Texas Originals: Karle Wilson Baker

KARLE WILSON BAKER
October 13, 1878–November 9, 1960

 

Karle Wilson Baker was Texas’s most celebrated poet in the first half of the twentieth century.

Born in Arkansas in 1878, Baker followed her parents to Nacogdoches in her early twenties. She soon fell under the spell of her adopted state, writing about the role of Texans in the American drama.

In her novel Family Style, she portrays the impact of the East Texas oil boom on a single, small community. Another novel, Star of the Wilderness, is set against the backdrop of the Texas revolution.

But Baker was best known for her poetry. Writer Dorothy Scarborough praised Baker’s attention to the details of ordinary lives, describing her as the “singer of quiet things.” Baker’s collection of poems Dreamers on Horseback was nominated for the 1931 Pulitzer Prize.

Baker was a popular professor at Stephen F. Austin State Teachers College. In 1952, she became a charter member of the Texas Institute of Letters.

Baker died in 1960. Her early poem “The Tree” describes her lifelong commitment to writing: “My life is a tree ... pledged ... to stand hard against the storm ... / (But high in the branches of my / green tree there is a wild bird singing: / Wind-free are the wings of my bird: / She hath built no mortal nest.)”

SFA Faculty Summer 1925
Members of SFA Faculty, Summer 1925. The back of the photo lists the name of each faculty member. Left to Right: Front Row: 1. W.B. Holleman 2. S.B. Burke 3. J.H. Wisely 4. H.A. Pocheman 5. J.V. Dean 6. C.C. Johnson 7. R.H. Shelton 8. R.E. Price 9. W.R. Davis 10. Sherman Eoff 11. R.G. Upton 12. L.C. Harling 13. E.E. Davis 14. (Mr. L.C. Harling says that this man was a school superintendent from Livingston and that he thought that he taught history); Second Row: 1. N. Ethie Eggleton 2. Ida Pritchett 3. Thelma Jagoe 4. Jessie R. Gooldy 5. Gladys Johnson 6. Jessie Hickman 7. Gladys Hairston 8. Pearl Miller 9. Karle Wilson Baker 10. Lela Brown 11. Mary Jane White 12. Ruth Mays 13. Helen Hickman 14. Edna Wilkin 15. Ruth Fouts; Back Row: 1. A.W. Birdwell 2. R.F. Davis 3. Edna St. John 4. Fay Hamilton 5. Mrs. Dorothy Sanders 6. Bernadine McKnight 7. Nan Wright 8. Leora McNess 9. 10. Grace Bailey 11. Barbara Birdwell 12. Edna Phillips 13. Maggie Byrd 14. C. Wedgeworth (?) 15. S.R. Lemay 16. W.F. Garner 17. I.A. Coston 18. J.H. Hinds 19. C.E. Ferguson 20. W.B. Hargis [Image credit: Stephen F. Austin State Teacher College Faculty, 1925, East Texas Research Center, Photograph Collection, P20zz_4, http://library.sfasu.edu/etrc/]

 

For more about Karle Wilson Baker

The Karle Wilson Baker Papers are held by the Ralph W. Steen Library at Stephen F. Austin State University. They include diaries, manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, and other biographical materials.

Baker played an important role in the formation of the Texas Institute of Letters (TIL). In 1938, she was elected the first woman president of TIL, and in 1952 she named a Fellow of the organization.

 

Selected bibliography

Baker, Karle Wilson. The Birds of Tanglewood. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2006. First published in 1930 by the Southwest Press.

Baker, Karle Wilson. Dreamers on Horseback: Collected Verse. Dallas: Southwest Press, 1931.

Baker, Karle Wilson. Family Style. New York: Coward-McCann, 1937.

Baker, Karle Wilson. Star of the Wilderness. New York: Coward-McCann, 1942.

Barnes, Florence Elberta. Texas Writers of Today. Dallas: Tardy, 1935.

Gaston, Edwin W. The Early Novel of the Southwest. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1961.

Gaston, Edwin W. “Karle Wilson Baker: First Woman of Texas Letters.” East Texas Historical Journal 15 (1977): 45–51.

Jackson, Sarah Ragland. Texas Woman of Letters: Karle Wilson Baker. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2005.

Jackson, Sarah Ragland. “Karle Wilson Baker: The Making of a Texas Poet.” WILLA VII (1998). Accessed July 7, 2013. http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/old-WILLA/fall98/jackson.html.

Palmer, Pamela Lynn. "Dorothy Scarborough and Karle Wilson Baker: A Literary Friendship." Southwestern Historical Quarterly 91 (1987): 19–32.

Palmer, Pamela Lynn. “Karle Wilson Baker and Charlotte Baker Montgomery.” In Texas Women Writers: A Tradition of Their Own, edited by Sylvia Ann Grider and Lou Halsell Rodenberger, 87–91. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1997.

 

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