Graves, John (Alexander III) 1920-

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GRAVES, John (Alexander III) 1920-

PERSONAL: Born August 6, 1920, in Fort Worth, TX; son of John Alexander and Nancy (Kay) Graves; married Jane Marshall Cole, 1958; children: Helen, Sally. Education: Rice University, B.A., 1942; Columbia University, M.A., 1948. Hobbies and other interests: Natural history, the outdoors.

ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 667, Glen Rose, TX 76043.

CAREER: Freelance writer. University of Texas—Austin, Austin, instructor in English, 1948-50; Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, adjunct professor of English, 1958-65; U.S. Department of Interior, Washington, DC, writer and consultant, 1965-68. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps, 1941-45; became captain; received Purple Heart.

MEMBER: PEN, Nature Conservancy, Audubon Society, Texas Institute of Letters (president, 1984), Phi Beta Kappa.

AWARDS, HONORS: Texas Institute of Letters, Collins Award, 1961, for Goodbye to a River: A Narrative, and Barbara McCombs/Lon Tinkle Memorial Award, 1983; Guggenheim fellow, 1963; Rockefeller fellow, 1972; Parkman Prize, Texas Institute of Letters, 1974, for Hard Scrabble: Observations on a Patch of Land; Distinguished Alumni Award, Rice University, 1983; D.Litt., Texas Christian University, 1983; Bookend Award, Texas Book Festival, 2000.


Home Place: A Background Sketch in Support of a Proposed Restoration of Pioneer Building in Fort Worth, Texas, Pioneer Texas Heritage Committee (Fort Worth, TX), 1958.

Goodbye to a River: A Narrative (first volume of "Brazos" trilogy), Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1960.

The Creek and the City: Urban Pressures on a Natural Stream, Rock Creek Park and Metropolitan Washington, Department of the Interior (Washington, DC), 1967.

The Nation's River, U.S. Government Printing Office (Washington, DC), 1968.

(With Robert Boyle and T. H. Watkins) The Water Hustlers, Sierra Club (San Francisco, CA), 1971, revised edition, 1973.

(With others) Growing Up in Texas, Encino Press (Austin, TX), 1972.

Hard Scrabble: Observations on a Patch of Land (second volume of "Brazos" trilogy), Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1974, reprinted with new introduction by Rick Bass and new afterword by the author, Southern Methodist University Press (Dallas, TX), 2002.

The Last Running, Encino Press (Austin, TX), 1974, published as The Last Running: A Story, illustrated by John Groth, Lyons & Burford (New York, NY), 1990.

(With Jim Bones, Jr.) Texas Heartland: A Hill Country Year, Texas A & M University Press (College Station, TX), 1975.

(Editor, with John Walsh) The River Styx, Salt Spring Cave System, Texas Cave Report Series (San Antonio, TX), 1976.

From a Limestone Ledge: Some Essays and Other Ruminations about Country Life in Texas (third volume of "Brazos" trilogy), Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1980.

(Editor) Gail W. Starr, Mall, Envision Communications of Albany (Albany, NY), 1980.

(With others) The American Southwest, Cradle of Literary Art, Southwest Texas State University (San Marcos, TX), 1981.

Blue and Some Other Dogs, Encino Press (Austin, TX), 1981.

A John Graves Reader, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1996.

John Graves and the Making of Goodbye to a River: Selected Letters, 1957-1960, edited by Dave Hamrick, Taylor Wilson Publishing, 2000.

Texas Rivers, photographs by Wyman Meinzer, Texas Parks and Wildlife Press (Austin, TX), 2002.

Texas Hill Country (essay), photographs by Wyman Meinzer, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 2003.

Myself and Strangers: A Memoir of Apprenticeship, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.

Work represented in anthologies, including Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, 1955 and 1962; The Best American Short Stories, 1960, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1960; and Of Birds and Texas, illustrated by Stuart Gentling and Scott Gentling, Gentling Editions (Fort Worth, TX), 1986, revised edition, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 2002. Author of introduction, Landscapes of Texas, Texas A & M University Press (College Station, TX), 1980. Contributor to numerous magazines, including Holiday and Texas Monthly.

Collections of Graves's manuscripts are housed at the Humanities Research Center, University of Texas—Austin, and Southwest Texas State University.

SIDELIGHTS: A native Texan naturalist, John Graves writes primarily of his home state and of his experiences as the owner of Hard Scrabble Ranch, 400 acres of arid land near Fort Worth. He is best known for a trio of books called the "Brazos" trilogy: Goodbye to a River: A Narrative, Hard Scrabble: Observations on a Patch of Land, and From a Limestone Ledge: Some Essays and Other Ruminations about Country Life in Texas.

Goodbye to a River began as a magazine article for Holiday magazine, about a canoe trip the author took down the Brazos River. It is the third largest river in Texas and the largest between the Red River and the Rio Grande. Graves was inspired to take the trip in 1957, after learning that the Brazos was scheduled to be dammed by the federal government. After completing his magazine piece, Graves had so much material left over that he put together a book. It is, according to Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook contributor Timothy Dow Adams, "part autobiography, part history, part philosophy, and part woodlore, loosely tied to the erratic but steady flow of John Graves's canoe down twists of the river through both yellow-blue and rain-ruined November days and on into December snow and freezing northers." Adams deemed Graves's writing style "highly polished and literate, reflecting the wide variety of influence alluded to in chapter headings and in the body of the book itself, writers such as Thoreau, Yeats, Shakespeare, Thorstein Veblen, George Herbert, and the author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." Adams added, however, that "for all his literary ancestors, Graves's style is peculiarly his own, his syntax characterized by rhythmic stops and starts, like a boat caught momentarily on an obstruction in the current, now catching and spinning backward, now speeding downstream."

Despite the highly favorable critical response to Goodbye to a River, more than a decade passed before Graves's next major book appeared. According to a reviewer in the Atlantic Monthly, Hard Scrabble, a book of essays, is "a rumination tinctured with [Graves's] love of history, his inquisitiveness about his neighbors, and his shrewd knowledge of the natural world." A New Yorker critic found that Graves's subjects, which include everything from "hired help [to] armadillos, . . . come to us reshaped and reenlivened by his agreeably individual . . . notions." Edward Hoagland called the book "galloping" and "spontaneous" in the New York Times Book Review and pointed out that "what the best [naturalists], like Graves, do have . . . and what can give their books exceptional staying power, is a tone that suits the book . . . a life, a grace, an impetus [that] is lent to their efforts" by their unique perspective.

In the third part of the "Brazos" trilogy, From a Limestone Ledge, Graves presents essays previously printed in Texas Monthly magazine. Many of these function as sequels to subjects introduced in Hard Scrabble. Referring to From a Limestone Ledge, Susan Wood of the Washington Post said that Graves "writes about Texas and Texans with full attention to the complex peculiarities that distinguish the region; but because he so lovingly particularizes, rather than generalizes, his thoughts come to us in larger terms, made universal by the art of language and feeling. Although permeated with a sense of place, Graves's writing translates Texas as though it were Anywhere." Bill Marvel, reviewing the book in the Detroit News, reported that the "ruminative essay on country life is a tradition in American letters, . . . and it is [here] that John Graves's From a Limestone Ledge takes its place."

Adams commented: "John Graves has outgrown his strong regional identification and emerged as an important American writer in the naturalist mode. To the list of recent writers such as Edward Hoagland, Annie Dillard, Noel Perrin, John McPhee, and Wendell Berry, who have inherited that particularly American combination of autobiography-natural history-philosophy handed down from Thoreau and William Bartram through Louis Bromfield, Joseph Wood Krutch, and John Muir, the name of John Graves should be added."



Bennett, Patrick, Talking with Texas Writers: Twelve Interviews, Texas A & M University Press (College Station, TX), 1981, pp. 63-88.

Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1983, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.

Grover, Dorys Crow, John Graves, Boise State University (Boise, ID), 1989.

Twentieth-Century Western Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Chicago, IL), 1991, essay by Timothy Dow Adams.


Atlantic Monthly, August, 1974, review of Hard Scrabble: Observations on a Patch of Land.

Detroit News, January 25, 1981, Bill Marvel, review of From a Limestone Ledge: Some Essays and Other Ruminations about Country Life in Texas.

Houston Chronicle, August 18, 2002, Wyman Meinzer, "Six Rivers in Three Years: Scenic Views of Six Texas Waterways Explored by Photographer Wyman Meinzer, Accompanied by Writer John Graves," p. 8.

Library Journal, November 15, 2002, Gregg Sapp, review of Texas Rivers, p. 97.

New Yorker, August 19, 1974, review of Hard Scrabble; December 29, 1980.

New York Times Book Review, May 19, 1974, Edward Hoagland, review of Hard Scrabble.

Texas Monthly, November, 2000, review of John Graves and the Making of Goodbye to a River: Selected Letters, 1957-1960, p. 122.

Washington Post, December 27, 1980, Susan Wood, review of From a Limestone Ledge.*

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Graves, John (Alexander III) 1920-

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