Journalism Professor, Alumnus Win Book Award For Molly Ivins Biography

Molly Ivins book coverA new biography of beloved Texas journalist Molly Ivins, co-written by a UT journalism professor and a UT alumnus, has won the 2010 Outstanding Book Award from the Writers’ League of Texas.

Journalism professor Bill Minutaglio, author of biographies on George W. Bush and Alberto Gonzales, teamed up with alumnus W. Michael Smith, BJ ’96, a former researcher for Ivins, to write Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life, published in November.

The 306-page bio documents Ivins’ evolution from a conservative upbringing to one of the nation’s most vocal and articulate progressive voices, whose columns appeared in some 300 newspapers.

“She was a larger-than-life figure,” Minutaglio says. “It was actually kind of depressing to work on this book because I came to realize that I would never have as many friends and fans as she did.”

In the process, Minutaglio says, he came to appreciate all that Ivins had overcome in her career as a trailblazing journalist in a field dominated by males and good-ol’-boy culture.

“She blew open the doors for a lot of women,” Minutaglio says, “women like Maureen Dowd, Arianna Huffington, and Gail Collins, who have not just columns but voices. Molly was the trendsetter.”

For Minutaglio, who wrote the first biography of George W. Bush, delving into Ivins’ story brought him across familiar ground.

Before Ivins became one of Bush’s fiercest critics, the two knew each other as teenagers. They ran in the same gilded, high-society circles in Houston’s River Oaks and had mutual friends.

That is, until high school, when Ivins’ natural independence found a kindred voice in the left-leaning Texas Observer. Even though she and Bush would remain cordial over the years, Ivins soured on her old friend and became famous in liberal circles for nicknaming the eventual president “Shrub.”

Co-author Smith approached Minutaglio with the idea for a book on Ivins. He had worked for Ivins for six years as a researcher and became close to her.

“I knew there was a larger story there,” Smith says. “She had a lot of demons. Her family was dysfuntional and she struggled herself with alcoholism. And yet, she was the most generous person I have ever met.”

According to Smith, Ivins worked tirelessly on behalf of journalists and journalism groups. She gave generously of her time, from helping raise money for a reporter when a tree crashed through his home to securing gigs for journalists caught up in controversy.

She wrote countless college letters of recommendations and secured numerous job interviews for friends and friends of friends.

Throughout her life, Ivins was a pack-rat, keeping such obscure items as her middle school report cards and pay stubs from the 1970s. In the later years of her life, before she died in 2007, Ivins began donating more than 150 legal size boxes or correspondence, fan letters, and memorabilia to the Briscoe Center for American History at UT.

Minutaglio and Smith spent nine months going through the materials to write the book.

“It’s a very raw, honest presentation of her,” Smith says. “And I think she would be supportive of it.”


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