“Write what you know.” Prudence Mackintosh took that advice to heart when, in 1974, she suggested to the editor of a fledgling magazine named Texas Monthly that she write a piece about her own family—two (later three) rambunctious young boys and her lawyer husband. In a matter of months, she was a regular columnist, rounding out a core group of the magazine’s early authors—Larry L. King, Gary Cartwright, Stephen Harrigan, Al Reinert—who collectively gave the magazine a distinctive voice. If their focus was Texas writ large—outrageous characters, murder, the beauty of the natural landscape—hers was the quotidian one that everyone, especially women, could identify with, covering childbirth, parenting, her thirtieth birthday, sorority rush, and the Junior League.
Those essays found a wide audience, but she wasn’t exclusively an essayist. One very popular piece was this one from 1975, on the fabled summer camps for girls in the Texas Hill Country. On a reporting trip that lasted a week, she visited nine camps to observe their rituals both touching and absurd, coaxing candid revelations from attendees and owners alike. (Looking back, she says, “I was just little chatty East Texas Prudence,” correctly identifying one of her strengths as a reporter.) By the time she finished, she had observed the power of teary-eyed campfire sing-alongs to forge friendships that endured a lifetime. She also examined how the most-exclusive camps earned their reputations as posh gateways to the right private schools, right colleges, and right husbands. One camp alum confessed that years later, she still felt captive to the quest for perfection demanded in everything from table manners to exercise.
Today, Mackintosh and her husband, John, still live in Dallas, and she continues to write occasionally for this magazine and others about topics that she cares about, such as her grandsons. Over the years, her writings, both previously published and original, have appeared in six books. She says, “I have a cabinet with about forty-five notebooks in various colors and sizes, and though I don’t write every day, I have a sensation of needing to unload my head even when there is nothing very interesting to record.” Some habits last a lifetime.