Independent thinker, J. Frank Dobie, “Mr. Texas.”
By HAP MANSFIELD
The Wittliff Collections will host a reading by assistant curator and author, Steve Davis, at 4 p.m Thursday. Davis will read from his new’ book, J. Frank Dobie: A Liberated Mind, the first new biography of the noted Texan in 30 years.
The book gives a fresh look at Dobie’s gutsy politics as well as his work as a writer.
The event will take place on the seventh floor of the Alkek Library on the campus of Texas State.
“Dobie didn’t start out as a great progressive hero,” Davis said. “He grew up in a time of great prejudice, and those attitudes are clearly expressed in his early work. But gradually, his devotion to the open range became a belief in an open mind. Dobie singlehandedly integrated the Texas Folklore Society in the 1920s, and, by the 1940s, he was calling for the complete integration of UT-Austin, a courageous stand that alienated much of his readership. During the McCarthy era, he became Texas’s leading dissenter, taking on politicians and censors—anyone he saw as the enemy of human liberty or freedom of thought.”
Born on a ranch in Live Oak County, J. Frank Dobie (1888-1964) was one of the first Texas-based writers to gain national attention. His best-selling books, Tales of Old-Time Texas, Coronado’s Children and The Longhorns, are firmly rooted in Southwestern folk tales and history. He wrote about cowboys, lost gold mines, longhorn steers, mustangs, coyotes and snakes. His inspiration and subject matter came from his native soil and eventually earned him the monicker, “Mr. Texas.”
Dobie, who got his degree at Southwestern University in Georgetown, studied for his master’s at Columbia, but eschewed pursuing a Ph.D. and commented, “The average Ph.D. thesis is nothing but a transference of bones from one graveyard to another.”
Dobie had a long history as a teacher with the University of Texas (UT), Austin, some of it controversial. He was the first instructor there to become a full professor without a Ph.D. His views on integration and free speech often made him less than popular at the college.
Never one to mince words, he often used his weekly newspaper column to fight against censorship and fascism and argued fearlessly for civil rights and intellectual freedom. He is particularly famous for writing a phrase that has caught the thinking public’s attention for decades, “Conform and be dull.” Fans of Dobie’s earlier works, it should be noted, were somewhat alarmed at his outspoken liberalism in the face of his life’s work which, until he was 53, was conspicuously vintage Texas conservative.
The Wittliff Collection at Texas State was actually founded with J. Frank Dobie’s literary papers and diary, which were donated to the school by Bill and Sally Wittliff. The Dobie papers are the backbone on which the Wittliff Southwestern Writers Collection is formed.
Davis seems a distant but kindred spirit to Dobie. His first book, Texas Literary Outlaws: Six Writers in the Sixties and Beyond, delves into Texas history with an engaging writing style. Davis also edited the UT Press series, Lone Star Sleuths: Mystery/Detective Fiction from Texas and co-edited Land of the Permanent Wave:An Edwin “Bud” Shrake Reader. When he tackles the subject of Dobie, he sheds a vibrant new light on the Texas author.
Davis’ reading and book-signing is free and open to the public. Books will be for sale at the event. To read an excerpt from the biography visit http://www.texasmonthly.com/2009-11-01/bookinterview.php.Email | Print