2021 Texas Great Read
Marfa for the Perplexed
by the late Lonn Taylor
The Texas Center for the Book at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission has chosen Marfa for the Perplexed by the late Lonn Taylor as the Texas Great Read for 2021. Every year, the Library of Congress asks each state Center for the Book to select a title that represents the state’s literary landscape to highlight at the National Book Festival. The event, sponsored by the Library of Congress, showcases the importance of books and reading. The 2021 National Book Festival will take place virtually September 17-26.
In celebration of its selection as the 2021 Texas Great Read, Marfa for the Perplexed is now available to Texas residents as a freely accessible e-book thanks to E-Read Texas, TSLAC’s statewide public library e-book program at www.tsl.texas.gov/greatread2021ebook.
Marfa for the Perplexed by the late Lonn Taylor
Marfa for the Perplexed is literary nonfiction, essays, and Texas history all rolled into one. Readers meet artists, priests, ranchers, movie stars, chili aficionados, and more in the rugged borderlands of the Big Bend country. This compilation brings people and historical events of Marfa, Alpine, Fort Davis, Presidio County, Mexico, and the surrounding area to life.
After a career in museums, curating exhibits, and writing well-researched books on such subjects as historic furniture and the history of the Star Spangled Banner, Lonn Taylor and his wife Dede moved to the small town of Fort Davis in West Texas in 2002. There Lonn found a different calling writing a weekly column, “Rambling Boy,” for the Big Bend Sentinel. He collected many of his columns into books, including Texas, My Texas, and Turning the Pages of Texas.
The genesis for Marfa for the Perplexed came about when he learned that many of the thousands of tourists who flock to Marfa each year were always seeking “a small book about Marfa.” Tourists come to Marfa, he said, “because they read about it in the New York Times, and now that they are there, they can’t figure out what the town is all about.”
Each room of the St. George Hotel in Marfa now contains a copy of the book to help guests understand why they are there. Should you choose to pick it up, you will find the 60 essays within well-researched, charming, interesting, touching, and often very funny. And you will learn much about the area and its people, past and present, who traveled through and settled in this remote and fascinating corner of Texas.
The book became very popular. During one interview, when asked what surprised him most when researching the stories in the book, Lonn confessed that he had not realized “how deep the scars left by a century of segregation and suspicion between Anglo and Hispanic residents were, or how hard younger members of both groups are working to heal them.”
About the Author
Lonn Wood Taylor’s career took him to many different locations around the country before he resettled in the Big Bend area. He was director and curator at the Winedale Historical Complex in Central Texas, curator at the Dallas Historical Society, and deputy director of the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe. In 1984 he went to Washington, DC, as the historian and director of public programs for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Described by the Washington Post as a “lively presence during his 18 years at the museum on the National Mall,” Lonn had a major role in preparing several of the museum’s permanent exhibits. One of his most renowned projects involved the history of the Star Spangled Banner which resulted in the book, The Star Spangled Banner: The Making of An American Icon. On the 200th anniversary of the battle that generated the anthem, Lonn was invited to appear on The Colbert Report, and, just in case Stephen Colbert asked, he memorized all four verses of Francis Scott Key's song.
His last work, Child of the Sun, a memoir of his childhood in the Philippines, was published posthumously after his death in 2019.
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