The Dobie Paisano Fellowship:
(from the Texas State Historical Association website)
PAISANO RANCH. Paisano Ranch, fourteen miles southwest of Austin in the Hill Country, was the country retreat of J. Frank Dobie until his death in 1964. Dobie first thought of calling his place the Wild Gobbler Ranch, but decided on Paisano, a name of Spanish origin used in the Southwest to denote the roadrunner. Dobie was also familiar with other regional meanings of the word-"compatriot," "native," and "rustic." The roadrunner image, the symbol of the Texas Folklore Society, became Dobie's personal symbol, and he used it on bookplates and elsewhere. Originally, he kept a few cattle and sheep at the ranch, but he later sold them, preferring, as acquaintances recall, the deer and wild turkey and other wildlife found in abundance on the property.
Paisano served as more of a retreat than a working site for Dobie, who gathered friends from near and far to sit on the long porch (or "gallery") to discuss lifeand literature. According to Dobie, Paisano is "not an estate, not a ranch, not a farm, it is merely a place of some acres in the hills west of Austin, Barton Creek winding through it." The ranch has been left very much in its natural state since Dobie's occupancy-native grasses rarely seen elsewhere today are abundant, a profusion of wildflowers, cactus, vines, and bushes covers the land, and tall live oaks shade the house. A log cabin, at least a part of which dates from the middle of the nineteenth century, sits on a far corner of the property.
The Dobie Paisano Fellowship Project. A few months after Dobie's death, the idea for using Paisano as a writer's retreat arose during a conversation at a dinner meeting of the Philosophical Society of Texas in Austin on December 5, 1964, between Bertha McKee Dobie and two of Dobie's close friends, Frank H. Wardlaw, director of the University of Texas Press, and J. Lon Tinkle, a faculty member at Southern Methodist University and book critic for the Dallas Morning News. Preserving Paisano and using it in this way would not only be a fitting memorial to Dobie; it would also be an extension of his legendary generosity with time, advice, energy, and loan of material to other writers. Shortly thereafter, a steering committee of twenty-five was appointed by Wardlaw. It included O'Neil Ford, Peter Hurd, John Henry Faulk, John Graves, and Tom Lea.
From 1972 to 1974 fellowships were awarded for a full year. A plan whereby the fellowships would be set aside for visual artists every third year was implemented in 1975–76 and in 1978–79, at which time the TIL Council decided to return to the earlier practice of awards for writers each year. www.legacyoftexas.com
Today, two fellowships of six months each are awarded by a committee chosen by the presidents of the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Institute of Letters. About eighty-five to ninety applications are received each year from writers who must be native Texans, or Texas residents for at least two years, or persons whose writing is substantially identified with the state. Except in the last case, there is no restriction on subject matter. The six-month stipend originally was $3,000; in 1992 it was $7,200. A letter to applicants from the president of the TIL seeks to apprise them of both the delights and dangers of the ranch: "Paisano is a well-loved place, and it can be a difficult one. Notes left behind by past Fellows tell stories of icy roads, rising water, rattlesnakes, fire ants, and cars lost in the creek. Before you apply, we ask you to consider seriously whether or not you and your work are suited to life at the ranch."
Though the success of the Dobie project cannot be precisely measured, one can cite no fewer than fifty novels, collections of short stories, volumes of poetry, and works of nonfiction that have been published by Paisano fellows since their residencies. Not all of these works, of course, were written at the ranch, but they indicate a continuing productivity by the writers and artists who have been supported by the fellowship. There is no one typical experience of a Paisano fellow, but the ranch has nearly always had a profound effect on its residents. Sandra Cisneros, whose award-winning short stories in Woman Hollering Creek (1991) have attracted nationwide attention, wrote of her recent volume: "My new book is practically all Texas stories. I didn't write them at Dobie Paisano, but Dobie Paisano is what altered my destiny, what allowed me to decide not to march out of the state."
Robert Grant Burns
Oattis Wynn Parks
Kathryn Taylor Marshall
Paulina Van Bavel Kearney
R. G. Gliet
Cheryl Ann Cessna
Pat Ellis Taylor (Pat Little Dog)
Sheryl St. Germain
Lee Merrill Byrd
Lowell Mick White
William J Cobb
Mary Helen Specht