Fred Gipson

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Frederick Benjamin Gipson was born February 7, 1908, in Mason, Texas, where his parents were farmers. He grew up hunting and fishing and, for a time, wanted nothing more than to be a cowboy. After graduating from high school, he worked as a bookkeeper, goat herder, and bronco buster. When he was in his mid-twenties, he entered the University of Texas at Austin to major in journalism. While at the university, he developed his talent for writing, and published his first short story, "Hard- Pressed Sam," in the Southwest Review. Before graduating, Gipson left the university to work full-time for a newspaper. In 1940 he married Tommie Eloise Wynn; they had two sons, Mike and Beck.

For several years, Gipson worked for different newspapers and wrote stories for inexpensively produced western magazines. These magazines, which flourished in the early twentieth century, specialized in sentimental, formulaic stories about the West. His better stories appeared in the Southwest Review. One of Gipson's biggest breaks came in 1944, when Collier's, one of the most important magazines of the day, published "Lonesome Man." This was followed by his first book, Fabulous Empire (1946), a nonfiction account of Zack Miller and his circus rodeo. Gipson's first novel, Hound-Dog Man (1949), was selected by Book-of-the Month-Club as one of its featured books. Both of these books received excellent reviews.

The 1950s were good years for Gipson's literary career. He published Recollection Creek (1955), The Trail-Driving Rooster, and his most famous novel, Old Yeller. Gipson based Old Yeller on a family story about his grandfather, who as a youth had been forced to kill his dog. Critics applauded Old Yeller as well-crafted and devoid of sentimentality. During this decade, Gipson won many awards for his fiction, most notably the William Allen White Children's Book Award in 1959 for Old Yeller.

In 1960 Gipson became president of the Texas Institute of Letters, and two years later he published his last book, Savage Sam, a sequel to Old Yeller. Critics found it an exciting adventure story, although they believed it too violent for children. Savage Sam was the name of Gipson's own sons' dog; it was later beaten to death, an event which may have partly contributed to the suicide of Gipson's oldest son, Mike, shortly after the novel's publication. In 1964 Gipson and his wife divorced. Gipson married Angelina Torres in 1967; their marriage lasted less than a year. Ill health, alcoholism, and personal disappointments disrupted Gipson's literary career. He tried to write another sequel to Old Yeller, which he called Little Arliss (published posthumously in 1978), but he could not finish it. He died in Texas on August 14, 1973. His gravestone in Austin reads, "His Books Are His Monument."

The dirt bank broke beneath my weight...All I can remember is the wild heart-stopping scare I knew as I tumbled, head over heels, down among those killer hogs.

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