Clay Reynolds writes of a disappearing Texas

By Jeffrey Sartain - Guest Column
Dec. 5, 2017 at 4:06 p.m.

Jeffrey Sartain

Jeffrey Sartain   Contributed Photo by K. Jordan for The Victoria Advocate

Texas author Clay Reynolds will join us Wednesday for the University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Reading Series.

Reynolds is the author of 14 books and more than 1,000 stories, articles, screenplays and essays. A Texas native, born and raised in the small town of Quanah, between Dallas and Amarillo, Reynolds teaches at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Reynolds' sense of the distinctiveness of place - a fast-disappearing, small town Texas - is one of the most enduring images that emerges from his fiction. Reynolds, in a 2016 interview in "Lone Star Literary Life," bemoans the urbanization and suburbanization that Texas has undergone during the last 50 years. He argues that the distinctiveness of rural Texas life, independent farming and ranching, and the character of small towns has been almost entirely lost in the expansion of the major cities of Texas. As the suburbs creep ever outwards, leveling everything to the vast sameness of corporate America, Reynolds' work attempts to remind us of what is lost in the age of 24-hour delivery and suburban sprawl.

For almost as long as there has been a formal study of literature, there has been a distinct divide between so-called serious or literary fiction and genre fiction. In writing, as in almost every other form of creative expression, authors participate in traditions. In writing, these loosely predefined types of stories set up an audience's expectations. The classification of types of stories and the expectations that go with them are called genres. Frequently, critics look down on many of the standard genres like science fiction, fantasy, mystery and the Western.

Much of genre fiction, though, holds its head high with any other form of writing. There are stories of the highest quality in every genre. However, a great deal of genre fiction does still get written according to a simplistic formula, designed only to churn out another instance of a tired story. Too often, genre fiction relies on reductive stereotypes. This kind of reductive, stereotypic fiction is the equivalent of the endless miles of strip malls lining the characterless boulevards of suburban sprawl.

But Reynolds' vision works against the stereotypes of the tired, generic Western. He paints a picture of Texas and the West as honestly as he can, relying on deep research and history to inform his writing. By doing so, he avoids the cliches and stereotypes of pulp Westerns. Without the catalog of paper-thin characters provided by stereotypes, works like Reynolds' fiction tell stories worth remembering. They are a single author's vision of place, character and distinctiveness. Like a photograph, a great novel can hold onto a moment, even once that moment has been lost to time forever. In that way, novels and novelists become the chroniclers of an age.

By portraying a Texas that avoids trite portrayals of the West, portraying a place and a people that are at risk of being lost in the march of progress, Reynolds offers a vision that needs to endure. For this substantial vision, he has won numerous accolades and honors, even being nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for his 1992 novel, Franklin's Crossing.

We at the UHV/ABR Reading Series are proud to welcome Clay Reynolds for a free and open public reading at noon Wednesday in UHV's Alcorn Auditorium.

Jeffrey Sartain is an assistant professor of literature at UHV and the managing editor of American Book Review.


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