Almost anyone who knew writer Grover Lewis could list a few items key to his biography: His father and mother had shot each other to death, in the forties, when Grover was very young; he grew up poor in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas; he wore thick glasses to correct a severe vision impairment. These grim circumstances seemed unlikely to propel Grover up the totem pole of literary greats in his generation. And yet he found his way.
Appearing mostly in magazines like Rolling Stone and New West, Lewis influenced countless other journo types, including Tim Cahill, Dave Hickey, and Kenneth Turan, many of whom rubbed elbows with him at various desks and bar stools throughout Texas and California as he polished a new style of film and music journalism. Lewis was one of the first writers to hang out on movie sets and tour buses, where the action took place, covering the uncensored backstage of an event instead of conducting the formal interview that merely alluded to it. Though he was drawn to unsung heroes, he wrote close inspections of giant personalities such as Robert Mitchum and Lightnin’ Hopkins, and his best-known stories recorded significant cultural events, including the making of The Last Picture Show and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, an Allman Brothers rock tour, and the Altamont rock festival. He was, according to many people who worked at Rolling Stone in the early seventies, the star, bigger than Hunter S. Thompson or Joe Eszterhas, a grand old man who set high standards and broke new ground.
Despite Lewis’s success in his peers’ minds, however, ten years after his death from lung cancer, the temporal nature of the medium in which he usually appeared has rotated his work off of most shelves, and he’s become an unknown to readers under age forty. Hopefully that will change on April 1, when Lewis’s magazine stories, poems, and fiction will resurface in a collection published by the University of Texas Press, Splendor in the Short Grass, giving evidence of a take-no-crap, beauty-and-truth-loving trendsetter who, as the following oral history shows, left a lifelong impression on everybody he met.
In the Beginning
After graduating from W. H. Adamson High School, in 1953, Lewis went to North Texas State College, in Denton (now the University of North Texas), where he began publishing stories and poems in literary magazines and editing a magazine with Larry McMurtry. After taking a B.A. in English, in 1958, he entered graduate school at North Texas and later at Texas Tech before heading to work at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as a copy editor.
Rae Lewis (Lewis’s wife of 22 years): When the Russians put Sputnik up in the air, America had to play catch-up in a big, fast way, and there was a lot of money that flooded into the universities all around the country, and a lot of scholarships were offered. I think that was how Grover got to go to UNT.
Larry McMurtry (Pulitzer prize–winning novelist; met Lewis at North Texas): We edited a little magazine together called the Coexistence Review. There are only two issues of it. I saw a good bit of him; he was a good friend of the woman I eventually married. He had a very loyal following. They followed him almost like disciples. I experienced this with Ken Kesey and Grover. I liked them both, but I was never a disciple, which is fine. He didn’t want me as a disciple and neither did Ken. But that was the difference between me and some other people in his life.
Don Graham (English professor at the University