Texas Writer Award: James Magnuson

Every year the Texas Book Festival has the honor of bestowing the Texas Writer Award on a writer who has distinguished his or herself in the field of Texas literature. The breadth of talent observed by this award is impressive, ranging from writers like Robert Caro and Sandra Cisneros to Tim O’Brien and Dan Rather. To add to these ranks, the Texas Book Festival has selected James Magnuson as the recipient of the 2018 Texas Writer Award for his new novel, Famous Writers I Have Known.

While James Magnuson is not native to Texas, he has spent enough time here to earn his status. He was born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1941 and grew up in small towns throughout Wisconsin and North Dakota before moving to New York City in the 60’s. Once there he found a home in the Village and, at a time when critics were lamenting the inevitable death of the theater, was putting on one-act plays in East Harlem, “flying blind” as he would say. In his mid-twenties Magnuson was not floundering, but had yet to find his place as a writer. His time spent in New York City gave him the opportunity for experimentation with playwriting. His big break came when a chance encounter with a Princeton University professor of African Religion led to him receiving a Hodder Fellowship. This chance event more than anything else would mean the difference between failure and success. The patronage of promising young writers, a major theme of Magnuson’s life, allowed him to develop into a capable author and playwright, producing works in his Fellowship years such as “The Seeing Eye Dog With An Eye For Women.” Magnuson first moved to Austin in 1985 when he began teaching in the University of Texas’ English department. Times were hard for Magnuson and his young family during his early years in Austin. His fortune only began to look up again after heading out to Los Angeles to write for TV shows such as ‘Class of ’96’.

Magnuson eventually returned to Austin and wrapped up his professional career with a 23-year stint as the director of the James A. Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. Through this program he was able to mentor promising, young writers in the same way that he had been during his Hodder Fellowship years at Princeton.  Reflecting on his experience as a young artist and on mentoring young artists, Magnuson believes that, “sometimes when you’re an artist, being young and dumb can be a blessed state.”

Magnuson is the author of nine novels and numerous plays. Beyond this he has been awarded a National Endowment of the Arts fellowship and won the Jesse Jones Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. For the last 23 years Magnuson served as the director of the James A. Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin, but retired in 2017 to focus on his writing.

Join us on Saturday, October 27th at 11:00am in the Capitol Auditorium of the Texas State Capitol Building as we present James Magnuson with his Texas Writer Award.