In his 1962 book Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck had this to say about Texas: “For all its enormous range of space, climate, and physical appearance, and for all the internal squabbles, contentions, and strivings, Texas has a tight cohesiveness perhaps stronger than any other section of America. Rich, poor, Panhandle, Gulf, city, country, Texas is the obsession, the proper study, and the passionate possession of all Texans.”
The University of Texas Press feels the same way. So strongly, in fact, that the press has decided to write the definitive story of Texas. Yes, all of it—from pre-Columbian cave painters living by the Pecos River to this summer’s filibuster by state Sen. Wendy Davis and everything in between. The enormous project, to be called the Texas Bookshelf, was officially announced today.
Below, listen to author and Michener Center professor Stephen Harrigan—who will kick off the Texas Bookshelf with a comprehensive volume on Texas history—speak about the project.
“It’s a very big, very exciting idea,” says UT Press director David Hamrick, “and I’m not aware of anything like it that has been attempted by any other publisher.”
The five-year series is set to launch in 2017 and will include 16 books focused on Texas. Authored entirely by UT professors, the books will cover topics as diverse as fine art (to be written by Blanton Museum of Art curator-at-large Annette DiMeo Carlozzi), the Tejano experience (anthropologist Martha Menchaca), and food (women’s studies professor and Republic of Barbecue author Elizabeth Engelhardt). From theater to business, politics to photography, the project aims to touch on every major aspect of life in the Lone Star state.
The idea for a comprehensive Texas book series is one Hamrick says he has been mulling over for years. This year he brought the plan to UT president Bill Powers, who endorsed it wholeheartedly and encouraged Hamrick to recruit some of UT’s most elite faculty as authors.
“I think this project mirrors President Powers’ vision for excellence in teaching and research and archives,” Hamrick says. “We have some of the most distinguished people on campus writing the books. Former deans, directors, seven Board of Regents teaching awards. We have department chairman, New York Times-bestselling authors, and Texas Monthly contributors. It’s a very, very distinguished group.”
The Texas Bookshelf will kick off with a comprehensive Texas history written by Michener Center professor and bestselling writer Stephen Harrigan, BA ’70, who Hamrick says was selected based on his longstanding record and his range. “We just felt Steve was the guy,” Hamrick says. “He’s been writing about Texas for 40 years, and he’s both a journalist and a novelist, which is exactly the flexibility you need for a book this big.”
Listen to Stephen Harrigan speak about what it means to be chosen for the keystone title of the Texas Bookshelf:
Photograph by Michael O’Brien, courtesy UT Press.