Friends of Humanities Texas will be familiar with our annual Holiday Book Fair, a time-honored tradition that brings together authors and readers in a festively decorated Byrne-Reed House to converse, enjoy baked goods, and raise money for a good cause. We eagerly look forward to when we can host this beloved event in person again.

This year, in the spirit of the Holiday Book Fair, we asked Texas authors and editors to say a bit about their most recent publications. Their thoughtful responses are reflections on their writing processes, their inspirations, and what readers may take away from their work.

We hope that you find a book or two to add to your reading list or to give to someone special. And, from all of us at Humanities Texas, best wishes for this holiday season. We look forward to what the new year brings!

Our First Civil War: Patriots and Loyalists in the American Revolution

H. W. Brands

What causes a man to forsake his country and take arms against it? This is the question that motivated the research and writing of my new book, Our First Civil War. I wanted to see what made rebels of successful establishment types like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams. And what caused others, hardly distinguishable beforehand—Thomas Hutchinson, Joseph Galloway, William Franklin—to remain loyal to the British crown. Politics always requires people to make choices, but, in a revolutionary situation, the choices have higher stakes than ever. In the American Revolution, the choices split communities and families. Those choices ultimately created a nation of winners, who went on to build the country we know, and a large group of losers, who fled for their lives at the end of the war and were largely lost to history.

H. W. Brands. Our First Civil War: Patriots and Loyalists in the American Revolution. (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2021).

The Swallowed Man: A Novel

Edward Carey

My book is set inside the belly of a whale (it's the story of Pinocchio's maker and father Geppetto's two-year imprisonment), and so too I sat in the dark in the corner of a room and tried to pretend. Also, I always illustrate my books and so, for this one, I created as many objects as I thought Geppetto would make in the whale. Paintbrushes from his beard hair. Skyscapes on bones. Portraits of lost loves on driftwood.

I was inspired by rereading Pinocchio and wondering about Geppetto's imprisonment—Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio's creator, says almost nothing about it—and what it would be like to be so confined, how to keep your spirits up, and how to travel in your imagination. I wrote this just before the pandemic, but I think it has echoes of our recent confinement—with added spirits and talking objects.

For readers, I hope the book will provide a small journey of discovery and hope.

Edward Carey. The Swallowed Man: A Novel. (Penguin Random House, 2021).

Bad Habits: A Novel of Suspense

Amy Gentry

My third novel, Bad Habits, is a thriller set in the cutthroat world of academia. Rising star professor Claire "Mac" Woods is at the top of her game, giving the keynote at a conference, when she bumps into her estranged friend Gwen Whitney in the hotel bar. Rich, cultured Gwen was Mac's best friend and role model throughout high school and into grad school, helping Mac transcend her hardscrabble background—until a tragic incident drove Gwen out of the program and launched Mac’s career. Mac suspects that Gwen knows too much about what really happened in the program, and the night that follows, interwoven with flashbacks from Mac's difficult past and the ruthless habits she cultivated to escape it, will end in murder.

Bad Habits is my most personal book yet—not because I've committed murder but because I got my English doctorate in a graduate program similar to Mac and Gwen's. Totally naive going in, I was shocked by the bizarre and cruel behavior that so often takes place in that type of pressure-cooker environment. I was particularly fascinated by the cult of personality around charismatic, mercurial professors who seemed to enjoy playing mind games with their students—forming boundary-crossing intimacies, alternately love-bombing and humiliating them, and pitting them against each other in petty rivalries. My professor characters, the brilliant, charming Bethany Ladd and her husband Rocky, entangle Mac and Gwen in their marital and professional power games, preying on Mac's class insecurities in particular to drive the friends apart. The suspense builds to an exciting conclusion, but, for me as a writer, the biggest thrill came from capturing (and sometimes poking fun at) the intensity and toxicity of grad school itself.

I wrote most of Bad Habits in a few long binges during the early months of pregnancy with my son, cheating on another book I was supposed to be writing. It felt like a twisted, funhouse version of my own experiences—the origin story of the villain I imagined I might have become in academia, Becky Sharp by way of Tom Ripley. Mac is a true antiheroine, both victim and criminal, a survivor who gives everything for her family and a pragmatist who lets nothing and no one stand in her way. Her motto? Virtue is a luxury good. Whether you agree or not, you’ll come out of the book understanding just what she means.

Amy Gentry. Bad Habits: A Novel of Suspense. (Mariner, 2021).

Where Wonder Grows

Written by Xelena González, illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia

The greatest gift a debut author can receive is the question: "What story do you want to tell next?" While I was delighted to hear this from my editor after a successful launch of our first book baby, All Around Us, I also knew that the decision was not entirely mine. First off, I had a co-parent in the creation process: my dear friend and collaborator Adriana M. Garcia, who dreams up stunning illustrations to enliven my words.

Beyond that, I know well as a mother of one, tía of two, and librarian/educator of many, that children come into this world with a personality all their own. Sure, we are the vessels. Most often it takes two to create and a village to raise a child. Yet they seem inscribed with their own dreams and trajectories, destined to face their own choices and challenges. Why would a work of art be any different?

So the next story that came to us presented itself as magically as any new life would. We were touring our first book around the country when the concept of rocks kept appearing in various cities and settings. In Tucson, I was gifted with pocketfuls by little loving hands. In Sacramento, we were invited to a rock party (imagine a tea party but with talking rocks instead of dolls). In Albuquerque, we found painted rocks like good luck charms. By Moab, we were transfixed. Rocks and crystals were appearing everywhere—encircling a friend's meditation deck, on hiking trails, in museum exhibitions, and consistently in kid conversation.

Try telling your editor you want to write a book about the magic of rocks, and they'll tell you there's no storyline there. Try telling kids your next book is about rocks, and their overwhelming response is, "Yesss!" with eyes closed and an exhale that says, "Finally!" This concept was a hard sell, one that required Adriana to take the lead and present images that I could adorn with lyrics. The process felt meditative, otherworldly, and at times grueling—not unlike a difficult labor.

The pandemic complicated matters with endless delays and an eventual acquisition of our Texas-based publishers. But now that we can breathe and gather again with a bit more ease, we are excited for our second book baby to meet the world. Like our first, this one has something for everyone: moments of delight and learning for young minds, with soul medicine and deep reflections for older souls. We hope you enjoy meeting this new creation as much as we reveled in welcoming it.

Xelena González. Where Wonder Grows. (Cinco Puntos Press, 2021). Illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia.

Delbert McClinton: One of the Fortunate Few

Diana Finlay Hendricks

I have written about Southern music and culture for more years than I can count, but the Delbert McClinton project is by far the most memorable effort I have ever undertaken. The second edition of Delbert McClinton: One of the Fortunate Few was released this fall.

Music critic Nick Tosches wrote, "There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love Delbert McClinton and those who have never heard of him." What began as feature story for the Journal for Texas Music History grew into a full-length biography.

Influenced at a young age by classic country, Tejano, Western swing, and popular music of wartime America, blues musician McClinton grew up with a backstage pass to some of the most significant moments in American cultural and music history.

Much has happened with the Texas music legend since the first edition of his biography was released in 2017. In 2018, Rolling Stone called him "The Godfather of American Music." In 2019, he received the Americana Music Association's Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2020, he was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album, his fourth Grammy, for Tall Dark and Handsome. In May 2021, he announced his retirement from touring after more than sixty-three years on the road, but, last month, on his eighty-first birthday, he announced a new album of songs to be released in May 2022. As his late friend Don Imus said, "Delbert is like a Timex watch."

He keeps on ticking.

Diana Finlay Hendricks. Delbert McClinton: One of the Fortunate Few. (Texas A&M University Press, 2021).

The Ghostly Tales of Granbury

Brandy Herr

My latest work is The Ghostly Tales of Granbury, released by Arcadia Publishing in August 2021. This work is a middle grade adaptation of my book, Haunted Granbury, previously released years ago by the same publisher.

Haunted Granbury tells of the known ghost stories around the historic downtown square of Granbury, Texas. It also gives historical background and tells of my own personal experiences conducting paranormal investigations around the area. The Ghostly Tales of Granbury is part of Arcadia Publishing's new Spooky America division, which adapts their Haunted titles for a pre-teen audience.

My writing process for this work was rather simple. Because the foundation for the work was already in place, all I really had to do was to reword them into a more kid-friendly nature. I removed some of the background details that younger readers with shorter attention spans might find a little dry, focusing instead on the spooky aspect of the stories and adopting a more conversational tone.

Middle grade is a fun age to write for because children devour stories with a voracious appetite, and this age allows for those stories to be a little more adult in nature while still maintaining a basis of good, clean fun. I enjoyed tackling this project, as I have been a horror fan from an early age, and I wrote in anticipation of other similarly minded children enjoying a good scare. I hope children pore over these stories with a shiver down their spine and a flutter in their bellies like I did when I read such books as Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and R. L. Stine's Goosebumps.

Brandy Herr. The Ghostly Tales of Granbury. (Arcadia Publishing, 2021).

The Shimmering Is All There Is: On Nature, God, Science, and More

Heather Catto Kohout, edited by Martin Dowell Kohout

I may be ever so slightly biased, but I believe that these sixty-two essays and twelve poems by my late wife, Heather Catto Kohout (1959–2014), exemplify the best of Texas womanhood: stubborn independence, fierce conviction, great good humor, and instinctive kindness. She wrote about water and dreams and angels, about astrophysics and eating meat and Christianity, about Big Ag and poisonous snakes and feral hogs, about ghosts and guns and billboards. She wrote about John Graves and George Eliot and Mary Oliver and Michael Pollan. She wrote about what it means to be a Christian and a feminist and an environmentalist in twenty-first-century Texas. But most of all she wrote about the beauty she saw all around her, even in the most unlikely places.

She had a deep humility and a strong moral sense, and she was insatiably curious about everyone and everything she met. And she never stopped loving her native Texas ferociously, even though she occasionally despaired of its people. She was never—well, rarely—prescriptive; her default rhetorical stance was one of astonishment and delight. Indeed, "the shimmering is all there is" is a quotation from one of her poems included in the book. She had the ability to think beyond conventional disciplinary boundaries, to make cosmic connections that would never occur to most people, and to see clearly things that most of the rest of us missed. And yet, once she pointed them out in her often hilarious way, they seemed, if not obvious, inevitable.

A review of the book in the Texas Observer said that it "attains the richness of expression and insight found in the nature writing of Annie Dillard, Wendell Berry, Aldo Leopold, and Bill McKibben," and while Heather would doubtless snort to find herself thus compared to four of her literary heroes, I think that's just about right.

Written by Martin Dowell Kohout.

Heather Catto Kohout. Martin Dowell Kohout, ed. The Shimmering Is All There Is: On Nature, God, Science, and More. (Texas A&M University Press, 2021).

Civil Rights in Black and Brown: Histories of Resistance and Struggle in Texas

Edited by Max Krochmal and J. Todd Moye

Civil Rights in Black and Brown is the result of a collaboration among fifteen historians and journalists that grew out of a statewide oral history project of the same name. Max directed the CRBB Oral History Project, an online archive based at Texas Christian University; Todd codirected it along with Marvin Dulaney (The University of Texas at Arlington) and Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez (The University of Texas at Austin). Max and Todd coedited the book.

The oral history project collected more than five hundred interviews with African American and Mexican American activists from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods and dozens of cities and small towns in between. In the course of collecting these oral histories, our contributors gained deep knowledge about the communities where they conducted interviews, so we asked each of them to write a chapter focused on one civil rights issue in one place. As a team, we discussed the themes we saw emerging from the interviews, we workshopped chapter ideas, and we peer-reviewed one another's work. Because the book is the result of such sustained collaboration, it is hopefully a bit more unified than one would expect from such a sprawling, multi-author project.

Our main goal for the project is a simple one: we hope that readers will recognize Texas as the site of significant and successful civil rights organizing that it is and has been. For decades, African Americans and Mexican Americans across the state have worked—sometimes separately, sometimes together—to fight for power and against injustices in their communities. These struggles have taken multiple forms that reflect genuine creativity on the part of local activists. Among many other local movements, our authors examine efforts to establish a community-controlled provider of affordable healthcare in El Paso; student movements in Prairie View and Houston; struggles over desegregation and community control of schools in Uvalde and Nacogdoches; and movements to combat police brutality and harassment of communities of color in Dallas, San Antonio, the Rio Grande Valley, and the Panhandle Plains.

Civil Rights in Black and Brown will give readers a sense of how and why these movements unfolded over time, where they intersected, and where they diverged. As editors, we have highlighted a few of the themes that run through the state's civil rights history, but readers will no doubt find patterns of their own. We hope that some readers will even find inspiration for their own civil rights struggles in the present. This history is undeniable—no matter how hard some have tried and are trying to suppress it.

Max Krochmal and J. Todd Moye, eds. Civil Rights in Black and Brown: Histories of Resistance and Struggle in Texas. (University of Texas Press, 2021).

The End of Ambition: The United States and the Third World in the Vietnam Era

Mark Atwood Lawrence

The history of the Vietnam War has inspired thousands of books over the years—a jaw-dropping thirty thousand nonfiction titles according to one estimate. Finding a niche and saying something new is no small challenge. And yet fresh angles and opportunities indisputably exist for authors looking to say something new about America's most controversial war. The Vietnamese side of the war remains a fertile arena for research, as does the war in the 1970s and the lingering effects of the war on American society, to name just a few examples.

I hope I've managed to establish another fresh line of analysis in my hot-off-the-presses The End of Ambition: The United States and the Third World in the Vietnam Era, published by Princeton University Press. At its heart, it's a "Vietnam book" motivated by a big question about the war: how did the American focus on Vietnam during the 1960s and early 1970s affect the broad patterns of U.S. foreign policy? But the ins and outs of U.S. policymaking toward the war get relatively scant attention. Instead, the book focuses on U.S. relationships that played out in the shadow of the war. Core chapters focus on U.S. decision-making toward regions distant from Vietnam—South America, Central Asia, and Southern Africa.

I hope that readers will come to appreciate one of the less-noted tragedies of the Vietnam War: the ways in which the diversion of American attention, political capital, and resources into one small part of the globe damaged Washington's influence and reputation in many other places. At the start of the 1960s, John F. Kennedy and other ambitious liberals expressed boundless confidence about the ability of the United States to promote democracy and economic development in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. Almost anything seemed possible with the right application of U.S. power, resources, and expertise. By the end of the decade, however, this vision of uplift and harmony between the United States and the world's rising peoples lay in shambles, due in no small part to the effects of the Vietnam War.

I hope, as well, that readers will see how the transformation of the U.S. approach to the Third World in the 1960s and early 1970s helped shape the world we inhabit today—a world in which economic and political progress remains elusive for many nations of the Global South.

Mark Atwood Lawrence. The End of Ambition: The United States and the Third World in the Vietnam Era. (Princeton University Press, 2021).

What Lies Beneath: Texas Pioneer Cemeteries and Graveyards

Cynthia Leal Massey

When asked to write this book, I immediately agreed, having always been intrigued by burial sites as repositories of history and a testament of life. Nevertheless, I did not realize the extent of the project until I began my research. Texas has more than fifty thousand cemeteries and graveyards, and I was only able to include one hundred. Those I chose had to represent pioneer cemeteries across the entire state.

As I traveled throughout Texas, I came away with a deeper understanding of how difficult life was for nineteenth-century pioneers. From one town to the next, especially in West Texas and the Panhandle, the drive was long and far. The pioneers traveled in wagons over rugged terrain, and many died along the way. I also came away with a deeper appreciation for the Texas Historical Commission and its Texas Heritage Trails program, which helped me structure the book.

I focused on the stories of individuals—ordinary and famous—who were instrumental in founding Texas. Some stories are illustrated with a photo of the person or their gravesite. Sidebars illuminate maladies that plagued the pioneers and illustrate funerary rites and services.

As a fan of Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, I knew that several of his characters were based on actual people. I found where a few were buried, and their stories are included in the book. The demise of his character Blue Duck, for example, was inspired by the death of Kiowa Indian Chief Satanta, who died in 1878, four years into his second imprisonment, after jumping out of the second story of the prison hospital. Satanta was buried in the Huntsville prison cemetery for eighty-five years [before his remains were transferred to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, by this grandson]. A memorial to Satanta remains on top of a hill in the center of the prison cemetery.

While the gravesites of children, many marked by intricately carved babies and toddlers reclining on small pillow beds, were poignant, the graves with markers for "Unknown" or "Known Only to God" were also moving. Several sections at the Fort Parker Memorial Park Cemetery in Groesbeck, Texas, have rows of such markers, a sobering reminder of our fate in years to come.

Cemeteries are important repositories of our history and humanity. While the memorials, statues, and monuments to the luminaries of Texas history are breathtaking, the graves—both marked and unmarked—of ordinary individuals are also worthy of reverence and remembrance.

Cynthia Leal Massey. What Lies Beneath: Texas Pioneer Cemeteries and Graveyards. (TwoDot, 2021).

The Souvenir Museum: Stories

Elizabeth McCracken

I'd written a handful of short stories over a couple of years before I noticed that most of my story ideas arrive when I travel, and so I'd written about a series of tourist traps and boat rides, and I'd better make it look like intentional. That's my usual modus operandi: bumble along doing nothing on purpose; realize (sometimes with horror) what I'm doing; try to make it look like I meant it all along. So the stories are mostly about travel of some kind or another, which, by the time the book came out, struck me as near science fiction. Look at all of these people, traveling the surface of the globe freely! Breathing on everything and anyone! I hope the book gives people a sense of that old world and hope that it will come again, travel with all its grand and petty ambitions: great art in museums, imitations of great art in gift shops. It also includes stories set in Austin and Galveston, my first Texas-based fiction.

Elizabeth McCracken. The Souvenir Museum: Stories. (Ecco, 2021).

A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles: A History of Politics and Race in Texas

Bill Minutaglio

A few years ago, I was approached to write a "comprehensive" book about Texas political history. To do it for a general-interest audience. To maybe even put my own voice, of all unlikely voices, in a work of long-haul history. It seemed insurmountable, and I wondered if these were really the best approaches to something so profound.

I started by focusing the revisionist research on unsung women and people of color—folks whose lives told us about the long-running themes I had decided would dominate the book: racism, the deep-rooted Confederate legacy, and violence against people clamoring for basic freedoms.

Those were my choices, deciding who and what to put in and who and what to leave out. For years, I wondered if I was on a sanctimonious white-guy mission. But then, during the summer of George Floyd, the headlines began aligning with this book I'd started long ago, especially the whitewashing of history.

Before that summer, I had wondered if anyone would "get" my book. Maybe folks would be turned off by the focus on less-than-famous people fighting for fairness. Maybe a reader, instead of lingering with the stories about Black and brown men burned at the stake in Texas, would blink at my very occasional personal stories designed to telegraph that the book was fashioned through a very subjective prism.

Some called that summer a great reckoning, a time to meditate on how our own experiences shape our politics and view of each other on planet Earth. It seemed like a good time for writerly introspection, for an honest admission of subjectivities, and to put my voice, in tiny ways, in a work of history. At the last minute, I asked the editors to change the working subtitle. It had been "A History of Politics in Texas." It became a "A History of Politics and Race in Texas."

Given that I have failing eyesight, it is the last book I'll ever write. I finished it knowing there might be a reader or two more concerned with my small, illustrative appearances than with the stories of legislated and unofficial nightmares aimed at crushing women and minorities.

I'm not sure, but I also suspect there are readers made uncomfortable by any mention of the dark moments from the past, particularly in a book that piously claims to offer an alternative, in all senses of that word, history of Texas.

Bill Minutaglio. A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles: A History of Politics and Race in Texas. (University of Texas Press, 2021).

Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems

Naomi Shihab Nye

It's a daunting task for a poet to pull together poems from a wide span of time for a "collected" edition. We're usually thinking about the next poem or the one we're working on.

I resisted it, but my great editor of thirty years, Virginia Duncan, encouraged me. She said it's good for poets to place "their most beloved poems" together in a single book now and then. Ha! How would I know? Moods change. I thought about how many times people had written to me about reprints of various poems—some of them made the cut. I could never have guessed "Kindness" would be the most Googled poem of the year a few years ago. I felt as if the "new poems" thrown in were wild cards and hoped the older poems would be kind to them. The great Mexican artist Rafael Lopez created the most glorious cover and interior art for this edition. The great American poet Edward Hirsch wrote the most tender and thoughtful introduction, which helped me understand everything better. Now I'm glad I did it. Hope you might like it.

Naomi Shihab Nye. Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems. (Greenwillow, 2020).

The Kronkosky Foundation Story: Creating Profound Good through Community Philanthropy

Ingrid Friese Petty

Published in November 2021 by Trinity University Press, The Kronkosky Foundation Story: Creating Profound Good through Community Philanthropy is an account of the largest charitable gift to our region of its time. Formed to exist in perpetuity by Albert Kronkosky Jr. and his wife Bessie Mae for the purpose of producing "profound good," their charitable trust was funded at $295 million after Albert's death in 1995. When Bessie Mae died in 2010, another $75 million was added.

The Kronkosky Foundation Story arrives in celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of this unprecedented act of generosity and the "profound good" the Kronkosky gift has shaped in Bandera, Bexar, Comal, and Kendall counties of Texas. The book, documenting the impact of the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation across the four counties it serves, came about as the intention of Tullos Wells, managing director of the foundation, to honor the Kronkoskys' legacy and to cultivate a continuing spirit of philanthropic commitment in these communities.

As the author, my job was to synthesize a substantial archive of information maintained by the foundation detailing its first years. And then, to shepherd that story through to its present-day effect, I conducted interviews, searched publicly available information, and turned to my own experiences as former director of initiatives and partnerships for the foundation.

This history is a record of what went into the establishment of the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation—the largest regional private foundation in South Texas— and documents the development of its operational infrastructure and grantmaking processes. It covers its special initiatives—collaborative works between institutions, nonprofits, and funders—designed to tackle tough cross-community issues. It looks at some of the successes of the foundation's work, as well as some of the ways things may have fallen short. And it reviews how philanthropic approaches have changed over time.

Made possible by the gift of Albert and Bessie Mae Kronkosky, now more than $314 million dollars has been infused into the four-county region, making it easier for nonprofit agencies and attending collaborations to provide needed services for the last twenty-five years. And there is no end to this gift. It will benefit countless generations to come. The Kronkosky Foundation Story can inspire the powerful influence of charitable giving, which can change not only the lives of those benefited, but the lives of those who give, as well.

Ingrid Friese Petty. The Kronkosky Foundation Story: Creating Profound Good through Community Philanthropy. (Maverick Books, 2021).

Bridging Cultures: Reflections on the Heritage Identity of the Texas-Mexico Borderlands

Edited by Harriett D. Romo and William A. Dupont

Harriett Romo, emeritus professor of sociology, directed the University of Texas at San Antonio Mexico Center and William Dupont, an architect, currently directs the UTSA Center for Cultural Sustainability. Romo and Dupont shared a deep appreciation of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands' influence and history and felt that the cultural heritage identity of the Texas-Mexico Borderlands—which extends north to San Antonio and beyond as well as south to the northern Mexican states—demanded greater recognition and appreciation. The editors agreed that the region is significant and valuable but unrecognized, poorly understood, and unknown to many. The media focus on border violence has obscured the meaning and legacy of the Borderlands.

The two UTSA professors organized a conference inviting scholars from Mexico and throughout the United States who studied this area from multiple disciplinary perspectives within the humanities. Humanities Texas provided a small grant to support the conference. The conference generated a high level of enthusiasm among scholars and attendees, and Romo and Dupont wanted to continue the discussion about the contemporary value of the cultural heritage of these Borderlands.

The Bridging Cultures volume emerged from that conference as the editors identified additional scholars to contribute to the publication. The book demonstrates the long, often conflicted, history and diverse cultural heritage and identity of the Texas-Mexico Borderlands that transcends the international boundary. Chapters of the book document the Spanish and Indigenous history and cultural background of the region; the origins of the border towns; the bilingualism, shared customs, and ways of life in the Borderlands; and how Borderland artists and architects, media depictions, economies, policies, and militarization impact perceptions and the lives of Borderlands inhabitants.

The editors discuss the complexity of managing cultural citizenship, cross-border relationships, cultural adaptation, and the built environment in a region of economic and political importance to both the United States and Mexico. The book emphasizes the importance of cultural sustainability that concerns continuity of heritage, tangible products of human endeavors such as communities, bridges, and buildings, and intangible products such as values, living traditions, and practices that bind people together. The editors emphasize the importance of documenting heritage, understanding what that heritage means to people, describing threats, and developing plans and policies that recognize and preserve heritage as an essential element of society.

Harriett D. Romo and William A. Dupont, eds. Bridging Cultures: Reflections on the Heritage Identity of the Texas-Mexico Borderlands. (Texas A&M University Press, 2021).

Henry C. "Hank" Smith and the Cross B Ranch: The First Stock Operation on the South Plains and What Is It About Texas?

Scott Sosebee

I was fortunate enough to have two books come out in 2021, one a monograph and the other an anthology of topical essays on Texas history. The first was Henry C. "Hank" Smith and the Cross B Ranch: The First Stock Operation on the South Plains from Texas A&M Press. The book examines the life of Henry C. "Hank" Smith who was born in Bavaria, migrated to Ohio when he was sixteen years old, began to move west chasing economic opportunity within a year of his arrival, and eventually came to Texas after the Civil War to found a freighting business and, ultimately, the first ranch on Texas's South Plains. However, it is more than a mere biography because Smith's life is representative of the prototypical, economically driven, "westering" man of the late nineteenth century. The book stresses new research on the heritage of ranching in the Texas but mostly the men and women who took on risky ventures and accomplished successful enterprise.

The second is from Stephen F. Austin State University Press and is titled What Is It About Texas? For the last thirteen years, I have written a weekly historical newspaper column that appears in a number of East Texas papers, and this is a compilation of those efforts. Divided into four sections—People, Places, Events, and Reflections—it includes essays that examine topics such as the story of Doris Miller at Pearl Harbor, José Nicolás Ballí—the padre of Padre Island—the forgotten town of Independence, the story of the Texas State Cemetery, the Cherokee War of 1839, and the Five Most Transformative Events in Texas history. In all, there are sixty-two entries that explore some of the most intriguing accounts of the Lone Star state from pre-Columbian Indigenous cultures to some of the most notable events of the late twentieth century.

Scott Sosebee. Henry C. "Hank" Smith and the Cross B Ranch: The First Stock Operation on the South Plains. (Texas A&M University Press, 2021).







Scott Sosebee. What Is It About Texas? (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2021).

Dovetails in Tall Grass: A Novel

Samantha Specks

Though Dovetails in Tall Grass is about events in 1862, for me, the story started on Christmas 2005. A bitter wind blew snow over a country road. I was a high-schooler, cozy riding in my parents' Suburban making the final turn to my grandparents' home, when my blue eyes spotted something new. Headlights illuminated shapes moving across the darkening horizon: a group of men on horseback. Curious, I asked my parents why people were riding in the cold. My mother explained: "They're Dakota who are marching to show they haven't forgotten what happened here long ago." Since that winter night, I've spent the last fifteen years of my life learning what they haven't forgotten. And just like [protagonists] Emma and Oenikika, I've grappled with the complex history of the place I call home and finally found the courage to use my voice to tell this story.

I hope a reader sets the book down and thinks, "Wow, I can't believe I didn't know about this time in history before . . ." and they instantly Google "Chief Little Crow" or "Dakota 38+2 Riders"—and maybe even search for "Emma Heard" or "Oenikika" because these fictional characters feel so real that they must be part of the actual history.

I hope this is a novel that makes a reader look forward to her book club meeting and that it brings out lively, engaging, dynamic conversation in a group. And that she chooses to chime in a few more times than she usually does in that discussion.

And finally, at the end of the day, I hope a reader remembers Dovetails in Tall Grass as a novel that made her think, feel, and question. When someone asks her, "Have you read any good books lately?" she recommends it not just because she liked the story but because she wants others to know how much the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 mattered.

Samantha Specks. Dovetails in Tall Grass: A Novel. (SparkPress, 2021).

Olympus, Texas: A Novel

Stacey Swann

My novel, Olympus, Texas, was inspired by the mythology of Texas itself. I was thinking about the idea that "everything is bigger in Texas." I've always been fascinated by classical mythology, and it seemed to be that larger-than-life-Texans would be a perfect match for those larger-than-life Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. Taking volatile immortals and transforming them into modern, purely mortal East Texans was an endlessly entertaining puzzle I created for myself. Good thing that it was that entertaining because it took me more than twelve years to write! In the novel, the Briscoe family—parents June and Peter and their adult offspring—wrestle with the ways they have wronged each other and how they can continue to function as a family. It takes place within the course of a single week, but there is a lot of drama in that week: prodigal son March returns to Olympus following a two-year exile after his affair with his sister-in-law was discovered, twins Artie and Arlo grapple with a new distance in their close relationship when Artie starts dating someone new, and the stress of the week—plus a new-to-town large animal vet—adds additional cracks to June and Peter's already fractured marriage. I hope the novel shows how even the worst behaviors and decisions can have understandable origins, and that, while forgiveness should never be expected as a given, there are ways to earn it no matter how heavy our sins.

Stacey Swann. Olympus, Texas: A Novel. (Doubleday, 2021).

Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes

Don Tate

Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes is a story I'd been wanting to write for a while. I began writing the first few drafts while teaching at the Highlights Foundation, an organization that offers workshops for writers and illustrators creating for children.

I grew up watching the television show Good Times in the 1970s at a time where there weren't a lot of TV shows featuring people who looked like me. At the end of each episode while the credits ran, a colorful painting displayed of a lively dance hall full of boogieing Black people. Their limbs had been painted elongated with graceful dance movements—they were alive! As a kid artist, I wanted to draw and paint like that, and so I tried.

The painting was called Sugar Shack. It was a childhood remembrance of the artist—football player-turned artist Ernie Barnes. That image and Barnes's story inspired many Black artists like me to get into the arts.

I wrote and illustrated the story of young Ernest Barnes (his name changed later due to a misprint in a newspaper) who was bullied for aspiring to become an artist. Art wasn't considered a manly endeavor in "the Bottom," a neighborhood in Durham, North Carolina, in the 1930s. So, Ernie became a football player. He played five seasons in the professional leagues. After an injury, though, he returned to what he was at heart—an artist.

I remember being that kid considered less of a boy because I aspired to be an artist. Boys are supposed to be good at baseball and football, like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron—not drawing pictures and braiding hair. But who gets to define what boys or girls are supposed to do and be? I wanted to explore that in a book.

I hope the story of Ernie Barnes will inspire young readers to be themselves and not let others define them. Boys can be artists, but they can be athletes, too. And girls can be anything they want.

Don Tate. Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes. (Abrams, 2021).

Being Texan: Essays, Recipes, and Advice for the Lone Star Way of Life

Editors of Texas Monthly

For nearly fifty years, the writers and editors at Texas Monthly have been chronicling this immense state, and we have long marveled at how much more diverse it is than the rather narrow stereotypes that too often define it. With many of the nation's biggest political, economic, and cultural issues playing out in Texas today, we decided it was time to assemble a collection of writing that attempts to reflect what it really means to be Texan. Being Texan: Essays, Recipes, and Advice for the Lone Star Way of Life is Texas Monthly's first book in more than a decade and features essays, reportage, recipes, and recommendations from many of our legendary contributors (Skip Hollandsworth, Mimi Swartz, Stephen Harrigan, John Phillip Santos, and many more)—all exploring the people, customs, land, culture, and cuisine that have collided here. No book can ever contain the entirety of this place, but our hope is that readers will find themselves consistently surprised and challenged by this anthology, not just nodding along to familiar refrains. Anyone who has traveled around this fast-changing state has surely experienced the same in person.

Editors of Texas Monthly. Being Texan: Essays, Recipes, and Advice for the Lone Star Way of Life. (Harper Wave, 2021).

Nepantla Familias: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature on Families in Between Worlds

Edited by Sergio Troncoso

I edited Nepantla Familias: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature on Families in Between Worlds because I wanted to delve deeply into the Nepantla experience through families, but also because I wanted to showcase the great literary talent we have in the Mexican American community. Nepantla is a Nahuatl word from the Aztecs that means "middle ground" or "middle space." I asked writers to write new work (twenty-five of the thirty works in this collection of essays, poems, and short stories are published for the first time) on this idea of Nepantla. And I wanted them to write about families. How do you choose who you are when you live in between languages, cultures, psychologies, even values? How do you resolve these questions in your family, or have humorous interactions in your community, or endure and overcome tragic consequences as you live in Nepantla?

This experience of living in the middle ground is typical for many Mexican Americans, but it is also a universal experience. If you've ever loved someone from a different race, religion, culture, or ethnicity, if you've ever felt at home and not at home as an immigrant or an outsider in a community, or if you've ever struggled to find out who you are by borrowing traditional values from your parents but also creating new values for yourself, then you will find the work in Nepantla Familias deeply meaningful to you.

I think one of the benefits that Nepantla Familias will have for all readers is to break apart any preconceptions about Mexican American literature and Mexican American authors. What you will find in this anthology is variety, experimentation, metaphysical questions, real-world complexity, tragedy, and comedy from authors like David Dorado Romo, Reyna Grande, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Francisco Cantú, Rigoberto González, Alex Espinoza, Domingo Martinez, Oscar Cásares, Lorraine M. López, David Dominguez, Stephanie Li, Sheryl Luna, José Antonio Rodríguez, Deborah Paredez, Octavio Quintanilla, Diana Marie Delgado, Diana López, Severo Perez, Octavio Solis, ire'ne lara silva, Rubén Degollado, Helena María Viramontes, Daniel Chacón, and Matt Mendez. I think this anthology will stand the test of time for readers across the country and will open their eyes to appreciate that Mexican Americans deserve an essential and important place in American literature.

Sergio Troncoso, ed. Nepantla Familias: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature on Families in Between Worlds. (Texas A&M University Press and The Wittliff Literary Series, 2021).

The Elephant of Belfast: A Novel

S. Kirk Walsh

The Elephant of Belfast was inspired by a true story that occurred in Belfast during World War II. I first learned about zookeeper Denise Austin and her care of a young elephant during the Belfast Blitz while listening to a news show on NPR in the spring of 2009. Austin's identity had just been discovered when the Belfast Zoo campaigned about wanting to determine the mysterious identity of its "elephant angel."

After the devastation of Easter Tuesday, on April 15, 1941, the Minister of Public Security issued an immediate order in the name of public safety of its citizens: "Destroy all dangerous animals at the zoo immediately." On April 19, two Royal Ulster Constable marksmen were sent to the zoo, and thirty-three animals were killed as head zookeeper Dick Foster stood by and wept. Surprisingly, the young elephant was not shot because Austin managed to guide her safely to her home, less than a mile from the zoo, and kept the Indian elephant in her family's enclosed backyard.

Like so many others, I was struck that I had never heard of the Germans' attacks on Northern Ireland, only about the blitzes that had pummeled Great Britain. Given the magnitude of the devastation, I was surprised by how little has been written about the Belfast Blitz, both in nonfiction and fiction. Inspired by this gap in the proverbial history books, I decided to write my own novel inspired by these captivating events.

In the summer of 2013, my husband and I traveled to Belfast, and I got a chance to interview Blitz survivors, visited the Belfast Zoo and the city docks, and spent time in and around the city. It was a memorable trip and provided a great deal of material and inspiration for my novel. For the next five years, I wrote, researched, and revised the manuscript. As a novelist, I found emotional footing in the story when I discovered the parallels between the Belfast Blitz and my own experience of living in Manhattan during the attacks of September 11. On the thematic front, I was interested in exploring personal grief within the context of a city's collective grief, and how a city—its public spaces and its people—is transformed after it has been attacked.

A few months after The Elephant of Belfast was sold to Counterpoint, my parents died within ten weeks of each other. Even though my mom and dad were elderly, it was startling. One of the themes of the novel is being an orphan, but I didn't expect to become an orphan myself by the time the novel was published. During the aftermath of my parents' deaths, I was going through the copyedits and later the early proof pages, and, as I read through the novel again and again, I felt like my characters were teaching me about resilience and compassion. I hope my readers discover the same.

S. Kirk Walsh. The Elephant of Belfast: A Novel. (Counterpoint, 2021).

A Bridge From Darkness to Light: Thirteen Young Photographers Explore Their Afghanistan

Bill Wright

Before the latest violent take over of Afghanistan by the Taliban, there was a twenty-year interlude in which nonprofit agencies and government groups could work toward educating the youth of that country. They had a particularly important impact on the lives of girls and young women whom the Taliban deny education. My latest book, A Bridge From Darkness to Light: Thirteen Young Photographers Explore Their Afghanistan, chronicles a brief episode in the lives of some Afghani young people before the Taliban once again overrode the country. In 2006, I was allowed—though not officially invited by the U.S. Department of State—to teach a class in digital photography to young Afghans who work for tips in the streets of Kabul. The course was sponsored by an Afghan non-governmental organization called Aschiana, which helped to support "working children and their families."

During a week of instruction, I sought to engage the youth creatively to provide the skills that could enable a source of income. I asked the students to use photography to show the American people their culture and environment. This book records the students' vision of their country while giving Western readers some insight into the young Afghani sense of community and celebrating their creativity as it flourished in the heart of a war zone. A Bridge from Darkness to Light is a bittersweet reminder of what might have been. I hope that this book demonstrates the disparity between the life that was beginning to grow with the new reality and how intensely they exhibited their desire for freedom.

Bill Wright. A Bridge From Darkness to Light: Thirteen Young Photographers Explore Their Afghanistan. (Texas Christian University Press, 2021).

The Plague Year: America in the Time of Covid

Lawrence Wright

The timing of the pandemic was awkward for me. In April 2020, at the crest of the first wave in the U.S., my novel, The End of October, was published. Because it was about a pandemic, there was a suspicion that I was exploiting the tragedy, although the publication date was entirely coincidental. In June of that year, David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, asked me to write a "big dumb story" about the pandemic we were actually faced with. I had a leg up because I had already researched the science and had many crucial contacts, such as Barney Graham at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (Dr. Fauci's shop). Barney helped me invent the imaginary virus in my novel. He went on to invent the vaccine that is in the Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Novovax shots. Serendipity always plays a role in any writer's work but never so much in my own career as in the case of The Plague Year, which was published in the New Yorker at the end of 2020—winning the National Magazine Award—and then appeared as a book the following July.

Lawrence Wright. The Plague Year: America in the Time of Covid. (Alfred A. Knopf, 2021).