English majors, history buffs and book lovers gathered to hear journalist and author S.C. Gwynne read excerpts from his latest book Friday at the Katherine Anne Porter House.
Gwynne’s book, “Empire of the Summer Moon,” takes an in-depth look at Comanche history and culture.
Gwynne, who has written for the New York Times, TIME magazine, Texas Monthly and other publications, said he approached this book like an article for publication.
“I wrote larger pieces for Texas Monthly, but I wanted to push what I was already doing,” Gwynne said. “I would research a chapter and write it, treating each one like a story. Being in proximity to ground zero of Comanche research, such as UT, really helped speed the process up.”
Even with all the resources in the surrounding area, Gwynne researched for three and a half years and read over 50 books on the Comanche tribe.
Gwynne began the evening with a description of the Great Plains during the last years of the Native Americans. He spoke about how the Native Americans worked with the resources surrounding them and how their families functioned.
“Part of this book is my love affair with Texas west of I-35,” Gwynne said. “I’ve always loved history, and the stories that I heard from my travels for Texas Monthly were fascinating and filled with Comanche.”
“Empire of the Summer Moon” not only focuses on the rise and fall of Comanche culture, but the story of Cynthia Ann Parker. The account is of a white woman living with the Comanche and becoming the grandmother of the tribe’s last free chief.
“We can look at different accounts of what happened to Cynthia, each more romanticized than the next,” Gwynne said. “But no one truly knows what happened to her. It was when I realized, ‘I could put the small Parker story into the bigger Comanche story,’ that I had a book.”
Gwynne continued to shed light on the little known facts about the Parker family. He talked about the truth of her being captured as a young girl, growing up in the culture and building a family.
One of the audience members, John Luther, said that foundation on fact is what made the book so appealing.
“He separates speculation from fact, while being a great storyteller,” Luther said. “It’s like reading a good novel while seeing how life really was back then.”
Sunny Luther, John Luther’s wife, was also in attendance. She enjoyed the reading as an educational experience.
“The whole thing is a great cultural event,” she said.
After the readings, Gwynne lent advice to the audience about writing and cleared up some questions about the Parker family. A woman in the audience brought a picture of Cynthia Ann Parker and began a discussion with Gwynne about a deeper look into her life.
Gwynne also released some hints about his next book.
“Right now I’m working on a book about Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, but researching is going to take a lot longer than this book,” Gwynne said. “There are so many books that turn into a 78 page battle scene and nothing else. Like ‘Empire of the Summer Moon,’ I’m going to bring narrative and story to history.”