Texas Book Festival 2012: Jan Reid
That hair… that twang…. those one-liners.
Ann Richards was a larger-than-life Texas political figure who vaulted onto the national political stage after her keynote speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. Her life, and Texas politics, would never be the same again.
Author and journalist Jan Reid spent three years researching Ann Richards’ background, life, and work for his new biography Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards. So much has been written about Richards that you might think it would be hard to find something new to say. Not at all, says Reid. As a matter of fact, he went through boxes and boxes of archived material and gained some insights into Richards’ public and private life. Reid says much of what he gleaned came from correspondence between Richards and her companion later in life, writer Bud Shrake. Reid says their careers may have kept them geographically apart at times but that did not dampen their relationship:
But they had discovered that neither one of them could be caught by phone. Writing letters and putting a stamp on it…. that was…just…. and email did not exist then. But they figured out they could do this by fax and it was real time. So, in this correspondence I found, you got to experience with them this incredible roller coaster of that 1990 race. There were some parts that were really funny….He was a cheerleader, trying to pump her up. There was a very touching one towards the end where she said ‘I wonder if we’d like each other if we were around each other too much.’
That insecurity and fear of being rejected is a theme that pops up in Reid’s book. Given Richards’ brash public persona, one might not think Ann Richards would have the slightest lack of confidence in herself. But Reid says in a way, that was a persona she created:
When she was in county office here, her ex-husband David Richards said it was all of a sudden, it was a calculated decision. Her hair had never looked like that…There was a time when her hair was like Mary Tyler Moore. And then another time when she was kind of an earth mother. But she made this decision, ‘ok, this is what Ann Richards is going to look like.’ And David said all of a sudden there were all these curlers around the house. But she changed her attire when she was in county office from blue jeans and earth mother type to prim.
Ann Richards’ highest profile national political moment likely was her 1988 Democratic National Convention keynote speech. Click on the player on this page to hear an excerpt from the speech; Jan Reid’s stories of how the speech actually came to be; and what it did her her career.
Jan Reid will be speaking Sunday afternoon, October 28, at the Texas Book Festival at the Texas State Capitol.