I have lived in San Antonio for the past eight years, and earlier in my life I lived in Houston on two separate occasions, both times for a year. All in all, I've spent a quarter of my life (roughly 10 years) living in the state of Texas. Still, when I'm introduced at readings or referred to in articles as "Texas writer Andrew Porter," it always sounds a little strange to me.
The truth is, when I think of the term "Texas writer," I think of someone like Larry McMurtry, a writer who grew up in the state of Texas and who knows its history like he knows the history of his own family, who feels connected to it in the same way Joyce did to Dublin. When I think about my own life by comparison, my connection to Texas seems tangential at best. After all, I spent the first eighteen years of my life living in Pennsylvania, went to college in New York, and spent a good portion of my 20s and early 30s moving around the country — from New York to Berkeley, from Los Angeles to Baltimore. If I find myself associating with any part of the country at all, it would probably be the East Coast, where I grew up, and then maybe California, where my family lives. My Texas connection, on the other hand, seems more like a funny kind of footnote or perhaps, more accurately, a distinction I haven't really earned.
And what's interesting is that most native Texans would agree. When I recently asked a group of my students whether my 10 years in the state of Texas had earned me the right to refer to myself as a Texan, they emphatically said, "No." To be considered a true Texan, they insisted, one had to have been born here, almost as if Texas citizenship were somehow more sacred and difficult to obtain than U.S. citizenship. I countered by asking whether there was anything I could do to make myself more of a Texan, and they suggested hanging a Texas flag on my porch.
"So if I hung a Texas flag on my porch, that would make me a Texan?"
"No," they said, "but it would be a start."
It's been interesting to live in a state where there's such fierce and passionate loyalty for the state itself, where it's not uncommon to encounter individuals who still talk about seceding from the union as if it might be a good idea. Still, as a writer who lives in Texas, and as someone who may in fact live here for the rest of his life, it creates an interesting dilemma for me, especially when I find myself setting more and more of my work here. In my first book, The Theory of Light and Matter, only three of the 10 stories were set in Texas, but almost all of the stories I've written since then have been set here. My recently released novel, In Between Days, is set here, and my most recent novel project, which I've only just begun, is also set here. I don't know that there's anything distinctly Texan about any of these stories. If anything, the fictional world I create has (I hope) a kind of universal quality. The neighborhoods I describe could be neighborhoods anywhere in the country; the characters I describe could be characters living in Portland or San Francisco or Maine. Their dilemmas and conflicts are not specific to the region. They are, I suppose, a little like me: unlikely transplants, displaced persons, characters who feel more of a connection to the people around them than the place where they live.
And yet, when I travel around the country in the coming months to give readings, I'm sure that someone somewhere is going to refer to me as "a Texas writer" and ask me to talk about the state as if I were some type of authority. And maybe this time I'll have to tell them what I sometimes feel to be the truth, that though I'm not a true Texan (at least, according to my students), and though I don't walk around in my day-to-day life thinking of myself as a Texan, I have lived in the state for a quarter of my life and have come to think of it as home. This is the place where I bought my first house, where I was married, and where my daughter was born. And, of course, this is the place where I've set a good deal of my work. I don't know if any of these things make me a "Texas Writer." I only know that they make me a writer who considers Texas his home, and maybe, in the end, this is distinction enough.
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Andrew Porter is the author of the story collection The Theory of Light and Matter, which won the Flannery O'Connor Award, and the novel In Between Days. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he has received a Pushcart Prize and a Michener-Copernicus Fellowship.
Books mentioned in this post
Andrew Porter is the author of In Between Days