Edwin “Bud” Shrake, who died earlier this year at age 77, was one of the best writers Texas has ever produced. His ten novels explored two centuries of Texas history and culture, a range so daring that it sometimes baffled editors, critics, and even friends. Shrake had the ability to go anywhere. In But Not for Love and Strange Peaches he rendered perfectly the carousing darkness within the soul of the Dallas elite. But he was equally at home in Blessed McGill, chronicling the exploits of a nineteenth-century frontiersman who goes to a martyr’s death. He wrote compelling as-told-to memoirs for Willie Nelson and Barry Switzer and five books with golf legend Harvey Penick, including Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book, the best-selling sports book of all time. Between these projects and long stints as an acclaimed sportswriter at the Dallas Times Herald, the Dallas Morning News, and Sports Illustrated, he also wrote an impressive number of screenplays and influenced Texas letters in a way few other writers have managed.
He was also my best friend. For me, Bud was a guide, a natural visionary who saw around corners and knew things before they happened. Friendship doesn’t begin to convey what he meant to me. He lifted off the covers and showed me life. He exposed potential: what books to read, what poets to follow, what recordings were worth an evening or two or more. By the early sixties, when we were both working for the Dallas Times Herald, Bud was launching his literary career. He was married at the time, and his wife, Joyce, was teaching English at SMU. My wife and I lived in the same apartment complex, and I’d pass the Shrake apartment late at night and spot Bud at his dining room table, bent over his old Smith Corona Skywriter, a stack of manuscript pages falling away to one side.
Book publishing seemed impossibly exotic and far away to me, but not to Bud. Not long after, we got word that Bantam had bought the book he had pounded out on that typewriter. It was Blood Reckoning, Bud’s first novel. About that same time, he left the Times Herald and took a job as lead sports columnist for the Dallas Morning News, which made him an instant star and got him frequent invitations from Dallas millionaires like Clint Murchison Jr. and James Ling, who were about to become characters in his second book, But Not for Love. The critic James Ward Lee would later write that it was “a daring novel that spoke volumes to the young people of Texas who had felt repressed by their elders and by the political climate of the country after World War II.”
Bud was no stranger to that feeling. By early 1964 he was hungry for a new terrain, a place that would stimulate his expanding mind and challenge him to explore new directions as a writer. His friend Dan Jenkins had already moved to New York, to work at Sports Illustrated, and Bud followed the same path. New York is the traditional proving ground for writers, and Bud needed to prove that he belonged.
In letters to me and other friends back in Texas, Bud described in detail the restless, searching life of a young writer making the scene. There was a ready supply of drugs and liquor and a constant stream of parties with literary lions like George Plimpton, Norman Mailer, Gay Talese, William Styron, and Willie Morris. The letters, often addressed and sent to a large group of us, were single-spaced carbon copies, sometimes blurry and hard to read, but they were funny and smart and full of Bud-isms. They described hilarity at Sports Illustrated, where Bud quickly became a star; strange nights wandering the city; and his dreams of coming back to Texas. Some