A new biography from The University of Texas Press, “Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards,” presents a nuanced portrait of one of the most fascinating women in American political history, former Texas Gov. Ann Richards.
The book chronicles her life, from her early days in Waco, Texas, and almost meteoric rise to the national political stage to her later years after losing a second term for governor to George W. Bush. Written by Austin-based author and University of Texas at Austin alumnus, Jan Reid, the book was published in October.
When Richards delivered the keynote address of the 1988 Democratic National Convention she instantly became a media celebrity and triggered a rivalry that would alter the course of American history. In 1990, Richards won the governorship of Texas, upsetting the GOP’s colorful rancher and oilman Clayton Williams. The first ardent feminist elected to high office, she opened up public service to women, blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans, gays, and people with disabilities. Her achievements and the force of her personality created a lasting legacy that far transcends her rise and fall as governor of Texas.
In “Let the People In,” Reid draws on his long friendship with Richards, interviews with her family and many of her closest associates, her unpublished correspondence with longtime companion Bud Shrake, and extensive research to tell a very personal, human story of her remarkable rise to power as a liberal Democrat in an increasingly conservative Republican state.
Reid traces the whole arc of Richards’ life, beginning with her youth in Waco, her marriage to attorney David Richards, her frustration and boredom with being a young housewife and mother in Dallas, and her shocking encounters with Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter. He follows Richards to Austin and the wild 1970s scene and describes her painful but successful struggle against alcoholism. He tells the full, inside story of Richards’ rise from county office and the state treasurer’s office to the governorship, where she championed gun control, prison reform, environmental protection, and school finance reform, and he explains why she lost her reelection bid to Bush, which launched him toward the presidency.
Reid’s nuanced portrait reveals a complex woman who battled her own frailties and a good-old-boy establishment to claim a place on the national political stage and prove “what can happen in government if we simply open the doors and let the people in.”
Access to the Ann Richards archive was generously provided by the university’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.
Jan Reid is a writer-at-large for Texas Monthly and has freelanced for many national publications. His books include “The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock,” “The Bullet Meant for Me,” “Rio Grande,” “Texas Tornado: The Times and Music of Doug Sahm,” and two award-winning novels, “Deerinwater” and “Comanche Sundown.”
The University of Texas Press, founded in 1950, is a scholarly press that is part of The University of Texas at Austin.
For more information on the book, please visit the UT Press website.