The Once and Future State: A Writer's Texas


   Thank you very much, Pat, for your leadership and for the fine program.

            As we began planning for our meeting and our subject emerged, it seemed important to me that part of our program should concentrate on the images and myths of Texas as they’ve revealed themselves in our imaginative literature and film.

            Literature and film embody myth, and in turn elaborate it, reinforce it, and even transform it. As Joyce’s wonderful character Leopold Bloom—just a minor character in a minor work—divines as he’s walking through Dublin past Trinity University’s ugly jowls, he says and thinks, “Location myths depend upon parallax.” And he isn’t quite sure what I means, but he knows that the angle of vision determines how the object is viewed.

            For example, living some years ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I especially enjoyed Dan Jenkins’s novel about Texas. It was called Baja Oklahoma. More seriously, one of the important American novels of the past decade and one that moved me deeply was set in Texas, and that’s the first of Cormac McCarthy’s border trilogy, All the Pretty Horses. It’s hard to believe that this remarkable novel takes place in mid-twentieth century Texas. It seems so remote from the Texas of today and yet so real in its own way.

            To shape the subject of this panel, I asked a group of writers to come to the Ransom Center to try to bring some ideas together and form a topic, a topic that would bring these myths that we’ve been talking about into some focus. I asked Bill Broyles to moderate the panel, and my assistant, Stephen Smith, to help us with the film, which is going to be a real treat today.

            I’ll introduce our moderator, Bill Broyles, and then what I’m going to do is fade into West Texas, although now we haven’t really determined where that is, after this morning’s discussion.

            Bill Broyles grew up in Baytown, Texas. He went to Rice and then to Oxford as a Marshall Scholar. He worked in the civil rights movement, and then he finished out the ‘60s as a Marine infantry lieutenant in Vietnam. He was the founding editor of Texas Monthly and then was editor-in-chief of Newsweek, after which he vowed never to hold a job again.

            He’s lectured and taught at UCLA, USC, Rice, NYU, Columbia, the U.S. Naval Academy, and The University of Texas at Austin. He’s written for many newspapers and magazines. He wrote the book Brothers in Arms. He was co-creator of the television series China Beach, which won four Emmys. He teamed with his old Texas Monthly friend, Al Reinert, to write the film Apollo 13, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award and a Writer’s Guild award and won the PEN Center Literary Award for best screenplay.

            He’s a contributing editor to Esquire, and he’s working on more books and screenplays, most recently Cast Away starring Tom Hanks, which will be released, I’m told, Christmas 2000. I’m very pleased to introduce our moderator, Bill Broyles.