Monday, October 24, 2016

John Graves Is Dead

Graves at Hardscrabble on May 31, 2010
Photography by Matt Rainwaters

"The house is the centerpiece of nearly four hundred acres of rough limestone cedar country that John bought in 1960 with part of the proceeds from his masterful first book, Goodbye to a River. It sits on a hillside above White Bluff Creek, which flows into the Paluxy River, which in turn empties into that stretch of the Brazos that John immortalized in the book. Though it was an instant classic and hailed the coming of a major new talent, his publisher, Alfred Knopf, despaired when he heard that John was buying this piece of land. “There goes his next book,” Knopf’s wife, Blanche, groused. Their experience had been that when a writer gets interested in a piece of land, he stops being a writer, at least for a considerable time. Her fears were well-founded. It was fourteen years before John mailed off his second book, which he called Hard Scrabble: Observations on a Patch of Land, a loving meditation on this spread of rocks, cedar, and rushing creeks. “Hardscrabble” indicates a piece of land that approaches but does not completely measure up to useless. It’s the kind of place that only a writer could love and make work. Fortunately, John, who turns ninety this month, is a born writer, one of the best our state has ever produced. “If I hadn’t wasted so much time building and chasing cows,” he confesses, “I could have written a whole lot more. But what the hell, that’s how it was."

“Some days load themselves with questions whose answers have died,
and maybe never mattered hugely” 
 John Graves, Goodbye to a River: A Narrative