The Library was the place to be. Not the
Central Public Library. But the blue-and-red rectangular meeting room at
Hotel van Zandt.
It was the location for a
Toast of the Town salon to support the
Neal Kocurek Scholarship Fund for health sciences careers, operated by the
St. David’s Foundation. Thirty of so lucky souls were treated to an enlightening public talk between journalist and author
Lawrence "Larry" Wright and journalist and
Texas Tribune CEO
The two had met soon after Smith moved to town in the 1992 to join the staff of
Texas Monthly. He was assigned to edit Wright’s piece on the chemical castration of sexual offenders. Wright was for it.
Smith went on to lead Texas Monthly and now the Texas Tribune, while also interviewing top minds on "Texas Monthly Talks"
and then "Overheard with Evan Smith" on public television.
My nominee for best reporter in Texas, Wright has been a staff writer for
The New Yorker since he left Texas Monthly in the early 1990s. His books include the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda
and the Road to 9/11" as well as "The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State," "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood
and the Prism of Belief" and "Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David."
If those accomplishments were not enough, he writes plays and screenplays, appears on stage, and basks in the glow of the
lauded TV adaptation of "The Looming Tower" now streaming on the Hulu channel.
Can you see why I dropped everything for this benefit dinner? Smith devoted his early questions to terrorism and world affairs.
Wright believes, for instance, we are ignoring the proliferation of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State beyond their Middle Eastern
origins while we are distracted by other crises. He continues to state that the intervention into Iraq was the single worst
foreign policy decision in American history.
Smith then moved on to main subject for the evening, Wright’s recent book, "God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the
Lone Star State," parts of which appeared in The New Yorker. On that field in inquiry, both sharp minds need no urging.
Wright’s editor at The New Yorker had asked him to explain Texas, a big task. He did not rely on the standard reports about
the recent changes in the state; he spent a year observing the Texas Legislature. After all, Texas could tell us more about
the future of the country, especially if its voters participated in elevated numbers.
He came away from his research with with a volume full of conclusions and an urge to run for governor. Wright thinks that
the primary jobs of state government are education and infrastructure. Those needs tended to be ignored while state leaders
spent an inordinate amount of time and energy on bathroom rules and sanctuary cities. He lays heavy blame on traditional business
Greg Abbott, who sided late in the session with radio personality Lt. Gov.
Dan Patrick against outgoing Speaker of the House
Joe Straus, who held together state government against all odds.
Wright has much more to say about state and national politics and culture, but as they say, buy and read the book.
One speaker in town who could give Smith or Wright a run for their money is
Amy Mills, CEO of
Emancipet, an Austin nonprofit that provides free or low-cost spay, neutering and veterinary care in four cities.
The early part of its annual luncheon, which has moved from the
Four Seasons Hotel Austin to the larger banquet hall at the
Hyatt Regency Austin, was spent on the tasty vegan fare, video stories of clients and statistics shared by eager board members.
Everyone hushed with Mills rose to the stage. After all, she can so cogently and quickly explain a rapidly expanding and sustainable
nonprofit so well, she would likely trounce every other participant at
Philanthropitch, a fast-action pitch session from nonprofit leaders to judges from the entrepreneurial world.