Texas Literary Outlaws: Six Writers in the Sixties and beyond

Texas Literary Outlaws: Six Writers in the Sixties and beyond

Texas Literary Outlaws: Six Writers in the Sixties and beyond

Texas Literary Outlaws: Six Writers in the Sixties and beyond


At the height of the sixties, a group of Texas writers stood apart from Texas' conservative establishment. Calling themselves the Mad Dogs, these six writers--Bud Shrake, Larry L. King, Billy Lee Brammer, Gary Cartwright, Dan Jenkins, and Peter Gent--closely observed the effects of the Vietnam War; the Kennedy assassination; the rapid population shift from rural to urban environments; Lyndon Johnson's rise to national prominence; the Civil Rights Movement; Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys; Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, the new Outlaw music scene; the birth of a Texas film industry; Texas Monthly magazine; the flowering of "Texas Chic"; and Ann Richards' election as governor.

In Texas Literary Outlaws, Steven L. Davis makes extensive use of untapped literary archives to weave a fascinating portrait of writers who came of age during a period of rapid social change. With Davis's eye for vibrant detail and a broad historical perspective, Texas Literary Outlaws moves easily between H. L. Hunt's Dallas mansion and the West Texas oil patch, from the New York literary salon of Elaine's to the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, from Dennis Hopper on a film set in Mexico to Jerry Jeff Walker crashing a party at Princeton University. The Mad Dogs were less interested in Texas' mythic past than in the world they knew firsthand--a place of fast-growing cities and hard-edged political battles.

The Mad Dogs crashed headfirst into the sixties, and their legendary excesses have often overshadowed their literary production. Davis never shies away from criticism in this no-holds-barred account, yet he also shows how the Mad Dogs' rambunctious personae have deflected a true understanding of their deeper aims. Despite their popular image, the Mad Dogs were deadly serious as they turned their gaze on their home state, and they chronicled Texas culture with daring, wit, and sophistication.


Many years ago, when I was growing up in a Dallas suburb known for being “The Pee Wee Football Capital of the World,” we elementary school kids gathered nearly every day on a miniature gridiron. We gleefully cracked heads, aiming to collect opponents’ “scalps.” Our helmets bore so many slashes of colliding color that our headgear appeared to have been designed by Jackson Pollock.

Like every other dazed child, I thrived on the attention: the pep rallies, the cheerleaders, the roar of approving parents in the bleachers. But at the same time, I was entering another world—the life of a reader. My father subscribed to Sports Illustrated and our family read the magazine religiously. Its chief gospel, as far as we were concerned, was the football coverage. We turned to those pages first, and week after week we saw the same bylines: Dan Jenkins and Edwin Shrake.

As I read each fresh dispatch with wonder, I gradually began to recognize that these writers were performing greater feats on the page than the players were on the field. They celebrated the game as a spectacle while also subverting it. They were teaching me to pay attention to the show behind the show in order to understand what was really going on. By the time Jenkins published Semi-Tough in 1972, which Peter Gent followed a year later with North Dallas Forty, it was clear to me, even as a kid, that these writers were onto something new.

A few years later, as a teenager attending high school in suburban Houston, I began picking up copies of Texas Monthly from the newsstand, sometimes even paying for them. the magazine, like Sports Illustrated earlier, became a revelation. I’d been indoctrinated into Texas mythology by football coaches posing as history teachers who . . .

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