Readers who know J. Frank Dobie only as a wizened old author on the pages of their English textbooks may not recognize the vibrant and rebellious figure who emerges from the pages of J. Frank Dobie: A Liberated Mind. The biography, which seeks to revive Dobie’s fading literary legacy, examines the man behind such Texas classics as Coronado’s Children and The Longhorns . Davis is the assistant curator of the Southwestern Writers Collection, at Texas State University—San Marcos, which houses Dobie’s literary estate. Read an excerpt.
Since his death, in 1964, J. Frank Dobie has been somewhat forgotten. Can you provide a quick portrait? Dobie was the first Texas-based writer to gain a national reputation, and he all but invented Texas literature. Born at a transformative time—the Indian wars were over, the open range was getting fenced off, railroads were knitting the country together—Dobie saw an old way of life vanishing before his eyes. He was an English instructor at the University of Texas at Austin, but he refused to get a doctoral degree. Instead he headed out to the backcountry, tracking down old-timers and collecting their stories of trail drives, buried treasure, and Longhorns and coyotes. He rescued huge chunks of our region’s folklore and adapted these tales into his own brand of literature. Dobie’s great insight—and this was daring at the time—was to realize that authentic writing can spring from one’s native soil, even if it’s Texas. He also became something of the state’s public conscience. For example, he was calling for the complete integration of UT in the forties, some twenty years before it actually happened. He alienated a lot of readers and was denounced as a Communist.
Did you find that the man was ultimately more interesting than his writings? Absolutely. But he’s had a lasting influence as a writer. One example: At