Thursday, August 8, 2013

UT Press Director Dave Hamrick Remembers John Graves

'My Best Day in Bookselling: October 6, 1996'
By Dave Hamrick
John Graves at the book signing
Photo by Stephen L. Clark, October 6, 1996.

John Graves, widely acknowledged as our state’s most beloved writer, passed away last week. He was 92. Like many other Texans, I have a deep and personal connection to Goodbye to a River, Hard Scrabble, and Blue – and over the last two decades I have had the unique opportunity, as both a bookseller and a publisher, to champion this work. 

Out of the Barnes & Noble regional office in 1996, I planned and organized the Austin launch party for Graves’ new book, A John Graves Reader, published by the University of Texas Press. The event was held on Sunday, October 6, at the then very trendy Bookstop at 38th and Lamar in the new shopping center that included Austin’s first Central Market. It was John’s first book in 15 years, there was good buzz, and an enthusiastic crowd began to assemble early – and people kept coming. The book signing went until 7 p.m., over four hours, and the store sold 200 copies of the Reader and another 100 copies of backlist titles. John and I ended up in the store office with Bill Wittliff for another hour after the signing, the two of them spinning stories about fly fishing trips and favorite dogs (and we laughed and laughed) as John signed additional stock.

Of the two hundred-plus author events I’ve attended during my professional book-life, I have never witnessed the kind of honest and genuine outpouring of warmth and affection that these particular readers felt for this particular writer on that fall day in 1996. Those feelings are as vivid and real to me today as they were on that afternoon.

On October 18, about two weeks after the event, I received a typed letter from Graves. After apologizing for not writing sooner because of “these touring and signing duties,” he went on to say that “your affair that Sunday has been the peak event of this promotion so far and I don’t think it is likely to be surpassed.” And then, after expressing some concern that UT Press might run out of hardbacks before the holiday push, he ended the note, “It was fine being with you and I am most grateful for the effort you extended on that affair. Will look forward to hearing from you. Thrive, John.” This was the very beginning of a great professional friendship and collaboration that would include, over the next 15 years, many other large book-related events; two letterpress broadsides; an 8,000 word published interview; and a small book of letters. A fine day indeed. 

— Dave Hamrick, Director at UT Press

University of Texas Press

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