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Pigskin Lit

PIGSKIN LIT: Texas Writers + Football

"I harbored twin dreams as a youngster: to become a football superstar and a great writer. These goals were incompatible by Texas reckonings, football being the manliest of pursuits not involving gunplay and writing sneered at as 'women's work.' I learned early on to conceal my careless poetic ambitions from rowdy beer hall companions and football mates." -Larry L. King

Is it any wonder that many of Texas' most talented writers began as sportswriters? In a state with a long tradition of smash-mouth football-and precious few outlets for literature-many male writers growing up in Texas found themselves drawn to the sports pages as they learned their craft.

While Texas newspapers have been notorious for their timidity and constricted news coverage, sports columns have always inhabited a different sphere. Here writers could express opinions, be wildly irreverent, and take stylistic chances. The Fort Worth Press in the 1950s was a legendary wellspring of Texas literary talent. It spawned freewheeling writers Bud Shrake, Dan Jenkins, and Gary Cartwright. They eventually befriended another ex-sportswriter, Larry L. King, creating a community of artists who transcended sportswriting, yet kept an eye on the game.

In fiction and non-fiction, these writers and a host of others,including many at Texas Monthly magazine, have perceptively chronicled the ways football serves as a metaphor for the state's culture.

Despite its glorious history, Texas football has often yielded bitter harvests: the long-standing institutional racism that resulted in the University of Texas having the dubious honor of fielding the last all-white National Championship team; how the same unquestioning violence and intimidation needed to succeed on the field can cripple relations off of it-particularly with women; the legions of middle-aged men whose self-esteem depends on how young adults perform in bone-crushing spectacles; how the drive to field winning teams leads to cheating at all levels, and the #1 rule is still "Don't Get Caught."

Football's legacy in Texas remains open to interpretation, and it's clear that we need writers to help us understand how we all remain connected to the game, whether we're fans or not.

Pigskin Lit: Texas Writers and Football explores the relationship between football and Texas culture using the archival holdings of the Southwestern Writers Collection, which include the literary papers of sportswriters-turned-authors Gary Cartwright, Larry L. King, Bud Shrake, and Jan Reid, along with 25 years of Texas Monthly archives and a host of other works including novels by Dan Jenkins and ex-Dallas Cowboy Peter Gent.

Pigskin Lit was curated by Steve Davis, Assistant Curator of the Southwestern Writers Collection.