Overflowing with Story

The Texas Story Project.

When in grade school in Abilene, Texas, Stephen Harrigan was asked to write a Christmas poem. All the students read their poems aloud, and he noticed that his was the only one that rhymed. Stephen thought to himself, “I was never good at sports or anything … but I can do this.” 

Fast forward to 1973, two years after he graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. Stephen still had a vague idea that he wanted to be a writer, but he had no clue how to be a writer. He had never met anyone who worked as a writer, so he had to learn “by doing.” He wrote for Texas Monthly in its first year of publication, and worked with a staff that was all learning as they went, teaching each other how to publish a magazine. With this start, Texas became an intrinsic part to all of his future work.

Today, in addition to being a writer-at-large for Texas Monthly and a faculty member at UT’s James A. Michener Center for Writers, Stephen has written numerous screenplays and film adaptations, and is now the author of ten books of fiction and non-fiction, including his February 2016 book release of A Friend of Mr. Lincoln, a portrait of Abraham Lincoln during his time in Springfield, Illinois, when he met and married Mary Todd—who was from a wealthy slave-holding family—and “risked both his sanity and his ethical bearings as he searched for the great destiny he believed to be his.”

“Sometimes I’ve resisted being called a Texas writer,” Stephen said. “My ambition is to write for everybody, to speak for everybody, but it’s pointless to deny that I’m a Texan. This is where I’m from. This is what I know.”

And in Stephen’s case, he feels “fortunate to be in touch with a place that is so—overflowing with story.”

Stephen strives to write stories that stand the test of time. “History is who we are, what we do, what we accomplish individually or together.” he said. “Mostly I’m grateful for the opportunity of being a Texas writer.”

Editor's note: This story was produced by the Bullock Museum for the Texas Story Project.

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