In Fort Worth, the memorial for author John Graves was one for the books

Posted Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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kennedy All the writers came to Fort Worth last weekend, together again for the writer who inspired their generation.

Bill Broyles, the first editor of Texas Monthly, said it well: When a team of young kids starts a magazine, they need a ”real writer” like John Graves.

That was 1974, and Graves was already 14 years removed from his award-winning tale of a Brazos River canoe trip, Goodbye to a River.

“We needed a literary godfather,” Broyles told Graves’ mourners gathered for a reception at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, “someone whose presence would anchor and inspire us, and whose soul was really in the land we were writing about.”

Almost 40 years later, Broyles and early Texas Monthly writers such as Arlington native Gary Cartwright, Dick Reavis and Jan Reid joined younger writers such as Rick Bass to remember Graves, who died July 31 at 92 on his Glen Rose farm, Hard Scrabble.

As a young editor, Broyles went to Glen Rose to pitch to Graves the idea of writing a column.

“What about?” Graves asked as the men sat on the small farmhouse’s porch.

“This,” Broyles replied, meaning the limestone land and the natural Texas that Graves loved. “Just keep writing about this.”

Graves’ reply: “I’m not sure I really have anything more to say about it. And you don’t want me anyway. I’d be like an armadillo who wandered out on an interstate.”

For two hours Saturday, writers talked about the man who was Texas’ great storyteller of the 1960s —long after the age of J. Frank Dobie, and years before Larry McMurtry discovered cowboy stories.

At the funeral at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, the crowd of mourners included former first lady Laura Bush. There, author Stephen Harrigan, of The Gates of the Alamo, described Graves’ now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t-career.

“If he had wanted to write more,” Harrigan said, “he would have.”

Harrigan described Graves as a “chronicler of a world that had already passed away, or was passing away as he wrote about it. About this he was nostalgic but not sentimental, rueful but not angry.”

Bass, born in Fort Worth, called Graves “probably the most intellectually independent man — I won’t say stubborn — we will ever know.”

Bass was one of the dozens of writers who over time made their way to Hard Scrabble to try Jane Graves’ cornbread and the steaks that Bass described as “as big as this podium — I didn’t know they made steaks that big.”

“John made it easy for younger writers,” Bass said, “to lay up in the shade and let him do the work and watch how it’s done.”

Bass, an environmental activist and author of more than 30 books and award-winning short stories about the American wilderness, gave credit to Graves for early inspiration.

“Where do we go now to find him?” Bass asked.

“Surely the answer is in the hills and creeks around Hard Scrabble.”

For writers, this was goodbye to a generation.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Twitter: @BudKennedy

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