Gone to Texas … the Institute of Letters

Woody Allen famously said he wouldn’t belong to any club that would have him as a member. I’m not that picky, but I’m not really a joiner, either. I belong to very few self-identified groups. PEN International, the writers’ organization that promotes freedom of expression and literature around the world, is one of them. The Big Thicket Association, an environmental advocacy non-profit trying to protect ecologically sensitive land and water in East Texas, is another. I contribute to a few other non-profits and probably am counted a member of them by default, though I don’t actively participate in the groups’ business.

All that said, I am very pleased to have been recently elected a member of the Texas Institute of Letters (TIL). One doesn’t apply for membership to the TIL. One is inducted to it. A writer is selected to belong to the TIL based on literary achievement. In short, it is an honor to be invited along.

And I do feel honored, very much so. And deeply appreciative. While any writer wants his work to be appreciated by readers, it is especially gratifying for his work to be recognized by his colleagues in the writing craft.

If you go to the web page of the TIL, you’ll learn that the group’s purpose isn’t merely to bestow honors, of course. The page says, “The Texas Institute of Letters is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to stimulate interest in Texas letters and to recognize distinctive literary achievement.” The TIL also gives awards for published works each year and, in partnership with the University of Texas at Austin, supports the Dobie Paisano Fellowship Program for writers.

Those are great causes, in my view, and I’m very happy to be able to support them now as an official member.

One result of all this is that I’ll be hopping a plane here in Prague and traveling to Texas for the annual TIL conference on April 5-6. I don’t think there’s a special ceremony for inducting a new member, but the weekend meeting is being held in San Marcos this year and there are several events to which I’m looking forward. Among them is a Friday evening reception hosted by the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University. The superb Wittliff Collections is home to the literary archives of many TIL members.

When I heard about that event, I decided to take a look at just who belongs—and has belonged in the past—to the Texas Institute of Letters, which has been around now for 80 or so years. What I learned is properly humbling. There is J. Frank Dobie himself, and Roy Bedicheck, Horton Foote, Molly Ivins, Bill Brett, James Crumley, Fred Gipson, and Larry L. King. There’s John Graves, Bill Moyers, Larry McMurtry, James Lee Burke, Pete Gunter, Francis Abernathy, and Leon Hale. Wonderful writers, all of them. And the list goes on and on, among them fine writers I am pleased to call my friends, including Jan Reid, Kip Stratton, Debra Monroe, Joe Lansdale, Gary Cartwright… well, I just can’t list them all, there’s too many and I’ll surely embarrass myself (or insult a good friend) by leaving someone out.

As I look at the schedule for the upcoming activities, I’m especially pleased to see that my friend Stephen Harrigan, a wonderful writer of novels, essays, magazine pieces and screenplays, will be the recipient of the Texas Institute of Letters’ 2013 Lon Tinkle Award for Excellence in Lifetime Achievement. Well done!

So, I am excited. And honored. And gratified. Thanks to all my readers, and thanks to all my brother and sister writers. Everything we do is based on those simple signs we call letters: the alphabet. And that’s what I think of when I think of the Texas Institute of Letters—an organization based, ultimately, on crafting the letters of the alphabet to tell stories. And that is, indeed, a club to which I am very proud to belong.