Edwin “Bud” Shrake, 1931-2009

From Twister Marquiss:

Edwin “Bud” Shrake, 1931-2009

Texas and the literary world lost a giant with the passing of Edwin “Bud” Shrake early Friday morning, May 8th, 2009.  He died from complications related to lung cancer.  He was 77.  Called a “lion of Texas letters” by the Austin American-Statesman, Shrake’s works included novels, screenplays, plays, nonfiction, as-told-to biographies, and extensive work in journalism.

The novels Blessed McGill (1968) and Strange Peaches (1972) are arguably his most lasting works.  George Plimpton called Blessed McGill “[a]n absolutely first-rate account of the rambunctious life and times of the Reconstruction years in Texas—an enthralling era of derring-do which finds its perfect chronicler in Mr. Shrake.”  Strange Peaches is the tale of TV Western star who quits his show and returns to Dallas to make a documentary—before and during the Kennedy assassination.  When it debuted, United Press International’s review stated that it was “not only one of the best-written American novels since World War II, it entertains…a great book, not just for critics, but for readers.”

Shrake’s knowledge of Dallas at the time of JFK’s death was an intimate one.  He had written for the Forth Worth Press, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Dallas Morning News.  At the time Kennedy was killed, Shrake was seeing Jack Ruby’s top dancer from the Carousel Club.

From Dallas he moved to New York, where he wrote for Sports Illustrated.  While working for SI, he produced two outstanding articles that have become a major part of his legacy: “The Tarahumaras: A Lonely Tribe of Long-Distance Runners” (1967) and “The Land of the Permanent Wave,” which wound up in the hands of editor Willie Morris and was published in Harper’s in 1970. He returned to Texas in 1968 and moved to the Austin area in the early 1970s.  In 1992, he co-wrote Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book, which would become the best-selling sports book of all time.  That book left him financially stable, and he was then able to pursue his fiction writing.

Shrake’s encounters with history were not limited to his experiences in Dallas.  For 17 years (until her death in 2006) he was the “companion” of former Texas Governor Ann Richards, the love of his life.  Gov. Richards called him her “dancing partner,” and he was often called the “First Gentleman” or “First Guy” of Texas.  There were other grand moments as well.  He was once saved from a mob by Mohammed Ali.  As a Dallas sportswriter, he was an insider with the Dallas Cowboys from the beginning.  He drafted the Houston Oilers team in 1970 (he chose his boss, Sports Illustrated editor Anrdé Laguerre, with the 25th pick).  He had a bit part, along with screenwriter and producer Bill Wittliff, in Lonesome Dove (Sodbuster Two).  His own screenplays included the acid Western Kid Blue (1973), starring Dennis Hopper, Peter Boyle, and Ben Johnson; Tom Horn (1980), starring Steve McQueen in his last Western role; and the riotous Songwriter (1984), starring Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Rip Torn, and Lesley Ann Warren.  Despite his advanced lung cancer, Shrake made an appearance at a special screening of Songwriter in Austin on April 8th.  His play “The Friend of Carlos Monzon” is still scheduled to run at Austin’s Long Center in June.

Bud Shrake’s other novels included Blood Reckoning (1962), But Not For Love (1964), Night Never Falls (1987), Borderland: A Novel of Texas (2000), Billy Boy (2001) and, most recently, Custer’s Brother’s Horse (2007).  He was roughly 100 pages into a new novel at the time of his passing.

Land of the Permanent Wave: A Bud Shrake Reader (2008), edited by Steven L. Davis, presents a sampling of his best works.  The book release party for the collection in the spring of 2008 featured readings by actor G.W. Bailey and brought recognition to Shrake’s fiction, which had too often been overshadowed by his brushes with history and his reputation as a sports writer.

Over the course of his life, he counted among his hundreds of friends many celebrities, including songwriters Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Ray Benson; fellow writers Gary Cartwright, Larry L. King, Bill Wittliff, Kinky Friedman, and Dan Jenkins; golfers Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite; actor Dennis Hopper; and dozens of former Dallas Cowboys.

A huge throng of friends and fans is expected at services in Austin Tuesday morning.  He will be buried in the Texas State Cemetery next to his longtime love, Gov. Ann Richards.

Patrick Beach’s obituary in the May 9th edition of the Austin American-Statesman captures Bud Shrake’s exceptional and generous spirit, and features comments from those who knew him best.

Also available at the Austin American-Statesman website, is a gallery of photographs of Bud Shrake.

—Twister Marquiss

Bio:  Twister Marquiss has published fiction in Narrative Magazine, South Dakota Review, and elsewhere.  He currently teaches English at Texas State University-San Marcos and serves as assistant editor of two literary journals, Southwestern American Literature and Texas Books in Review.  He presented a paper, “Bud Shrake: One Writer’s Reader’s Response to a Writer’s Writer,” at the Western Literature Association conference in Boulder, Colorado, in 2008.  Afterward, at the request of Steven L. Davis, Marquiss began an email dialogue with Shrake, who, over several months, offered mentorship advice and provided inspiration for Marquiss to begin a new novel set in Austin (Shrake graciously agreed to be quoted in the novel’s epigraph).  Marquiss spoke with Shrake again at his last public appearance, the Songwriter screening, in April.

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