Submitted by Glen Aaron on February 20, 2015

Two very interesting people, Bill Wright, and award – winning photographer and writer, of Abilene, and Marcia Hatfield Davdistel of El Paso have interviewed many people throughout the Big bend who are permanent residents, generational residents and relative newcomers. Wright has photographed not only the people but seems of the area like you have never seen.

The people are unique, authentic, and indeed, different from anyone you find in the city. This is not your typical photography book of the Big Bid. In its creation, there was a special interview talent that existed with the authors, whether it was Bill Or Marcia.

Marcia Hatfield Davdistel is a winner of a 2013 San Antonio Conservation Society publication award, as editor of the book, Grace and Gumption: the Women of El Paso, and she is winner of the 2010 Southwest Book Award of the Border Regional Library Association, among other honors. El Paso has been her home for 30 years.

Authentic Texas is dedicated by the authors “For the people of the Big Bend.” They followed a different path, indeed, a different trail, in their attempt to define the lure of the landscape of the Big Bend region. That path took years of extended personal interviews of individuals living in one part or another of this vast area. It is a book about what makes them tick, why they lived there and about their love of how and where they live. Some live off the grid and find it quite normal and would have it no other way.

You see their faces wonderfully captured by the I and lens of Bill Wright and Marcia’s astute compilation of more than forty individual interviews. By the time you have read each story, these are not just people you have read about. You feel that you know them. They have become your friends. From the counties of Jeff Davis, Presidio, Brewster, and a small part of Reeves, where in many places there is not one person per square mile you began at Balmorhea and meander in a Gradual Cir., South to Valentine, to Marfa, to Presidio, to Redford, to Terlingua, through Big Bend Park, up to Marathon, then Alpine, and, lastly, to Fort Davis and nearby Lympia Crossing, as you visit the homes of the subjects, and you listen to the most fascinating stories.

These authors have accomplished quite a feat. Once you have completed reading the book, you come to realize this is a “grassroots history” book, a nonfiction drama of the people and a creative photography unsurpassed. The interviewees are not glossed over with surface representation. The interviewer digs deep but then stands back as the stories unfold. Paradoxically, each community is different. Each takes on its own flavor and overall personality, from artistic Marfa with numerous easterners, to places like Valentine or Terlingua where people came to live in sparse accommodations many years ago, drawn to independence and solitude, to the scientific community of Fort Davis.

You at times, here the resident tearfully tell that soon they must leave their place they love, as they grow old and the need for readily available medical help requires return to the city. But then you meet people like an unusually large percentage of those who live in Valentine, as well as some other communities, who have residents in their nineties or are experiencing centurial life, who have no intention of leaving.

It is a delightful read in its entirety. When you have finished, you sit back and realize that somehow the stories have brought you back to your own roots and the feeling of what really matters.

John Steinbeck, Nobel prize winner (1962), had this to say: “Texas is a nation in every sense of the word. It has been described as a state of mind, a mystique, and obsession.” Well, I can tell you. That still exists in The Big Bend.

Authentic Texas, People of The Big Bend is published (2013) by the University of Texas Press, made possible in part by support from Clifton and Shirley Caldwell, the Texas Heritage Series, and a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It is a search for Texas exceptionalism.

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