Dobie, J. Frank. Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest. The University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas. Print 1943
Love him or hate him, J. Frank Dobie did more for early Texas letters than any other writer of the 20th Century. Yes, even more than the Texas-shunning Katherine Anne Porter. Rather one agrees with his later political liberalizing or disagrees with his folksy, down-Texas rambling writing style, the fact remains J. Frank Dobie is the father of Texas literature and he did more to introduce diversity into the Southwest canon than anyone else by mentoring Jovita Gonzalez and J. Mason Brewer.
His best contribution to Texas letters arose from his course, when he was still loved-at least tolerated-at the University of Texas, The Life and Literature of the Southwest. Over the life of the course, his reading list went from a mimeographed 31-page bibliography to a full length monograph, A Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest. This book is an essential addition to any Texas bibliophile’s library, but if you are looking to it for excellent bedtime reading you will be disappointed. It is the titles it lists which you should snuggle up with on gray, dreary Texas winter days. Dobie characterizes Life and Literature of the Southwest as,
Strong in character and ways of life of the early settlers, on the growth of the soil, and on everything pertaining to the range; it is weak on information concerning politicians and on citations to studies which, in the manner of orthodox Ph.D. theses, merely transfer bones from one graveyard to another. (7)
However, the importance of Life and Literature is the underlying creation of a Southwestern canon. Dobie realizes this and writes:
Tens of thousands of students of the Southwest have been assigned endless pages on and listened to dronings of Cotton Mather, Increase Mather, Jonathan Edwards, Anne Bradstreet and other dreary creatures of colonial New England who are utterly foreign to the genius of the Southwest. (9)
Striking out as a reactionary, impulsively expounding his views, and making grand statements were Dobie. But this pronouncement is Dobie’s greatest contribution to the Southwest. He realizes to continue the cultural and artistic growth of the blooming Southwest these texts must be brought together under the same umbrella.
Life and Literature covers topics such as Indian Culture, Texas Rangers, Surge of Life in the West, Cowboy Songs and other Ballads, Fiction, and Subjects for Themes. Each new section is introduced by a short essay in Dobie’s inimitable voice. He highlights the importance and direction of the topic, and does it in the compelling voice only Dobie can deliver. So if you’re looking for a list of great reads, Dobie’s Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest is a great place to start.