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John Graves dies at 92; one of Texas' most celebrated authors

John Graves' 1960 book 'Goodbye to a River' and depictions of rural Texas made him one of the state's most celebrated writers.

August 01, 2013|Los Angeles Times wire services

Author John Graves, whose 1960 book "Goodbye to a River" and authentic depictions of rural Texas made him one of the state's most celebrated and beloved writers, has died. He was 92.

Graves died Wednesday at the home he called Hard Scrabble near Glen Rose, Texas, said W.K. "Kip" Stratton, president of the Texas Institute of Letters. Graves had been in declining health since breaking his hip several years ago.

He was best known for "Goodbye to a River," a memoir of a canoe trip down the Brazos River that chronicled nature in masterful language and used history and philosophy to capture a sense of place. It has endured as one of the most acclaimed books about Texas and was nominated for a National Book Award.

Graves also wrote "Hard Scrabble" in 1974 and "From a Limestone Ledge" in 1980. The books became known as his "Brazos Trilogy." His fans included former first lady Laura Bush, who often listed "Goodbye to a River" as one of her favorites.

Admirers of Graves often called him the Henry David Thoreau of Texas.

"His prose seemed to reflect the state of Texas and its roots," Stratton said. "It was a marvelous prose style that no one else could match."

Larry McMurtry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who wrote "Lonesome Dove" and "Terms of Endearment," lauded Graves' talents in a 1981 essay for the Texas Observer.

"He is popularly thought to be a kind of country explainer, when in fact he seems more interested in increasing our store of mysteries than our store of knowledge," McMurtry wrote. "He loves the obscure, indeterminate nature of rural legend and likes nothing better than to retell stories the full truth of which can never be known."

Graves was born in Fort Worth on Aug. 6, 1920. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in English from Rice University in Houston in 1942 and entered the Marine Corps. He was a first lieutenant in the Pacific during World War II and was injured by a grenade on Saipan, losing the sight in one eye. After the war, he received a master's degree in English from Columbia University in 1947.

He taught for two years at the University of Texas, then took time off to travel and explore the world. He went back to Fort Worth in early 1957 to be near his father, who was dying of cancer. In the fall of that year, he took his famous canoe trip down the Brazos. In 1958 he began teaching again, this time at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

Graves is survived by his wife, Jane, and two daughters.

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