Border Writer Charles Bowden’s Papers at The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University

Charles Bowden writing in a notepad in a park in Mexico, circa 1990s. Charles Bowden Papers, The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University.

Charles Bowden writing in a notepad in a park in Mexico, circa 1990s. Charles Bowden Papers, The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University.

by: Lauren Goodley

Held at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, the papers of literary journalist Charles Bowden document his prolific life. The collection is 50 linear feet and dates from 1947-2007 (bulk dates 1970-2007). The majority of the materials are arranged by work, and include correspondence, notes, research, photographs, drafts, and published materials.

Charles “Chuck” Bowden (1945-2014), literary journalist, was born outside of Chicago, and was raised in Tucson, Arizona, where he lived until 2009. He was the author of over twenty-five books; contributing editor for GQ, Esquire, and Mother Jones; and contributor for many other newspapers and magazines, including regional, national, and international publications. Bowden wrote and published widely and extensively on topics related to social justice and border issues, including the environment, political corruption, drug crime, and violence on the U.S.–Mexico border. He is perhaps best known for “While You Were Sleeping,” Harper’s Magazine, Dec. 1996, which broke the story of violent deaths of women in the border town of Juárez, Mexico in the U.S. English-language press.

Bowden received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1979, was a Pulitzer finalist in 1984, participated in the Lannan Residency Program in 2001, and was awarded the PEN First Amendment award in 2011. It wasn’t until after he abandoned academia for the newsroom in his mid-30s that he discovered reporting, which changed his life and career. Bowden believed in writing with a purpose: for social justice and change, and ecological awareness and responsibility. Known for both his stream-of-consciousness introspection and his thorough research, Bowden seamlessly wove the subjective and objective together.

In 1981, Bowden landed a job as a reporter at the Tucson Citizen, where he reported on sex crimes and violence–jobs others refused to take. He and his friend Dick Vonier later founded and edited a weekly rag, City Magazine, which covered local issues from a progressive point of view. An avid hiker and outdoorsman, Bowden also wrote extensively about the environment and championed causes such as the Sonoran Desert Park Project. Two memoir-type books, and several photography books for which he wrote essays, came out of this connection with the land of the Southwest.

After “While You Were Sleeping,” Bowden collaborated with street photographers who were covering crime scenes for daily Juárez papers for Juárez: Laboratory of Our Future (1998). During this time he made friends and contacts that helped him write on drugs and violence on the U.S.–Mexico border for the next eighteen years, including several books and numerous magazine articles. Bowden interviewed citizens, major drug cartels, DEA agents, and people whose lives crossed those lines daily. At a Wittliff event in 2013, John Phillips Santos recalled that while traveling in Chiapas, he caught sight of Bowden and “quickly got out of there,” knowing Bowden’s tendency to seek out dangerous situations.

For more information, please consult the finding aid on TARO, or on the Wittliff website, or contact Lauren Goodley at lgoodley@txstate.edu or (512) 245-3229.

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