An association for alumni and supporters of The Daily Texan

Friends of The Daily Texan

An association for alumni and supporters of The Daily Texan

Friends of The Daily Texan

An association for alumni and supporters of The Daily Texan

Friends of The Daily Texan

Contact Information
Friends of The Daily Texan, Inc.
1401 Lavaca St
Austin, TX 78701

[email protected]

Daily Texan alum returns to Texas roots for latest book

Bryan Mealer
Bryan Mealer
Bryan Mealer
Bryan Mealer

Bryan Mealer wandered into The Daily Texan basement not long after arriving at The University of Texas at Austin in 1996. He had dabbled in writing here and there, covering concerts and reviewing albums for his high school paper.

“I wrote one [Texan] story, and my editor was like, ‘Oh, you’re a senior reporter,’” he said. “I think they were desperately short-handed.”

He was awarded the plum beat of covering the University of Texas administration when it was instituting affirmative action policies. “A lot of affirmative action stories were coming down the pike at that time,” he said. “I remember calling the regents — I think Cunningham was his name — calling him on his private jet.”

And then there was the unforgettable time he was slammed on deadline, madly typing away and cursing under his breath when he felt a presence behind him. He turned. It was Walter Cronkite. “Looking at me writing my story,” Mealer said. “I just kind of shrank.” They said their hellos, and Mealer shook his hand.

To this day, Mealer doesn’t know if Cronkite heard him cursing. Or even cared.

Later, Mealer wrote for the arts section of The Daily Texan. He also covered City Hall for the Austin Chronicle and later did an internship at the Chronicle of Higher Education in Washington, D.C. But he didn’t stick around Texas for long, and this restlessness, he’d later learn, was in his blood.

He went where a lot of young, ambitious writers go to chase their dreams: New York City. “I had my Texan clips and Chronicle clips in my arm and went and just looked for a job,” Mealer said. Though he landed an internship at the Village Voice, Mealer said, it was a time when he was struggling and waiting tables.

Then came the the breakthrough career moment that changed his life.

An acquaintance from Texas mentioned that there was a staff writer job opening up at Esquire magazine. “Esquire was my dream job,” Mealer said. “I was obsessed with the history of that magazine and the writers.”

He got the job and worked at Esquire for three years, covering stories like the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But then he got the itch — and of course there was a girl involved — to move abroad and become a foreign correspondent.

Mealer lived in Nairobi, where he freelanced extensively, and for a time, he ran the AP bureau in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Those years in Congo, covering a brutal and tumultuous civil war, became his first book.

It started as a magazine article, published in Harper’s. “I rewrote it like 20 times,” Mealer said. “I’m a pretty slow writer,” he said. “I still do multiple drafts, though now I’ve gotten better; I now know what to leave out. It’s a muscle you learn to use.”

After getting published in Harper’s, Mealer was able to turn the article into his book “All Things Must Fight to Live.” For any aspiring book authors out there, Mealer says the easiest way to get your book published is to start with a magazine article. Book editors are constantly trawling magazines looking for ideas.

Mealer has since built a celebrated career as a book author and journalist. He doesn’t specialize in a particular subject, though all of his books are nonfiction.

Cover of Bryan Mealer's new book, "The Kings of Big Spring: God, Oil and One Family's Search for the American Dream."
Cover of Bryan Mealer’s new book, “The Kings of Big Spring: God, Oil and One Family’s Search for the American Dream.”

His fourth book, published this year, is the most personal. “The Kings of Big Spring” chronicles the epic, multigenerational saga of the Mealer family and their attempts to better their hardscrabble lives to seize the American dream, especially as it relates to oil booms and busts in Texas.

Though the book is largely about Mealer’s family, it’s also a story about Texas, and about all the families that have struggled to get their piece of an oil boom that can transform so many lives seemingly overnight.

Mealer says his family was supportive of his book project, for which he did considerable genealogical digging and wrote unflinchingly honest portrayals of some relatives that involved drug use, extreme poverty and abuse. “My family, I guess, are pretty forthcoming people,” Mealer said. “They didn’t ever really try to hide from the bad details. I guess I got lucky that way.”

One editing trick Mealer shared is that he likes to read every draft of his books or articles out loud. “I try to write on a rhythmic meter,” he said. “I used to write a lot of poetry.” It came in handy when he had to read the audiobook. “It wasn’t a jarring experience at all because I had read it so many times already.”

Mealer was interviewed by Lilly Rockwell, a former Austin American-Statesman reporter who now works as an Austin-based Realtor.