Thursday, February 2, 2012

Good Reads: Ron Rozelle

Donna and I are avid readers; we always have a book nearby, and we spend time reading every day. Donna normally reads novels, but she enjoys animal stories as well. I love novels as well, especially westerns, but I enjoy reading about the American West and hiking as well. I currently reading from start to finish all of the books in Elmer Kelton's Texas Ranger series.

While an undergraduate at Sam Houston State University, I met and became good friends with Ron Rozelle. Ron and I had a lot in common. We were both from small East Texas towns (Ron from Oakwood, I from Fairfield), our fathers were both school superintendents, and we both majored in English and minored in Political Science. In fact, we did our student teacher at Palestine High School at the same time, assigned to classrooms right across the hall from each other. Similarities continued as the years rolled by, and both of our fathers eventually suffered from Alzheimer's Disease.

Ron is still teaching English in a coastal Texas town, but he also teaches creative writing, and he's the perfect man for that job because he is an accomplished author in his own right. He's published numerous books, and his latest work, My Boys and Girls Are in There: The 1938 New London School Explosion, is due out on February 5th. I'm looking forward to it.

I spent the last 9 years of my career in Kilgore, just a few miles from New London, so the story of the explosion is familiar to me. I had heard the story since my youth, as it was still talked about as I was growing up.

I'm guessing this work will be historical fiction, as Ron has already established himself in that genre when he wrote The Windows of Heaven: A Novel of Galveston's Great Storm of 1900. In that work, Ron built a solid story based upon an historically accurate setting; in doing so, he brought that frightening storm to life. I'm expecting the New London novel to be the same quality. I can't wait to get my hands on it.

Ron's best known work, and the book that established him with critics, is Into That Good Night, which was a national finalist for the P.E.N. Prize and the Texas Institute of Letters Carr P. Collins Award. That memoir was especially meaningful for me for several reasons. First, it recounted Ron's life from childhood into adulthood, so I enjoyed getting a look at what Ron was like as he was growing up. Since I know Ron and knew his father, the town of Oakwood, and had been in Ron's childhood home, I felt as if I was visiting an old friend. But most of all, the memoir recounted how Ron's father became a victim of Alzheimer's and the effects on the family. Since I experienced the same events with my father, the memoir holds special meaning for me.

Among Ron's other works are:
  • A Place Apart
  • Warden: Prison Life and Death from the Inside Out
  • Touching Winter: A Novel in Four Parts
Ron has also written a book about creative writing.

For those interested in prison life, Warden (written with Jim Willett, a career employee of the Texas Department of Corrections) is a great read. Jim and Ron were roommates for a brief time during their early college careers. As many students at SHSU did in those days (and perhaps still do), Jim signed on for part-time work at the prison. Unlike most SHSU students, Jim stayed with the system and eventually became the warden of the Walls Unit near downtown Huntsville, where executions are carried out. If you stop at the prison museum in Huntsville just off I-45, you might see Jim, as he works some in that museum in his retirement.

Ron's done well, and all of his books are interesting. He has an easy-to-read and very personable style; it's almost as if you are sitting and listening to him, and that is what it reminds me of.

Once I've had a chance to read the book, I'll write a short review and provide more information about what to expect.

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