Author John Graves, whose books became icons of rural life in Texas, has died at 92, according to multiple reports. His 1960 memoir Goodbye to a River, which recounted his tracing of a doomed waterway he knew in his youth, “was quickly recognized as a classic,” as NPR member station KERA reports.
The book had a deceptively simple premise: in the late 1950s, Graves took a canoe ride down miles and miles of the Brazos River in north-central Texas, where a plans to build dams, and irrevocably alter the terrain, was being put in place.
Headed down the river, Graves took along a dachshund, some supplies, and a wealth of personal and historic knowledge that he shared with his readers. His canoe trip ended near Glen Rose, in the area southwest of Fort Worth where he would eventually settle, and where he reportedly died this week.
The most recent book from Graves was 2007’s My Dogs and Guns, a collection of short stories. But it was his first book, his memoir, that remains his most enduring. Garden and Gun magazine editor-in-chief David DiBenedetto tweeted today that he had just read the book again, and had been “marveling at its brilliance.”
“The Texas Graves portrayed in Goodbye to a River and other works was the real place, plain, harsh, unforgiving and magnificent,” Bryan Woolley writes in The Dallas Morning News. “His work was devoid of chauvinistic baloney, boosterism or cheap romance. ‘In a way,’ he once said, ‘I was trying to explain Texas to myself.’ He also defined Texas for thousands of readers.”
Here is part of an excerpt of that book, from KERA:
“If a man couldn’t escape what he came from, we would most of us still be peasants in Old World hovels. But, if, having escaped or not, he wants in some way to know himself, define himself, and tries to do it without taking into account the thing he came from, he is writing without any ink in his pen. The provincial who cultivates only his roots is in peril, potato-like, of becoming more root than plant. The man who cuts his roots away and denies that they were ever connected with him withers into half a man.”
More details about Graves’ death were not immediately available as of mid-day Wednesday. The Austin American-Statesman reports that the president of the Texas Institute of Letters, W.K. ‘Kip’ Stratton, announced Graves’ death in an email to the group’s members this morning.
In addition to his famous memoir, Graves wrote many essays, article, and short stories. His writings are housed at the Whitliff Collection at Texas State University in San Marcos. Graves is survived by his wife, Jane, and their daughters, Helen and Sally.