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John Graves Additions

Identifier: UPWC-14082

Scope and Contents

Materials retrieved from Hard Scrabble in June 2014. Personal papers of John Graves includes his letters home to his family from Rice University, 1938-1939; significant correspondence with Samuel Hynes and John Schaffner; letters from his time spent in Spain, 1953-1954, as well as travel documents and receipts, and correspondence from his latter years, 2006-2013. Also included are magazines featuring articles by Graves, original Russell Waterhouse drawings for Goodbye to a River, and some family papers. Original folder titles are in (“) quotation marks.


  • 1800-2013


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Materials from the Wittliff Collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. The user assumes responsibility for determining copyright status, obtaining permission to publish, and abiding by U.S. copyright laws.

Biographical / Historical

Born August 6, 1920 in Fort Worth, Texas, John Alexander Graves III grew up in that city until moving away to attend college in 1938. He graduated from Rice Institute (now Rice University) with a B.A. in English in 1942, then entered the Marine Corps and served in the Pacific theater until being wounded by a Japanese grenade on the island of Saipan. After the service, Graves traveled to Mexico for a few months then attended Columbia University, earning an M.A. in English from there in 1948. He began his professional writing career while still a graduate student by publishing a short story, titled “Quarry,” in The New Yorker in 1947.

Graves taught English from 1948 to 1950 at The University of Texas at Austin, but left academia and Texas behind to spend a year freelance writing in New York City. From January 1953 to July 1955 he spent abroad, living mostly in Spain, including the Canary Islands for some months on a resident colony of writers and artists. During these years he wrote articles for publications like Holiday and Town and Country but also worked on fiction, including a semi-autobiographical novel, The Spotted Horse. Graves concentrated on finishing the novel after returning to the United States, but his agent rejected the final manuscript and Graves soon came to realize the novel was not publishable as a whole.

In the spring of 1957 Graves returned home to help care for his ill father. In November of that year, Graves completed a three-week canoe trip down part of the Brazos River that he feared was about to be changed forever by dams. His narrative chronicle of the trip was first published as a magazine article in Holiday, and later Graves added history, philosophy and folklore which resulted in his first major book, Goodbye to a River (1960). The book attracted national attention and critical praise for its original style. It won the Carr P. Collins Award of the Texas Institute of Letters in 1961 and was nominated for a National Book Award that year. In the meantime, Graves took a teaching job at Texas Christian University, married Jane Cole (his second marriage) and purchased the first of his limestone acres in Somervell County near the town of Glen Rose.

After three years assisting in and writing for a U.S. government study of pollution of the Potomac River, Graves returned to Texas and focused on converting his country acreage from a weekend getaway into a permanent home with a manageable farm and cattle ranch. In that time he also contributed to journals, magazines and books with introductions, articles, and essays—work that has continued to the present day. His observations and ruminations about his relationship with the land as a farmer and rancher led to the publication of his second major book, Hard Scrabble: Observations on a Patch of Land (1974). Hard Scrabble describes both the promise and adversity of country life, touching on subjects like animals, tools, construction, weather, water, ecology, agriculture, and migrant workers.

Starting in 1976, Graves again focused on life in the country in a series of essays that were published in Texas Monthly magazine. The essays examined topics such as fences, meat, tobacco, cows, chickens, dogs, and bees, and were collected and published for Graves’ third major book, From a Limestone Ledge: Some Essays and Other Ruminations about Country Life in Texas (1980). Some essays follow up topics which he discussed in Hard Scrabble, but all focus on the “more or less country things which came to interest” Graves. From a Limestone Ledge was nominated for an American Book Award.

Although Graves has not published an extensive number of books, his contributions to magazines, books and anthologies spans over five decades. He has written introductions and narratives for a number of books and reports, often on Texas history and Texas environment, such as Cowboy Life on the Western Plains, Texas Heartland: A Hill Country Year and The Water Hustlers. Two of Graves’ most famous magazine pieces, “The Last Running” and “Blue & Some Other Dogs,” later became their own books, published first by Encino Press. Another well-received essay, “Recollections of a Texas Bird Glimpser,” written for the art book, Of Birds and Texas (1986), transformed into a limited edition book, Self-Portrait, With Birds (1991).

In 1996 the University of Texas Press published A John Graves Reader, which gathered together fiction and non-fiction pieces, both published and unpublished, including a long, reworked excerpt from his failed novel, The Spotted Horse. More recently, Graves wrote text for the photography books Texas Rivers (2002) and Texas Hill Country (2003), and in 2004 Knopf published his memoir, Myself and Strangers, which focused on his years abroad as a freelance writer.

John Graves is one of the most important Southwestern writers. Three of his early short stories were collected in the O. Henry award series. He received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1963 and a Rockefeller fellowship in 1972. Numerous awards and recognitions have followed him throughout his writing career. Although he is generally considered a regional and nature writer due to his settings and subjects, his style, which incorporates fiction, folklore, autobiography, philosophy, and observation, defies provincial or topical boundaries. Perhaps the best example of this is Goodbye to a River, which has never gone out of print since first being published in 1960, and is still celebrated for its keen ruminations on the historical, attitudinal and natural worlds that intertwined around Graves as he canoed down the river.

Graves was married to the former Jane Cole of New York, and they had two daughters, Helen and Sally. John and Jane lived and worked on Hard Scrabble near Glen Rose until Graves' death in 2013.


23 boxes

Language of Materials


Metadata Rights Declarations

  • The descriptive data created for this finding aid is licensed under the CC0 Creative Commons license and is free for use without restriction.


Materials relating to the literary career of John Graves.

Physical Location

Materials may be stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use:

Guide to the John Graves Additions.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2024: Revised for ArchivesSpace by Alie Dowell

Repository Details

Part of the The Wittliff Collections Repository

601 University Drive
San Marcos Texas 78666 USA