Considered the father of Texas literature, J. Frank Dobie (1888-1964) was a visionary environmentalist. He was also decades ahead of his time in championing civil rights. He produced some of the best-informed writing about Texas -- much of which is showcased in the new book and exhibition that is drawn from the substantial Dobie archive at The Wittliff Collections.
“Dobie is best known for his tales of old-time Texas,” says Wittliff literary curator Steve Davis. “But in reality he captured priceless social history -- he found the vibrant human stories that were overlooked by historians of his era. That’s why his work holds up so well today.”
Dobie lived in a bold age and had matchless personal adventures. He helped inspire Big Bend National Park and he led efforts to save the Texas Longhorn from extinction. He rode twisting mountain trails throughout remote Mexico in search of lost mines. During World War II, he dodged German V-1 bombs in England and toured Hitler’s chancellery behind Soviet lines. Then he returned to Texas to fight for intellectual freedom. He challenged segregation, he led the battle against censorship and he was the first public figure in the state to stand up against McCarthyism.
Dobie also bore eloquent witness to ancient pastoral lifeways that were being crushed by a relentless technological blitzkrieg. “There has never been a civilization without contemplation,” he wrote, “and for a hundred years every advance of scientific technology has been to destroy rather than encourage contemplation.”
Above all else, Dobie wanted Texans to become aware of the significance of their own surroundings -- to understand the connections between their lives and the natural world. “In the long run,” he observed, nature “cannot be betrayed by man; in the long run, man can betray only himself by not harmonizing with her.”
The Essential J. Frank Dobie showcases prized Dobie artifacts from his archive at The Wittliff Collections. It highlights his most vital writings on animals and the environment, civil rights and intellectual freedom, his travels in Mexico and Europe, and the priceless folk tales that captured so much Texas history. The exhibition is curated by Steve Davis, who also edited the new collection of Dobie’s writings. The Essential J. Frank Dobie exhibition is on view July 1 - December 1, 2019. The book, to be published October 2019, is the first title in The Wittliff’s new literary series with Texas A&M University Press.