Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mike Cox named A.C. Greene Award winner

Austin author and journalist Mike Cox is the 2010 winner of the A. C. Greene Literary Award given each year to a distinguished Texas author. The award will be presented at the Boots & Books Luncheon on Saturday, Sept. 25, during the West Texas Book & Music Festival in Abilene.

Cox, who has had 17 books published including his signature two-volume history of the Texas Rangers and several collecions of historic Texas photos, headlines a list of 14 featured Texas authors who will speak during the 10th annual West Texas festival sponsored by Friends of the Abilene Public Library.

The festival runs all week, Sept. 20-25, culminating with a full day of activities on Saturday. For a full schedule, go to www.abilenetx.com/apl and click on the festival logo.

Founded as the West Texas Book & Author Festival in 2001, the event added music to its lineup in 2006. This year’s festival promises a lot of both.

Other visiting authors include Paulette Jiles and Scott Zesch, who have written books about children and families kidnapped by Comanches on the Texas frontier, and Fort Worth children’s authors Jan Peck and David Davis, who will visit Abilene and Wylie schools on Friday of festival week.

Three authors of books about Texas sports legends will speak at a Saturday morning session – Carlton Stowers, Mike Cochran and Al Pickett. Stowers has a new biography coming out on Roger Staubach, Cochran co-authored The Godfather of Poker with the godfather himself, Doyle Brunson, and Pickett co-authored Wishbone Wisdom with Emory Bellard, inventor of the wishbone offense in college football.

Steve Huddleston, senior horticulturist for the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, will lead a session on Saturday based on his book, Easy Gardens for North Central Texas. Bobby D. Weaver, author of two books on the Texas oil patch, will join Cox at a Saturday session on Texas oil.

Novelist Jane Roberts Wood, the festival’s 2006 A. C. Greene Award winner, will debut her upcoming novel, Out Summerhill Road, at sessions on Friday and Saturday.

Abilene novelist Karen Witemeyer will talk about her first two novels, both published this year. Also featured are Abilene authors Wanda Middleton, a retired teacher who has written Best Foot Forward, a helpful guide on manners and etiquette for middle and high school students, and retired history professor Bennie Gallaway, author of The Ragged Rebel about one Texas soldier’s experiences in the Civil War.

Abilene authors who have had a book published in the past year will be recognized at a Local Author Reception on Tuesday evening at the library. Each author is given two minutes to tell about his or her book, and most of the authors display and sign their books in the Hall of Texas Authors on Saturday.

A preview party on Friday evening at Frontier Texas! will honor this year’s featured authors, two of whom – Paulette Jiles and Scott Zesch -- have written books related to the era covered by the Frontier Texas! exhibit.

Music activities include daily noontime concerts Monday through Friday in downtown Minter Park, showcasing a different local or area band every day. Bands and musicians will perform at the Abilene Civic Center throughout the day on Saturday. Added to the music lineup this year is a Gospel Music Concert at 3 p.m. Saturday at the civic center, preceding the fifth annual West Texas Gospel Hymnfest at 4 p.m. The hymnfest, led by Judge Lee Hamilton, is an hour of congregational singing of old-time gospel favorites like “When We All Get to Heaven.” Both the concert and the hymnfest, sponsored by several Abilene churches, are free.

In fact, most events during the festival are free. Other free events include the noon concerts, the author reception on Tuesday, brown bag programs at the downtown library Wednesday through Friday (light lunches are available for $4 but the programs are free), and the various author panels and sessions on Saturday morning. The Hall of Texas Authors, a roomful of writers displaying and signing their books, is free to enter, but you will probably spend some money on books before you leave. The hall will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Authors from all over Texas also are welcome to purchase table space to sell their books. Details are on the festival web site.

The free events are made possible by grants from the festival’s corporate sponsor, the Abilene Reporter-News, and local foundations and the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council.

Ticketed events include the Texas Cookbook Gala, a $150-a-plate fundraiser at the Abilene Country Club on Thursday night, and the Boots & Books Luncheon at the civic center on Saturday -- $30 a person or $300 for a table of ten. Funds from these events benefit the Abilene Public Library.

At the cookbook gala, outstanding Texas chefs and award-winning vintners provide the menu and wines for the evening. The Boots & Books Luncheon concludes with the presentation of the A. C. Greene Award.

For information about tickets and updated details on festival participants and activities, see the festival web site at www.abilenetx.com/apl or call the library, 325-676-6025.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

10 American POWs fled Japanese prison camp

A new book about a daring escape from a brutal Japanese prison camp in the Philippines during World War II features a Texas war hero on the cover and throughout the narrative.

Lt. Col. William Edwin Dyess, a native Texan for whom Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene is named, was one of the leaders of the group of 10 Americans and two Filipinos who escaped from the Davao prison camp (pronounced da-VOW). Three of them were Texans – Dyess, Jack Hawkins and Bob Spielman.

Escape from Davao by John Lukacs (Simon & Schuster, $27.99 hardcover) tells the story from the perspectives of all 10 Americans who were captured after the fall of Bataan and Corregidor in the early months of the war and then pulled off the only successful group escape from a Japanese POW camp.

Lukacs (LU-kiss) relates in gripping detail the three-week-long Bataan Death March, which he calls “the most infamous war crime in the annals of American military history.” Nearly 700 Americans and as many as 10,000 Filipinos were executed or died from starvation during the 85-mile walk.

Dyess, then a captain and squadron leader, would not know freedom for nearly a year, somehow surviving the harsh conditions, disease and near starvation of three prison camps and a prisoner transport ship.

When he and the other escapees managed to pull off their unbelievable prison break, their main objective was to get back to the U.S. and tell about the conditions under which the men still imprisoned were suffering.

However, that turned out to be harder than they could have expected. After Dyess and two other escapees told their story to General Douglas MacArthur, the Pacific commander said it needed to be told to the American people and singled out Dyess as the person to tell it.

“But I am afraid, captain,” he added, “that the people back home will find it hard to believe you.” Wartime censorship proved to be the biggest hurdle in getting the story out.

Indeed, the inhumanity is hard to believe, even now, more than 67 years later. The author drives it home in gruesome detail. I read the book in two days but had to put it down every so often and catch my breath, the descriptions were so powerful.

Dyess’s story eventually was told in a 24-installment series of articles in the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers in early 1944 and helped galvanize public opinion about the war in the Pacific.

Dyess, however, didn’t live to see it in print. He died in a plane crash before the series was published. It was later reprinted in a book, Bataan Death March: A Survivor’s Account, which is still in print (Bison Books, $16.95 paperback).

Lukacs concludes the book with an epilogue that tells what became of the escapees and also what happened to the Japanese officers who brutalized them.