on Life and Death” (Stars and Stripes).
In Big Thicket Legacy, Campbell and Lynn Loughmiller present the stories of people living in the Big Thicket of southeast Texas. Many of the storytellers were close to one hundred years old when interviewed, with some being the great-grandchildren of the first settlers. Here are tales about robbing a bee tree, hunting wild boar, plowing all day and dancing all night, wading five miles to church through a cypress brake, and making soap using hickory ashes. "The book is a storehouse of history, down-to-earth information, good humor, leg-pulling spoofs, tall tales and all kinds of serendipitous gems . . . Readers inclined to fantasy might like to think of two giant Texas folklorists of the past, J. Frank Dobie and Mody Boatright, nodding and winking their approval of Big Thicket Legacy."—Smithsonian
An Introduction, Third Edition
Originally published in 1979, Geraldine Ellis Watson’s Big Thicket Plant Ecology is now back in print. This updated edition explores the plant biology, ecology, geology, and environmental regions of the Big Thicket National Preserve. After decades of research on the Big Thicket, Watson concluded that the Big Thicket was unique for its biological diversity, due mainly to interactions of geology and climate. A visitor in the Big Thicket could look in four different directions from one spot and view scenes typical of the Appalachians, the Florida Everglades, a southwestern desert, or the pine barrens of the Carolinas. Watson covers the ecological and geological history of the Big Thicket and introduces its plant life, from longleaf pines and tupelo swamps to savannah wetlands and hardwood flats. “This is the work on the plant biology of the Big Thicket.”—Pete A.Y. Gunter, author of The Big Thicket
There are few things that are purely American. On that short list are baseball and the two-year community college. Bill Jason Priest possessed skill and acumen for both. The better part of his life was spent developing and defining the junior college into the comprehensive community college. His contributions earned him a prestigious place in the annals of higher education, but his personality was not one of a stereotypical stodgy educator, nor is the story of his life a dry read. After working his way through college, Priest played professional baseball before serving in Naval Intelligence during World War II. His varied experiences helped shape his leadership style, often labeled as autocratic and sometimes truculent in conservative convictions. The same relentless drive that brought him criticism also brought him success and praise. Forthright honesty and risk-taking determination combined with vision brought about many positive results. Priest’s career in higher education began with the two-year college system in California before he was lured to Texas in 1965 to head the Dallas County Junior College District. Over the next fifteen years Priest transformed the junior college program into the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) and built it up to seven colleges. He performed major roles in the evolution of nursing education, the founding of a telecommunications center for the production of televised courses, the delivery and acceptance of vocational education, and in greater breadth in noncredit courses. After his retirement in 1981, he continued to serve as Chancellor Emeritus until 2003. Drawing from archives as well as from numerous interviews with Priest and his personal and professional associates, Kathleen Krebbs Whitson presents the life of a giant in Texas education and reveals his lasting influence upon the community college movement.
The Mythology of a Gunfighter, Second Edition
William Preston “Bill” Longley (1851-1878), though born into a strong Christian family, turned bad during Reconstruction in Texas, much like other young boys of that time, including the deadly John Wesley Hardin. He went on a murderous rampage over the last few years of his life, shotgunning Wilson Anderson in retribution for Anderson’s killing of a relative; killing George Thomas in McLennan County; and shooting William “Lou” Shroyer in a running gunfight. Longley even killed the Reverend William R. Lay while Lay was milking a cow. Once he was arrested in 1877, and subsequently sentenced to hang, his name became known statewide as an outlaw and a murderer. Through a series of “autobiographical” letters written from jail while awaiting the hangman, Longley created and reveled in his self-centered image as a fearsome, deadly gunfighter—the equal, if not the superior, of the vaunted Hardin. Declaring himself the “worst outlaw” in Texas, the story that he created became the basis for his historical legacy, unfortunately relied on and repeated over and over by previous biographers, but all wrong. In truth, Bill Longley was not the daring figure that he attempted to paint. Rick Miller’s thorough research shows that he was, instead, a braggart who exaggerated greatly his feats as a gunman. The murders that could be credited to him were generally nothing more than cowardly assassinations. Bloody Bill Longley was first published in a limited edition in 1996. Miller separates fact from fancy, attempting to prove or disprove Longley’s many claims of bloodshed. Since the time of the first edition, diligent research has located and identified the outlaw’s body, the absence of which was a longstanding myth in itself. This revised edition includes that part of the Longley story, as well as several new items of information that have since come to light.
A Scattering of Texas Folklore
Texas has a large population who has lived on both sides of the border and created a folkloric mix that makes Texas unique. Both Sides of the Border gets its name from its emphasis on recently researched Tex-Mex folklore. But we recognize that Texas has other borders besides the Rio Grande. We use that title with the folklorist’s knowledge that all of this state’s songs, tales, and traditions have lived and prospered on the other sides of Texas borders at one time or another before they crossed the rivers and became “ours.” Chapters are organized thematically, and include favorite storytellers like James Ward Lee, Thad Sitton, and Jerry Lincecum. Lee’s beloved “Hell is for He-Men” appears here, along with Sitton’s informative essay on Texas freedman’s settlements. Both Sides of the Border contains something to delight everyone interested in Texas folklore.
From the Journals of a U.S. Marine Intelligence Officer
As an intelligence officer during the Vietnam War, Fred L. Edwards, Jr., was instructed to visit every major ground unit in the country to search for intelligence sources—long range patrols, boats, electronic surveillance, and agent operations. “Edwards found time to keep a journal, an extremely well-written, sharply observed report of his adventures. Along with contemporary postscripts and a helpful historical chronology, that journal is a significant improvement on most Vietnam memoirs. It is the record of a Marine’s on-the-job education.”—Proceedings
The title, A Bright Soothing Noise, refers to the sound that fire makes, promising not only warmth and light but also violence and destruction. Brown’s greatest hero is Frank O’Connor, and like O’Connor’s his stories uncover the final bleakness of a national life but in the same moment glow with its promise of love and life and belonging. Brown’s Americans will try almost anything to connect. They tend to drink too much, to drive too fast, are a little too violent in their passions and even a little too religious. Too often they believe, they trust—and then again they don’t, depending not so much on what’s getting proffered as who’s proffering. They are always on the verge of something better. They only want a little more, only a little too much, and while we as readers want with all our hearts for them to get it, we also fear they might. “This highly entertaining collection of stories has the scenic intensity and quality of Tennessee Williams's one-act plays. Meet a varied cast of characters in strange settings, and enjoy their provocative and witty company.”—Josip Novakovich, author of April Fool’s Day: A Novel and judge
The Oral Memoirs of Jose Maria Amador and Lorenzo Asisara
In the early 1870s, Hubert H. Bancroft and his assistants set out to record the memoirs of early Californios, one of them being eighty-three-year-old Don José María Amador, a former “Forty-Niner” during the California Gold Rush and soldado de cuera at the Presidio of San Francisco. Amador tells of reconnoitering expeditions into the interior of California, where he encountered local indigenous populations. He speaks of political events of Mexican California and the widespread confiscation of the Californios’ goods, livestock, and properties when the United States took control. A friend from Mission Santa Cruz, Lorenzo Asisara, also describes the harsh life and mistreatment the Indians faced from the priests. Both the Amador and Asisara narratives were used as sources in Bancroft’s writing but never published themselves. Gregorio Mora-Torres has now rescued them from obscurity and presents their voices in English translation (with annotations) and in the original Spanish on facing pages. This bilingual edition will be of great interest to historians of the West, California, and Mexican American studies. “This book presents a very convincing and interesting narrative about Mexican California. Its frankness and honesty are refreshing.”–Richard Griswold del Castillo, San Diego State University
James Abijah Brooks (1855-1944) was one of the four Great Captains in Texas Ranger history, others including Bill McDonald, John Hughes, and John Rogers. Over the years historians have referred to the captain as “John” Brooks, because he tended to sign with his initials, but also because W. W. Sterling’s classic Trails and Trials of a Texas Ranger mistakenly named him as Captain John Brooks. Born and raised in Civil War-torn Kentucky, a reckless adventurer on the American and Texas frontier, and a quick-draw Texas Ranger captain who later turned in his six-shooter to serve as a county judge, Brooks’s life reflects the raucous era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century American West. As a Texas Ranger, Brooks participated in the high profile events of his day, from the fence-cutting wars to the El Paso prizefight, from the Conner Fight–where he lost three fingers from his left hand–to the Temple rail strike, all with a resolute demeanor and a fast gun. A shoot-out in Indian Territory nearly cost him his life and then jeopardized his career, and a lifelong bout with old Kentucky bourbon did the same. With three other distinguished Ranger captains, Brooks witnessed and helped promote the transformation of the elite Frontier Battalion into the Ranger Force. As a state legislator, he brokered the creation of a South Texas county that bears his name today, and where he served for twenty-eight years as county judge. He was the quintessential enforcer of frontier justice, scars and all.