San Pedro Creek Culture Park: Hideous drainage ditch now inviting urban space

In this place of herons where the grasses sway in starlight I have flowed since the dawn of evermore.

John Phillip Santos, historical text carved in limestone

The stretch of San Pedro Creek between the tunnel inlet at I-35 and Houston Street beside a new office tower climbing toward the sky might only be a little more than four blocks long, but the transformation from drainage ditch to park seems miraculous to me.

Yes, I watched the earlier magic worked on the Museum and Mission Reaches of the San Antonio River Improvements Project, but there was absolutely nothing natural-creek-like remaining following decades of flood-control projects in this neighborhood.

All that remained was a ditch. And then there was a dream. San Pedro Creek Culture Park.

Some dismiss projects like these as “legacy projects” fluffing up politicians’ egos with taxpayers’ dollars. Politically charged, the design process for a project this complex is rarely perfect. There are budget cuts, and still the enormous projects tend to run over-budget.

But, as with the original Paseo del Rio project, they can prove visionary. Development along the Museum Reach demonstrates how quickly highly blemished urban corridors become desirable.

While flood-control is an underlying purpose of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, the incorporation of site-specific art reflective of the city’s history and culture gives the new pedestrian passageway a distinctive San Antonio feel.

Bexar County is the primary funder of San Pedro Creek Culture Park, and the San Antonio River Authority is project manager.

looking south from Houston Street

Work is underway on the next phase heading southward from Houston Street. As you can see from the photo, this narrow stretch probably is even more challenging.

In my mind, the photos above illustrate that the complications and difficulties encountered along the way are so worth it. Those involved are leaving a legacy that will enrich the quality of urban life for generations to come. Looking forward to walking the next phase and those to come.

When fact-based works can’t be tidily tied up in a nonfiction box

When I first formed my theories concerning the nonfiction novel, many people with whom I discussed the matter were unsympathetic. They felt that what I proposed, a narrative form that employed all the techniques of fictional art but was nevertheless immaculately factual, was little more than a literary solution for fatigued novelists suffering from “failure of imagination.” Personally, I felt that this attitude represented a “failure of imagination” on their part.

Truman Capote in an interview conducted by George Plimpton

January 16, 1966, The New York Times

Whether accurate or not, Truman Capote claimed that in writing In Cold Blood he invented a new category of writing. A panel at Gemini Ink’s Writers Conference this weekend grappled with their own difficulties in fitting into traditional nonfiction labels and wrestling with how publishers promote them.

the train to crystal cityJan Jarboe, author of The Train to Crystal City, is meticulous about her facts, so much so she even hired a fact-checker out of her own pocket to ensure certain details were correct before her recent New York Times Bestseller (on the nonfiction list) was published. Although the book is true, she feels it blurs the traditional lines for nonfiction because she was determined not to break the flow of the narrative or drive herself crazy by “annotating every damn detail.”

Jarboe’s strict adherence to facts is part of her D.N.A. as a writer, having spent years contributing to Texas Monthly, which is noted for its team of fact-checkers. The panel moderator, John Phillip Santos, referenced John McPhee’s 2009 New Yorker article on that magazine’s fact-checkers, “Checkpoints,” chronicling the tenacity required both to perform the task and to work with the taskmasters.

berlow the lineAuthor J.R. Helton plays more loosely, valuing the format of a nonfiction novel for “not worrying about whether you jump back and forth in time.” His works are subjective, a telling of events as he recalls them. He says he was brutally honest about some of the film industry people featured in Below the Line; so much so that Sarah Hepola writes in The Austin Chronicle that “the tell-all book might more accurately be called Below the Belt.” But, in Drugs, Helton says he purposefully changed names and places to prevent himself from getting killed by some of the dangerous characters he encountered during his past drug days. While he feels The Jugheads accurately related his side of the story of his family life when he was growing up in East Texas, his publisher categorized it as “fictionalized memoir.”

manana means heavenTim Z. Hernandez categorized himself as a poet when he was assigned the huge San Joaquin Valley as his territory for mining oral histories for California Stories. While he first considered the assignment “work,” the one-on-one interviews altered his writing and made him realize “you don’t have to leave to look for good stories.”

His interest in oral history led Hernandez to knock on the door of Bea Franco, the real-life never-before-interviewed “Mexican girl” Jack Kerouac wrote about in On the Road. Convincing her to entrust him to tell the story of her life, Hernandez translated his oral history interviews with her in Manana Means Heaven.

Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Hector Tobar observed:

Hernandez combines his skills as a poet and some dogged research to imagine and re-create the couple’s brief relationship with intimate and engrossing detail. The book begins and ends with a description of Hernandez’s real-life interview with Franco, and it’s clear the novel has benefited from Franco’s own account of her life as a farmworker and young mother.

Hernandez says he based his narrative on his recordings of Franco’s story but found some pieces missing. In order to ensure his efforts at filling in the gaps rang true, he read them aloud to his elderly subject. He knew he was on target when she would nod her approval saying, “That’s not how I lived it, but that’s how I remembered it.” The publisher marketed the book as “historical fiction.” Hernandez’s upcoming book that includes dialogue is being labeled a “documentary novel.”

And did The New Yorker’s famous fact-checking survive the test of time for Capote’s In Cold Blood? In Slate, Ben Yagoda wrote of finding the original notes made by the fact-checker assigned the laborious chore:

Almost from the start, skeptics challenged the accuracy of In Cold Blood. One early revelation (acknowledged by Capote before his death in 1984) was that the last scene in the book, a graveyard conversation between a detective and the murdered girl’s best friend, was pure invention. I myself made a small contribution to the counter-narrative. While doing research for my 2000 book, About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made, I found “In Cold Blood” galley proofs in the magazine’s archives. Next to a passage describing the actions of someone who was alone, and who was later killed in the “multiple murder,” New Yorker editor William Shawn had scrawled, in pencil, “How know?” There was in fact no way to know, but the passage stayed.

So who knows? In a later session of the Writers Conference led by Claiborne Smith, editor-in-chief of Kirkus Reviews and literary director of the San Antonio Book Festival, Jarboe observed, “Nonfiction is often more unbelievable than fiction.”

 signed: a writer drowning in a swamp of footnotes

Library Foundation flapping red cape for the bullish on books

"Toro Obscuro," Joel Salcido, poster artist for San Antonio Book Festival 2013,

“Toro Obscuro,” Joel Salcido, poster artist for San Antonio Book Festival 2013, http://www.joelsalcidogallery.com/

A full day of readings by recently published Texas authors is on the horizon for Saturday, April 13. No need to steel yourself for a drive up I-35 because the San Antonio Public Library Foundation is bringing a fresh edition of the Texas Book Festival here to the Central Library and the Southwest School of Art for seven hours of readings, discussions and signings.

logoThe preliminary schedule is so packed I assembled links to resolve (or attempt to resolve) conflicting pulls among the readings in advance. Definitely check the official website for updates before heading downtown:

All Day

  • Book Sales
  • Coloring Station, Painting Bookmarks; H-E-B Children’s Area
  • Latino Leadership for the Library En Nuestras Palabras: My Story Van, Stories on the Porch, Create A Story, Meet the Story Tellers, Stories are Milagros for the Future; Central Library Plaza Walk

10 a.m.

10:45 a.m.

  • Elaine Scott (Buried Alive!: How 33 Miners Survived 69 Days Deep Under the Chilean Desert); Children’s Area, Central Library
  • Storytelling with Sarah Loden; H-E-B Children’s Area

going-clear-cover11 a.m.

11:15 a.m.

  • Celebrating Small-Town Texas Souls with Liza Palmer and Lynda Rutledge; Moderator, Josie Seeligson; Southwest School of Art, Ursuline Campus

11:30 a.m.

SweetOnTexasNoon

12:15 p.m.

12:30 p.m.

  • A Sense of Birthplace: Investigating the Past: Beatriz de la Garza and Sarah Cortez; Moderator, Yvette Benavides; Southwest School of Art, Navarro Campus

oleander12:45 p.m.

1 p.m.

  • Sandra Cisneros performs from Have You Seen Marie?; Moderator, John Phillip Santos; Central Library

I always tell people that I became a writer not because I went to school but because my mother took me to the library.

Sandra Cisneros

job-cover1:45 p.m.

2 p.m.

2:15 p.m.

alicia2:30 p.m.

2:45 p.m.

  • At War Over the Environment: Two Experts on the Politics of Parks and the Natural World with George Bristol and Char Miller; Moderator, Weir Labatt; Southwest School of Art, Navarro Campus

3 p.m.

  • Esmeralda Santiago on Conquistadora; Moderator, José Rubén De León, Central Library
  • For readers of Young Adult fiction: Summer of the Mariposas with Guadalupe Garcia McCall; Moderator, Yvette Benavides; Southwest School of Art, Navarro Campus
  • Thinking caps and creativity crowns; H-E-B Children’s Area

3:15 p.m.

4 p.m.

4:15 p.m.

site-map

An incredible agenda for a first-time event (May there be many more).

Of course you will need breaks, so there will be children’s activities and music throughout the day.

And nourishing your mind makes you hungry, so some of San Antonio’s favorite food trucks will be parked nearby for refueling.

Hmm, this is San Antonio. Wonder where the beer stand is….

cafeNote to Austinites: Your turn to hit I-35.

Note to Self: Never get so excited about something you decide to post the whole schedule – with custom links – again.

And thanks to the Mister Barista for that caffe corretto blast.

April 12, 2013, Update:

Just received the schedule for the Latino Leadership for the Library area just outside the Central Library, and it adds another slew of author appearances.

latino-leadership2

latino-leadership