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John Graves: A Brief Biography

Born in Fort Worth on August 6, 1920, John Graves explored the Trinity River bottom before it became littered with beer cans. He studied at Rice University in Houston with George Williams, who also would teach Texas writers William Goyen and Larry McMurtry. After graduating from Rice in 1942, Graves entered the Marine Corps. He completed Marine Officer Candidate School and served in the Pacific as a first lieutenant. Seriously wounded on Saipan, he lost the sight in one eye. After the war he received a master’s degree from Columbia in 1947.

He taught for two years at the University of Texas, but the wanderlust got him, and he traveled around to France and Spain, where he lived for a while, and then to Tenerife in the Canary Islands, and to Mexico before he came back to his “blood’s country” and in 1958 joined the faculty at Texas Christian University for seven years. After taking a canoe trip down the Brazos River in the fall of 1957, Graves wrote Goodbye to a River, published in 1960, and in that year bought the first part of his land near Glen Rose. Working that land led to his book about it, Hard Scrabble, published in 1974. His third book, From a Limestone Ledge, continued his ruminations on his home place and included essays written over a period of time for Texas Monthly magazine. In 2004 Graves published his fourth major book, a memoir titled Myself and Strangers. Besides these four major books, Graves has written on conservation for the Sierra Club in The Water Hustlers (1971), and he has published a number of other works—short stories and articles for The Atlantic, American Esquire, and The New Yorker; introductions for other writers’ work; and the text for several books of photography. Through all of his writing, John Graves demonstrates how a writer with a clear sense of purpose, a respect for the bounty of the natural world, an understanding of the depth of simplicity, and a strong grip on language can move people in ways that last. Graves is a master of subtle persuasion in Goodbye to a River.

After reading John Graves, you think of him as a friend, for you will have ridden down the river in his canoe, listened to him ruminate about septic tanks, the virtues of hard scrabble farming. You will have spent much quality time with the kind of writer who gets inside you, who speaks with a clear personal voice so that when you’re through with a book you know you’ve met a man—a man who knows the light and the dark of his world and a writer who helps you see the grays of it too. You know that when he writes of his world he’s been there and that he has considered it well.

— Mark Busby

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