We recently had the chance to chat with legendary author Sarah Bird about the inspiration for her new book A Love Letter to Texas Women. A Texas woman herself, Sarah Bird is the author of nine novels, has written for The New York Times, Salon, O Magazine, and Texas Monthly, and has written screenplays for numerous studios. Her original screenplay, Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen, is currently in development. She’s been the recipient of numerous awards, was inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame, and most recently was honored with the Texas Institute of Letters Lifetime Achievement Award. In short: she’s a treasure, and we are so honored to talk to her about her latest book.
TBF: What is it about Texas women that inspired you to write this book?
Sarah Bird: As I write in the short book/long essay—It’s a gift book! Don’t go on Amazon and complain that it’s short. In fact, don’t go on Amazon at all. Buy Local—this is really about falling in love. I came to appreciate the Texas Woman more by accretion than epiphany. I just met so darn many extraordinary ones, and learned to avoid the mutants, that from arriving here the most reluctant of Texas transplants and being appalled by all things and beings Texan, I arrived at the point where I almost surprised myself by being able to say, “I love Texas Women.”
TBF: How do you define the Texas woman?
SB: From a purely geographical-accident-of-birth, perspective, I can’t really do any better than what I wrote: “The Texas Woman? Was she Southern? All belles and balls? Or was she Western? Ready to rope and ride and shoot the head off a rattler? You already know the answer. You know that like sulfur, charcoal, and bat guano, the ingredients don’t really pop until they’re mixed up together into gunpowder. The Texas Woman is a hybrid with all the vigor that comes from the perfect pairing of the best of two species. She is Southern but with the Western grit handed down by her foremothers, who could give birth during a Comanche attack, help out when it came time to turn the bulls into steers, and still end up producing more Miss USAs than any other state in the union. My ideal Texas Woman would also foreswear the less appealing legacies of both regions: guns and racism.
TBF: When you think of a Texas woman, what is the first name that springs to mind?
SB: Molly Ivins, the only true hero I’ve ever had.
TBF: You talk about your early days in Austin in these pages. As we well know, Austin has changed quite a bit over the years. Have you also seen an evolution in the character of the Texas woman?
SB: I glory in the friendship of my younger Texas girlfriends. The best of them have that same “realness” about them. They’re women you can go to the well with as the old saying would have it. The only difference I’ve noticed is that, many of our rose buds don’t have quite the same ability to spellbind with the perfectly-told tale. On the other hand, my Yellow Roses of a certain age aren’t too hot on Twitter. Also, the younger ones are more likely to know what a cisgender is.
TBF: If you could have dinner with any three Texas women, living or deceased, who would they be and why?
SB: Molly Ivins, Cathy/Cathay Williams, and Mary Margaret Farabee. I was too much of a tongue-tied fan girl to actually talk to Molly when we had her and would love a do-over. My screenplay, Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen, which was one of the winners in Meryl Streep’s contest is based on the life of Cathy Williams, an ex-slave woman who disguised herself as a man and served two years with the legendary Buffalo Soldiers, part of that time in Texas. I’m writing her story now as a novel and would give anything to have a few minutes with her. And MM Farabee, the founder of the Texas Book Festival, whom I called Yum Yum and was one of those “angels unawares” the Bible mentions, simply because I just miss her so much. And, P.S., Austin would not be the city it is without her.
TBF: If you could give a young Texas woman (or a young woman from any corner of our planet) one piece of advice, what would it be?
SB: Be bold, be kind, laugh, be ten percent friendlier than is comfortable, forgive everyone.
Sarah receiving the Texas Writer Award in 2014 (and the boots that come with it!)