The Ones That Got Away

Left: Stephen Harrigan Right: Robert Draper. Robert Draper photograph by Susan Raines

One of the inevitable realities of being in business for nearly 35 years is that you have a lot of ex-employees (all of them gruntled, I’m sure). Even though a surprisingly high number of the names on our masthead—seven!—have been here for more than three decades, the vast majority stay for a while and then transition to someplace or something great. Our writers and editors, in particular, have a history of galloping off to greener pastures. When I give speeches, I tick off all the current A-listers who once upon a time worked for us, and it’s an impressive bunch. It includes, first and foremost, Bill Broyles, our founding editor, now an Academy Award—nominated screenwriter, and Greg Curtis, his successor and my predecessor, the author of two terrific big-think books about art; Nick Lemann, a New Yorker staff writer and the dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism; Joe Nocera, a columnist for the New York Times ; Dominique Browning, the editor in chief of House & Garden ; Griffin Smith, the executive editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ; Jim Fallows, a five-time National Magazine Award—nominated writer for the Atlantic; and Larry Wright, a New Yorker staff writer and the winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. We even have a genuine TV personality (John Bloom, known to trash-movie fans the world over as drawling, bolo-tied Joe Bob Briggs) and a with-it first lady (Helen Thorpe, who’s married to the mayor of Denver).

Two other exes with notable accomplishments appear in this month’s issue, not for the first time since they departed the building and surely not for the last, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Steve Harrigan’s post— Texas Monthly (that is, post-1991) career has been taken up with writing screenplays (mostly for TV movies, including the top-rated Laura Ingalls Wilder biopic, Beyond the Prairie ) and fiction ( The Gates of the Alamo and Challenger Park ). Rarely, which is better than never, I’ve been able to persuade Steve (above left) to pen an essay for us, as he did when the space shuttle Columbia broke apart over Texas in February 2003. Usually, though, as he’s apt to be too busy to take on an assignment, my only option is to excerpt something he’s already written. We ran a few thousand words of his novels (“The Gates of the Alamo,” March 2000, and “Liftoff!” April 2006), and this month we’ve taken a portion of his elegant introductory essay (“ Horsemen, Pass By ,”) from the book of Bill Wittliff’s Lonesome Dove photos, published by the University of Texas Press. At the moment, Steve is waiting to learn the fate of the last screenplay he wrote, for a fictionalized feature-length remake of the documentary Hands on a Hard Body , which has been looking for a new director since the legendary Robert Altman died late last year. He’s also working on a script with Broyles; that one I gotta see.

The other returning alum is Robert Draper, who has surfaced a bit more often in our pages lately. Since leaving us in 1997 to become a national correspondent at GQ, Robert has written about white supremacists, rogue cops, and demented frat boys, among other cheerful subjects, but for the past few years he’s spent the bulk of his time focused on George W. Bush. In Austin Robert came to know not only the future president but many of his top aides, and he parlayed those relationships into the kind of access that any reporter would envy. He watched the 2004 election returns with insiders at Bush campaign headquarters and interviewed 43 on six separate occasions on the way to writing his third book, Dead Certain , a chunk of which (“The Evolver”) you’ll find beginning on page 166. Even after all these years, Robert’s confident voice and command of his material amaze me. Whether writing about immigration (“Made in America,” May 2007) or the legacy of his late grandfather (“Colonel of Truth,” November 2003), he never fails to reel you in. And he never fails to make me proud to still have him as part of the family.

Next Month

Jenna Bush, Joel Osteen, the alleged border fence, a good speller, S. C. Gwynne on the Brazos, and new fiction by Bud Shrake.

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