Spotlight on the Grover E. Murray Studies in the American Southwest Series

Throughout this 50th anniversary year, we’ve been doing a great deal of looking ahead at new and future initiatives. We thought it might be a good time to look back on some of our signature accomplishments, longestrunning series, and best-loved books. So we’ve turned to our longest-tenured employee, sales and marketing manager John Brock, to dole out some institutional history, beginning with our flagship book series. 

The Grover E. Murray Studies in the American Southwest Series is devoted to all aspects of culture, history, natural history, and the sciences and serves to define the Southwest and engage and enlighten its broadest constituency. Since the first publication in the series in 2004, thirty-three books have been released. The thirty-fourth book, The Frontier Centennial: Fort Worth and the New West, will be published this summer. 

Grover E. Murray (1916–2003), eighth president of Texas Tech University, began his career as a geologist in the petroleum industry. In 1948, he became a professor at Louisiana State University, and two years later he became vice president for Academic Affairs for the entire LSU System. In 1966, Murray accepted the job of president of Texas Technological College. In his decade-long administration, he oversaw the transition from college to university, implemented the construction of seventeen new buildings and a museum, and acquired $130 million to build new law and medical schools.  

Yet Murray never lost sight of his first loves in academe. He worked as a geological consultant for more than four decades and supported significant research throughout the world, including Antarctica, where an ice-covered peninsula in the Amundsen Sea is named Murray Foreland in his honor. His visionary plan for studying dry climates and their psychological effects developed into the International Center for Arid and Semiarid Land Studies (ICASALS), whose programs and research have reached every continent. 

The first book in the Grover E. Murray series, Cacti of the Trans-Pecos and Adjacent Areas by A. Michael Powell and James Weedin, was called “a monumental study” by Review of Texas Books. Still a classic reference for researchers, the book won both the Southwest Book Award (Border Regional Library Association) and the Donovan Stewart Correll Memorial Award (Native Plant Society of Texas). Other botanical books in the series include Agaves, Yuccas, and Their Kin: Seven Genera of the SouthwestCacti of Texas: A Field Guide, and Plants of Central Texas Wetlands

The history of the Southwest has played a significant role in the series. Myth, Memory, and Massacre: The Pease River Capture of Cynthia Ann Parker by Paul H. Carlson and Tom Crum is a careful historiographical reconsideration seeking not only to set the record straight but also to deal with concepts of myth, folklore, and memory, both individual and collective, of the Battle of Pease River. Myth, Memory, and Massacre peels away assumptions surrounding one of the most infamous episodes in Texas history, even while it adds new dimensions to the question of what constitutes reliable knowledge. 

Seat of Empire: The Embattled Birth of Austin, Texas by Jeffrey Stuart Kerr tells of one of the Republic’s first great political battles, pitting against each other two Texas titans: Mirabeau B. Lamar, who in less than a year had risen to vice president from Army private, and Sam Houston, the hero of San Jacinto and a man both loved and hated throughout the Republic. The shy, soft-spoken, self-righteous Lamar dreamed of a great imperial capital in the wilderness, but to achieve it faced the hardships of the frontier, the mighty Comanche nation, the Mexican army, and the formidable Houston’s political might. 

Author Jacob W. Olmstead argues in The Frontier Centennial: Fort Worth and the New West (scheduled to be published in June 2021) that Fort Worth’s celebration of the centennial represented a unique opportunity to reshape the city’s identity and align itself with a progressive future. Olmstead draws out the Frontier Centennial from its inception as a commemorative fair to a theme park enshrining the mythic West. The author also discusses the various ways centennial planners, boosters, and civic leaders sought to use the celebration as a means to bolster Fort Worth’s identity and image as a modern city of the American West. 

Natural history is another subject that has played a role in the book series. In the Shadow of the Carmens: Afield with a Naturalist in the Northern Mexican Mountains by Bonnie Reynolds McKinney takes readers on a fascinating armchair journey of the Maderas del Carmen of Northern Mexico, told with intimate photographs and loving words. Just across the Rio Grande from West Texas in Coahuila, Mexico, the mountain ranges of the Maderas del Carmen rise majestically. Often called magical or mystical, they have stirred imagination for centuries. Stories of bandits, Indians, ghosts, incredible flora and fauna, cool forests, waterfalls, and vast woodlands filter across the Rio Grande. Many people have dreamed of exploring this vast ecosystem, but few have made the trip. Bonnie McKinney is among the fortunate. In 2001, McKinney and her husband, Billy Pat McKinney, moved to the Carmens to manage the large conservation project spearheaded by CEMEX, the Monterrey-based cement and building materials conglomerate. Enthralled by the massive mountains with their cliffs of purple and gold in the sunset, and by horizon views of high forests, McKinney wondered what treasures the mountains held. Now she knows—and happily has reached out to share. 

Lone Star Wildflowers: A Guide to Texas Flowering Plants by LaShara J. Nieland and Willa F. Finley offers easy identification through color grouping and a wealth of insight from the origin of scientific and common names to growth cycles, uses, history, and native lore with almost 500 full-color photographs. Each spring throughout the celebrated Hill Country and well beyond, locals and visitors revel in Texas wildflowers’ palettes and variety. From the Panhandle canyonlands to South Texas’s islands, from the eastern Piney Woods to the arid Trans-Pecos’ farthest reaches, some 5,000 species dot Texas’s 268,820 square miles. 

In A Haven in the Sun: Five Stories of Bird Life and Its Future on the Texas Coast, nature writer B. C. Robison presents a unique portrayal of birds of the Texas Coast. Through the stories of birds that have a special bond with coastal Texas, Robison shows the importance of the Texas Coast to North American bird life and the intimate dependence of coastal birds on our use of the land. Throughout the book, Robison asks several crucial questions: How can there be enough room for birds and people in the crowded world of the Texas Coast? Will we be endowed with this panorama of bird life twenty-five or fifty years from now? What can we do to help preserve this rich natural heritage? A Haven in the Sun will appeal to anyone who cares about bird life and its future on the Texas Coast. 

One hundred fifty years ago, Texas was very different. A rural population was spread thinly across the eastern and central parts of the state, and vast lands in the western regions were still undisturbed. In Texas Natural History: A Century of Change (2002), David Schmidly chronicled the alterations that occurred during the twentieth century. In the second edition, Texas Natural History in the 21st Century, Schmidly is joined by colleagues Robert and Lisa Bradley of Texas Tech University to extend that story over the first two decades of the twenty-first century. The authors present current challenges to conserving Texas’s natural history and suggest long-term solutions to those challenges, including actions focused on both private and public lands. 

With books on quilting, cooking, and wine, the series showcases many aspects of Southwest culture. For Texas Quilts and Quilters: A Lone Star Legacy, author Marcia Kaylakie traveled Texas from the Panhandle to Big Bend country, from the Piney Woods to the Gulf, discovering thousands of quilts in towns from Alpine to Austin, Dimmitt to Dallas, and various other Texas communities large and small. Hidden away in closets, trunks, and attics, the quilts Kaylakie found are not only heirlooms but also, owing to their histories, irreplaceable emblems of Texas heritage. This book showcases thirty-four quilts. Through them and their stories, the cultural development of the state unfolds. 

From an early age, chef Adán Medrano understood the power of cooking to enthrall, grant creative agency, and solidify identity and succor and hospitality. In his two cookbooks, Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes and “Don’t Count the Tortillas”: The Art of Texas Mexican Cooking, the recipes and personal anecdotes shared illuminate the role that cuisine plays in identity and community. For Truly Texas Mexican, Medrano captures this distinctive flavor profile in 100 kitchen-tested recipes, each with step-by-step instructions. Equally as careful with history, he details how hundreds of indigenous tribes in Texas gathered and hunted food, planted gardens, and cooked. Offering new culinary perspective on well-known dishes such as enchiladas and tamales, Medrano explains the complexities of aromatic chiles and how to develop flavor through technique as much as ingredients. In his second cookbook, “Don’t Count the Tortillas, Medrano documents and explains native ingredients, traditional techniques, and innovations in casero (homestyle) Mexican American cooking in Texas. Each recipe is followed by clear, step-by-step instructions, an explanation of cooking techniques, and a description of the dishes’ cultural context. 

The Wineslinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine follows author Russell D. Kane on his travels through the state tasting wine, interviewing the major players in Texas wine culture, and reflecting on its extraordinary history. Kane’s reflections include explorations of Spanish missionary life and the sacramental wine made from Texas’s first vineyard, and the love for grapes and wine brought by German and Italian immigrants from their homelands. Kane also relates stories of the modern-day growers and entrepreneurs. They overcame the lingering effects of temperance and prohibition—forces that failed to eradicate Texas’s destiny as an emerging wine-producing region. 

Two of the most recent books in the series focus on poetry, photography, and architecture. In Between Two Rivers: Photographs and Poems between the Brazos and the Rio Grande, photographer Jerod Foster and poet John Poch praise and wonder along the varied waterways. What lies between the two rivers are physical and cultural geographies stretching south from the Texas Hill Country to the border of Mexico, west across the Trans-Pecos, and up through northern New Mexico into Colorado. The result is communion: a synergy of imagery in story and story in imagery, finding unexpected form, depths, and meaning, much as rivers themselves are honed in the pull of gravity and texture. 

Opus in Brick and Stone: The Architectural and Planning Heritage of Texas Tech University by Brian H. Griggs explores the Texas Tech University System’s campus architecture, inspired by the sixteenth-century Plateresque Spanish Renaissance architectural style. This book details the parallels between Texas Tech’s buildings and those of their forebears from this relatively short period in Spanish architectural history while surveying the remarkable stories behind the construction itself. In addition to historic and contemporary photography, the book includes a comparative drawing section that, through original common scale drawings of physical structures, examines in detail historic design sources alongside their campus counterparts. Opus in Brick and Stone also tells a fascinating history: included is biographic information on figures such as Houston architect William Ward Watkin, who was convinced that this Spanish architectural style aligned well with the South Plains of Texas, and later college architect Nolan Barrick, a Watkin protégé. Through these and other key figures’ stories, readers come to understand how it was only through the vision of specific individuals that this fascinating architectural heritage came to be situated upon the plains of West Texas. 

Relevantly, Literary Lubbock, Texas Tech University Press’s annual event, benefits the Grover E. Murray Studies in the American Southwest Series with its proceeds. A signature affair since 2003, Literary Lubbock is a must-attend event for book lovers, authors, and readers across the South Plains and all those interested in and supportive of literary culture. For updates on Literary Lubbock 2021, please subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on our social media pages. 

President Murray’s lifelong passionate interest in all aspects of the American Southwest—scientific, historical, and cultural—is reflected in the scope and liveliness of the book series named in his honor.