Austin’s central role in Texas politics has long been a topic for writers. William Sydney Porter, better known as O. Henry, published a satirical newspaper in Austin in the late 19th century. Among the many short tales he wrote about the area—collected in O. Henry’s Texas Stories—are four inspired by his stint as a draftsman in the General Land Office.
Serious history buffs might want to dip into Robert Caro’s excellent multi-volume biography of Lyndon B. Johnson, the consummate Texas politician, who had a profound effect on the Austin area, or Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards by Jan Reid, which explores the career of one of Texas’ most colorful governors.
Set largely in Austin, Billy Lee Brammer’s The Gay Place is a fictional portrait of a political figure based loosely on LBJ. The city’s most famous resident scribe, James Michener, placed his historical epic Texas in the frame of a governor’s task force operating out of Austin.
Lawrence Wright’s God Save Texas combines memoir with an up-to-date (2018) look at how Texas fits into the national conversation; the chapter about Austin includes notes from covering two legislative sessions.
For background into the city’s unique music scene, try Jan Reid’s The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock, or Barry Shank’s more scholarly Dissonant Identities: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Scene in Austin, Texas. Danny Garret’s Weird, Yet Strange: Notes from an Austin Music Artist, is a visual chronicle of the scene. The author of Armadillo World Headquarters: A Memoir is formally Edward O. Wilson, but everyone knows the founder of the venue where the city’s live music scene began as Eddie Wilson.
Chainsaws, Slackers, and Spy Kids: 30 Years of Film Making in Austin, Texas, by Alison Macor, traces the development of the city’s storied indie cinema.
Sarah Bird has won acclaim for such humorous Austin-based novels as The Mommy Club, Virgin of the Rodeo, The Boyfriend School, and How Perfect is That; she turned to nonfiction in 2016 to write her (also very funny) Love Letter to Texas Women.
Molly Ivins (& Ann Richards) Can’t Say That, Can They?
Longtime friends and fixtures on the Austin scene, writer Molly Ivins and Texas governor Ann Richards proved that well-behaved women seldom make history. They were witty, iconoclastic, bold . . . anything but ladylike.
Until she died in 2007, Molly Ivins was Austin’s resident scourge. She pilloried the foibles of the Texas “lege”—along with those of Congress and the rest of Washington—in her syndicated newspaper columns, published in several collections, including Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She? and Who Let the Dogs In?
Richards, who was governor of Texas from 1991 to 1995, first came to national attention when she delivered the keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention; it included the oft-quoted line “Poor George [H.W. Bush], he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” Another claim to fame: Richards’ Texas Monthly magazine cover, showing her straddling a large motorcycle and wearing white leathers—which matched her white hair.
Both of these larger-than-life Austinites had one-woman plays devoted to them. In 2012, Kathleen Turner took on the role of Ivins in Red Hot Patriot by Margaret and Allison Engel, while Holland Taylor wrote and played the title role in Ann: The Ann Richards Play, which debuted in 2013. Both plays have been reprised with different lead actors in subsequent years.
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