Four decades ago, in February 1973, this magazine published its first issue, an 84-page volume with a cover story about Don Meredith. The inaugural Texas Monthly came with a letter of introduction from founding publisher Mike Levy in which he declared that the state was “ready for a really first class magazine that will appeal directly to the sophisticated, cosmopolitan folks that Texans have become.” Since then, the scores of people who have worked here over the years have put out 479 first-class magazines. This is the 480th.
For our fortieth birthday we have assembled a special issue dedicated to the “cosmopolitan” Texas that Mike was betting on—a tribute to our six largest cities. To capture the sense of place they possess, articles editor Kate Rodemann, who headed up this issue with soul and intelligence, sought out a number of local authors whose writing appears in these pages for the first time: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Christine Granados, Laurie Ann Guerrero, Sarah Hepola, Bud Kennedy, John Nova Lomax, Tim Rogers, Regina Taylor, and Jazmine Ulloa. Generally speaking, it’s an issue of firsts—the first time we’ve featured an essay by the brilliant fiction writer Dagoberto Gilb, who has been living and writing in Texas—El Paso, then Austin—since 1977, and the first time we’ve published nonfiction by Ben Fountain, the Dallas writer whose novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, was a finalist for last year’s National Book Award. It’s also the first issue since 1986 with an original work by Larry McMurtry and the first time that we have ever had the pleasure of a long sit-down interview with Sandra Cisneros, who over the past thirty years, from her home in San Antonio, has become one of the most significant forces in American literature, both through her writing and through her philanthropic efforts.
This being an anniversary, we have also looked to our own past. In “My Montrose” founding editor Bill Broyles, whose tenure ran from 1973 to 1982, explores the recent history of the neighborhood in Houston where he was born; Greg Curtis, who was at the helm from 1981 to 2000, returns to the Behind the Lines column that he wrote masterfully for two decades with “Urban Cowboys”; and Evan Smith, who was editor from 2000 to 2009, examines the state of our big-city newspapers (“The Walking Deadline”), a beat he has come to know well during his past three years as CEO and editor in chief of the nonprofit news outfit the Texas Tribune. I am the final member of this group (and the first editor born after the magazine launched); this issue is the first in which all four of us have appeared.
The most important first comes last: this month we’ll flip the switch for the first time on a brand-new, completely overhauled texasmonthly.com. This project has been under way for about a year, and it’s even more extensive than the print redesign we rolled out five months ago. We’ve changed everything about our website—the design, the content management system, the content itself. The first iteration of our current site was designed and built in 1995—several lifetimes ago in Internet time (it was known initially as the WWW Ranch). It has served us well, but the new site will enable us to do much more. It is nothing less than a rebirth of the magazine’s digital presence, which is why we have chosen to debut it on our fortieth birthday, an occasion when thoughts turn to origins.
Or at least mine do. That February 1973 issue has been much on my mind lately. As Mike noted in his introductory letter, it was being published just as Life magazine folded, a coincidence that illustrated the “trend in magazine journalism away from big, mass circulation, general interest publications such as Life, Post, and Look, toward the so-called ‘special market’ magazines, such as … Texas Monthly.” Four decades later another disruptive trend is steadily reshaping the business: the rise of digital media has triggered an existential quandary for so-called legacy print operations like ours (though whether it’s a crisis or an opportunity depends on your perspective). This magazine, to put it simply, is no longer just a magazine. It is an attitude of inquiry that finds expression through a variety of modes—a first-class monthly magazine, daily online journalism of all shapes and sizes, social media, mobile apps, events, partnerships, videos, and more. It is no one format but an idea, conceived four decades ago, grounded in long study, about Texas—what it once was, what it is, what it may yet become. Our new website will be in essence the headquarters of that idea. It launches on February 1, or as I like to call it, the first day of our next forty years.