An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center
Texas writer John Alexander Graves III was born August 6, 1920, in Fort Worth. He received a Bachelor's degree from Rice University in 1942 and then served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. After being wounded while serving in Saipan, Graves returned to the United States and enrolled at Columbia University; he completed a Master's degree in literature in 1948. From 1948 to 1950 Graves taught English at the University of Texas at Austin. Following that, he worked as a freelance writer and travelled to Mexico, Spain, England, and other areas. In 1958, Graves married Jane Cole, a designer for Neiman Marcus; they had two daughters, Helen and Sally. Graves was an adjunct professor of English at Texas Christian University from 1958 to 1965. He then spent three years working for Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall as a consultant and writer on preservation and conservation of the Potomac River Basin.
Home Place: A Background Sketch in Support of a Proposed Restoration of Pioneer Buildings in Fort Worth, Texas was published in 1958. As a freelance writer, Graves was published in The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Holiday, The New Yorker, and Town and Country, among other periodicals. His short story "The Green Fly" was reprinted in Prize Stories 1955: The O. Henry Awards, and "The Aztec Dog" was included in the 1961 edition of Prize Stories. Graves' first and best-known book, Goodbye to a River, was published by Knopf in 1960. A personal and historical account of a stretch of the Brazos River, Goodbye to a River won the 1961 Collins Award of the Texas Institute of Letters and earned Graves a reputation for writing in a naturalistic style about the relationship between people and land. The Water Hustlers, a book about the impact of water resource development on the environment in California, Texas, and New York, was published by the Sierra Club in 1971. Graves' contribution to the book was titled "Texas: You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" and examined the 1968 Texas Water Plan.
In 1970, Graves moved from Fort Worth to live in a house he had constructed on 400 acres of land near Glen Rose, Texas. That land, which he called Hard Scrabble, was the subject of his next major book. Written in the same vein as Goodbye to a River, Hard Scrabble: Observations on a Patch of Land (1974) is a collection of essays incorporating physical description, history, and philosophical comments, as well as fictional characterizations. Hard Scrabble, like Goodbye to a River, won a Texas Institute of Letters Collins Award.
Over the next few years, Graves continued to write essays and short pieces for publication. He wrote the text for Texas Heartland: A Hill Country Year (1975), which was a book of photographs taken at Paisano Ranch by Jim Bones, Jr., as well as the introduction to Landscapes of Texas: Photographs from Texas Highways Magazine (1980). A collection of essays Graves wrote for Texas Monthly magazine also was published in 1980, under the title From a Limestone Ledge: Some Essays and Other Ruminations about Country Life in Texas.
Other published works by Graves include The Last Running: A Story (1974), a fictionalized version of a segment of Goodbye to a River that was first published in Atlantic Monthly in June 1959 and reprinted in The Best American Short Stories 1960; and Blue and Some Other Dogs (1981), taken from From a Limestone Ledge. Graves contributed to The American Southwest, Cradle of Literary Art (1981) and wrote the forewards to A Thomason Sketchbook: Drawings (1969) and James T. De Shields' Cynthia Ann Parker (1991), among others. He provided the text for Of Birds and Texas (1986) and published another version of that text as Self-Portrait with Birds: Some Semi-Ornithological Recollections (1991).
Graves died on July 31, 2013 in Glen Rose, Texas.
The John Graves papers consist of typescript drafts with holograph revisions, research notes, correspondence, and page proofs relating to Graves' work, primarily his books Goodbye to a River and Hard Scrabble, but also his contributions to The Water Hustlers and Texas Heartland: A Hill Country Year, as well as short pieces written for Holiday, Atlantic Monthly, American Heritage, and other magazines. Graves' original groupings of drafts, research material, and correspondence about a work have been retained and are arranged by title.
Graves' best-known book, Goodbye to a River, was an outgrowth of an article commissioned by Sports Illustrated and eventually published in Holiday magazine. Drafts and correspondence relating to that article, "A Piece of River," are present in the collection. Correspondence with Graves' agent John Schaffner and with Harold Strauss, Alfred A. Knopf, and others at Knopf publishers follows the writing and publication of the book. Included with the correspondence are letters between Graves and J. Frank Dobie, along with a draft of Dobie's review of the book. Designer Carl Hertzog's layouts and correspondence regarding the book are also present. Along with Hard Scrabble material, there are drafts and correspondence relating to its publication in condensed form in Esquire.
A joint effort with noted Texas nature photographer Jim Bones, Jr., Texas Heartland: A Hill Country Year is represented by drafts by both Bones and Graves and correspondence between Graves, Bones, and publisher Frank Wardlaw. Accompanying correspondence, research material, and drafts of Graves' contribution to The Water Hustlers, a book about water resource development, are reviews of the book and Graves' research for an updated later edition.
Research material, correspondence, and drafts of Graves' articles for Holiday about Rice University, Carlsbad Caverns, and the Mexican border are present. An article about artist Clara Williamson is accompanied by notes from Graves' interview with her. A piece on John W. Thomason, Jr., written as an introduction for A Thomason Sketchbook: Drawings and also published in Southwest Review, includes photocopies of sketches by Thomason. Also present is a typed draft for a talk delivered at a Ransom Center sponsored gathering of Knopf authors in September 1995, where Graves discussed his thoughts on his association with Knopf publishers.
Two carbon typescript drafts for Grave's unpublished novel The Speckled Horse were previously restricted at Graves' request. These materials, dating from the mid-1950s, were opened in May of 2019. Included with them are several letters to and from Graves explaining the restriction.
The bulk of John Graves' papers were acquired by the Ransom Center in 1975 and 1976 through William Wittliff of the Encino Press.
Open for research
Purchase, 1975, 1976 (R6540, R6883); and gift, 1995 (G10375)
Katherine Mosley, 1995
John Graves Papers--Folder List