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Texas author John Graves dies

🕐 2 min read

PAUL J. WEBER,Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Author John Graves, whose 1960 book “Goodbye to a River” and authentic depictions of rural Texas made him one of the state’s most celebrated and beloved writers, has died. He was 92.

Graves’ died Wednesday at his home near Glen Rose, said W.K. “Kip” Stratton, president of the Texas Institute of Letters. Stratton did not know the cause of death but said Graves had been in declining health since breaking his hip several years ago.

Graves was best known for “Goodbye to a River,” a memoir of a canoe trip down the Brazos River that chronicled nature in masterful language and used history and philosophy to capture a sense of place. It has endured as one of the most acclaimed books about Texas and was nominated for a National Book Award.

Graves also wrote “Hard Scrabble” in 1974 and “From a Limestone Ledge” in 1980. The books became known as his “Brazos Trilogy.” His fans included former first lady Laura Bush, who often listed “Goodbye to a River” as one of her favorites.

Admirers of Graves often called him the Henry David Thoreau of Texas.

“His prose seemed to reflect the state of Texas and its roots,” Stratton said. “It was a marvelous prose style that no one else could match.”

Larry McMurtry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who wrote “Lonesome Dove” and “Terms of Endearment,” lauded Graves’ talents in a 1981 essay for the Texas Observer.

“He is popularly thought to be a kind of country explainer, when in fact he seems more interested in increasing our store of mysteries than our store of knowledge,” McMurtry wrote. “He loves the obscure, indeterminate nature of rural legend and likes nothing better than to retell stories the full truth of which can never be known.”

Graves was born in Fort Worth on Aug. 6, 1920. He studied literature at Rice University and was drafted into the military soon after graduating. He lost sight in one eye during battle and returned home to try his hand at fiction, but never felt like he was good enough at it, said Mark Busby, a professor at Texas State University who wrote a 2007 book about Graves.

It was not long after Graves returned to Texas that he took his voyage on the Brazos that made his legacy. Graves was supposed to write an article about the trip for Sports Illustrated, but Busby said the piece was rejected for being too philosophical.

Three years after taking the canoe ride, “Goodbye to a River” was published.

“He was a master stylist. People who know his work can read a paragraph of his and say, ‘Oh, that’s John Graves’ the same way you could do with a Hemingway or a Faulkner,” Busby said.

Graves is survived by his wife and two daughters.

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Graves also wrote “Hard Scrabble” in 1974 and “From a Limestone Ledge” in 1980. The books became known as his “Brazos Trilogy.”  

Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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