Texas Originals

John Graves

August 6, 1920–July 31, 2013

Writer John Graves was born in Fort Worth in 1920 and grew up hunting and fishing on the Trinity River.

During World War II, he joined the Marines and served in the Pacific, until he was nearly killed by a Japanese grenade on the island of Saipan. Graves recovered from his wounds but lost sight in his left eye.

In 1957, Graves was still relatively unknown as a writer when he took a three-week canoe trip down the Brazos River, whose waters were threatened by a plan to construct flood-control dams along its length.

Graves chronicled his journey in the book Goodbye to a River, which gracefully commingles history, nature, folklore, and philosophic reflection. Since its appearance in 1960, the book has never been out of print and is now considered a Texas classic.

Graves used his earnings to buy land near Glen Rose, which he developed into a working ranch dubbed “Hard Scrabble.” Between fence-mending and cow-chasing, Graves wrote about the land and people of Texas. "In a way," he once said, "I was trying to explain Texas to myself."

When Graves died in 2013, he was among the most beloved of Texas writers. His small but rich body of work is notable for its intelligence, integrity, and elegance as well as for its insight into the human use—and misuse—of nature.

For More about John Graves

Texas Monthly has made a number of articles by Graves available online. Also included are appreciations of Graves written by distinguished Texas writers Don Graham, Stephen Harrigan, and William Broyles.

The John Graves Papers (1920–2006) are held by The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University in San Marcos. The collection includes typescripts, correspondence, photographs, artifacts, and other materials documenting Graves’s writing career. UT Austin’s Harry Ransom Center also holds a collection of Graves’s papers, which includes drafts of several of his books as well as correspondence.

Selected Bibliography

Busby, Mark, and Terrell Dixon, eds. John Graves, Writer. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007.

Cartwright, Gary. "Writing Life." Texas Monthly, August 2010.

Graves, John. From a Limestone Ledge: Some Essays and Other Ruminations about Country Life in Texas. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980.

Graves, John. Goodbye to a River: A Narrative. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960.

Graves, John. Hard Scrabble: Observations on a Patch of Land. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974.

Graves, John. A John Graves Reader. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.

Graves, John. Myself and Strangers: A Memoir of Apprenticeship. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.

Hamrick, David S., ed. John Graves and the Making of Goodbye to a River: Selected Letters, 1957–1960. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 2002.

Harrigan, Stephen. "Goodbye to a Writer." Texas Monthly, August 1, 2013.

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Spanish Translation

Download the Spanish translation of this Texas Originals script.

Portrait of John Graves. Courtesy of the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections.
Cover of the first edition of Goodbye to a River by John Graves, published in 1960.