Sunday, May 18, 2014

J. Frank Dobie and Cormac McCarthy

Sometime in 1987, a courtly, middle-aged gentleman approached the front desk at the Special Collections library at the University of Texas at El Paso. The man was well known by this time to those who worked at the library. He'd been coming in regularly over the past decade, doing research on Texas and Mexico and the Southwest. Some people knew that he was a writer, knew that he'd even won a MacArthur "genius" grant for his work—although few readers had heard of him and he toiled in obscurity.

At the help desk, speaking in his a soft Tennessee accent, the man asked for a slender volume kept in the reserve stacks, housed inside a red pamphlet box. The item is a reprint from an article originally published in the American Hereford Journal in 1954. Its title is, simply, "Babi'cora," and its author is the great folklorist of the Southwest, J. Frank Dobie of Texas. . . .

The researcher at UTEP in 1987, Cormac McCarthy, paid very close attention to Dobie's Babicora article. McCarthy arranged to have the story photocopied, and he made exacting pencil marks in the margins of particularly interesting passages. McCarthy went on to make substantial use of Dobie's work as he fashioned his novel in progress--a book that would be published seven years later as The Crossing.
–Steven L. Davis, "Mining Dobie: Cormac McCarthy's Debt to J. Frank Dobie in The Crossing," Southwestern American Literature 38.2 (Spring 2013): 52.

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