Bryan Mealer

Listen to the interview

Author and journalist Bryan Mealer joins us this week. His latest book is The Kings of Big Spring: God, Oil, and One Family’s Search for the American Dream (Flatiron Books, February 6, 2018).

Writing On the Air is broadcast each Wednesday from 6-7 pm Central from the KOOP Radio studios in Austin, Texas.  We are heard on 91.7FM KOOP, and online at KOOP.org, TuneIn.com and Radio Free America.  Recent episodes are immediately available after the broadcast on Radio Free America. 

We invite you to check out our past episodes below. You can download the audios directly from each page, and our podcast download is available on the Podcast ap and iTunes.  For show updates, be sure and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

We’re glad you’re here, and thanks for listening to our show.

Photo by Wyatt McSpadden

Bryan Mealer is the author of The Kings of Big Spring (Flatiron Books, February 6, 2018), Muck City (Three Rivers Press, 2013) and the New York Times bestseller  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind  (William Morrow; Reprint edition 2010) – written with William Kamkwamba. – which has been translated into more than a dozen languages and will soon be released as a major motion picture. He’s also the author of All Things Must Fight to Live (Bloomsbury USA, 2007), which chronicled his years covering the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo for the Associated Press and Harper’s. His other work has appeared in Texas Monthly, Esquire, the Guardian, and the New York Times.

Bryan Mealer earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas. He and his family live in Austin.

For more information, please see the author’s website. You can keep up with him on Twitter and Facebook.

In Praise of The Kings of Big Spring: God, Oil, and One Family’s Search for the American Dream (Flatiron Books, February 6, 2018)

The Kings of Big Spring tears like a flaming roller-coaster through four generations of a Texas family that’s lived it all, from hardscrabble farms and tarpaper shacks to the crazy-making highs of oil booms and big money, with gobs of love, lust, heartache, and Jesus along the way. Bryan Mealer has given us a brilliant, and brilliantly entertaining, portrayal of family, and a bursting-at-the-seams chunk of America in the bargain.” ― Ben Fountain, New York Times bestselling author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

“Mealer has pulled off something downright remarkable here. On one level, he has penned a sweeping multigenerational family chronicle that can be read as a history of Texas and, by natural extension, of the American experience. But it’s more than even that. In the small twists of fate and nature that buffet the extended Lewis-Mealer clan are reminders of the profound capriciousness of life, of how something as simple as a rain that doesn’t come – or a weevil that does – can alter a family’s fortunes forever. Masterful and deeply thought-provoking.”  ―Scott Anderson, author of the New York Times bestselling Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East

“THE KINGS OF BIG SPRING is the kind of epic tale we rarely see, the sprawling, multi-generation story of a single, hardscrabble working-class family, scrapping and clawing its way through dust storms, droughts and oilfields in its quest for a sliver of the American Dream. At a time when the national spotlight is rediscovering the plight of Middle American families, this book will never be more relevant. Think of it as a Texas version of “Hillbilly Elegy.’’ ― Bryan Burrough, New York Times bestselling author of THE BIG RICH and BARBARIANS AT THE GATE

ABOUT The Kings of Big Spring: God, Oil, and One Family’s Search for the American Dream

A saga of family, fortune, faith in Texas, where blood is bond and oil is king…

In 1892, Bryan Mealer’s great-grandfather leaves the Georgia mountains and heads west into Texas, looking for wealth and adventure in the raw and open country. But his luck soon runs out. Beset by drought, the family loses their farm just as the dead pastures around them give way to one of the biggest oil booms in American history. They eventually settle in the small town of Big Spring, where fast fortunes are being made from its own reserves of oil. For the next two generations, the Mealers live on the margins of poverty, laboring in the cotton fields and on the drilling rigs that sprout along the flatland, weathering dust and wind, booms and busts, and tragedies that scatter them like tumbleweed. After embracing Pentecostalism during the Great Depression, they rely heavily on their faith to steel them against hardship and despair. But for young Bobby Mealer, the author’s father, religion is only an agent for rebellion.

In the winter of 1981, when the author is seven years old, Bobby receives a call from an old friend with a simple question, “How’d you like to be a millionaire?”

Twenty-six, and with a wife and three kids, Bobby had left his hometown to seek a life removed from the blowing dust and oil fields, and to find spiritual peace. But now Big Spring’s streets are flooded again with roughnecks, money, and sin. Boom chasers pour in from the busted factory towns in the north. Drilling rigs rise like timber along the pastures, and poor men become millionaires overnight.

Grady Cunningham, Bobby’s friend, is one of the newly-minted kings of Big Spring. Loud and flamboyant, with a penchant for floor-length fur coats, Grady pulls Bobby and his young wife into his glamorous orbit. While drilling wells for Grady’s oil company, they fly around on private jets and embrace the honky-tonk high life of Texas oilmen. But beneath the Rolexes and Rolls Royce cars is a reality as dark as the crude itself. As Bobby soon discovers, his return to Big Spring is a backslider’s journey into a spiritual wilderness, and one that could cost him his life.

A masterwork of memoir and narrative history, The Kings of Big Spring is an indelible portrait of fortune and ruin as big as Texas itself. And in telling the story of four generations of his family, Mealer also tells the story of America came to be. –Flatiron Books