Willie Nelson named to Texas Institute of Letters


The Texas Institute of Letters is a non-profit Honor Society founded in 1936 to celebrate Texas literature and to recognize distinctive literary achievement. The TIL’s elected membership consists of the state’s most respected writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, journalism, and scholarship. Induction into the TIL is based on literary accomplishments. Application for membership is not accepted. The rules governing the selection of members and officers are contained in the TIL By-Laws. The TIL annually elects new members, gives awards to recognize outstanding literary works, and supports the Dobie Paisano Fellowship Program for writers.

by:  Michael Merschel

The Texas Institute of Letters, one of the most august and literary organizations in the state, has just elected a class of 19 writers to its elite ranks.

Among the noted screenwriters, poets and journalists is the group’s first inductee to be honored as a songwriter: Willie Nelson.

The short explanation of how the musician ended up in the venerable organization, which has been around since 1936 and has focused on authors,  is found in the group’s press release:

“He’s Willie. Do we need to say anything else?”

For a longer explanation, I asked TIL president Steven L. Davis, who is also curator at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University.  He emailed back with a Texas-worthy tale:

“Here’s what happened,” he wrote. “I come from a literary archive where, as you know, we have a broad view of what qualifies as ‘literary writing’ — and we include screenwriters and songwriters in our archives.

“So we began having discussions among the TIL council about quality writers whose works don’t always result in ‘books’ — playwrights, screenwriters, and of course songwriters. The best writers in these genres are every bit as accomplished as authors of books — and yet the TIL has traditionally overlooked them, instead bestowing membership on authors of books.”

So a vote was held to change the rules to say:

Members shall be practicing writers who have demonstrated substantial literary achievement in their genres — which can include fiction, nonfiction prose, poetry, journalism, history, playwriting, songwriting, screenwriting, or any other genre that springs from the written word. In rare instances, persons who are not practicing writers may be considered for membership.

Davis says that not everyone agreed that songwriting qualified as a literary art. But the change was passed, at which point “a couple of our distinguished TIL fellows and past presidents put together a nomination on behalf of Willie Nelson.” It takes an 80 percent vote for a nominee to make it through.

“Willie made it with flying colors, as he should,” Davis said. “We did hear from Willie that he is ‘tremendously honored’ to be elected to the TIL.”

The new members will be inducted at the group’s annual meeting, to be held April 6-7 in San Antonio. A full list of the 2018 honorees — which includes The Dallas Morning News’  own Alfredo Corchado, is listed below, with hometowns/residences noted as provided by the TIL.

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