Best-Selling Author Visits SHSU: Two days with Jeff Guinn

Best-selling author Jeff Guinn made his way to SHSU last week, spending time with local residents and many SHSU students.

Guinn has written 18 books, the best known of which are the NY Times bestsellers: “The Autobiography of Santa Claus,” “Go Down Together: The True Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde,” “Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson,” and “The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the OK Corral and How It Changed the American West.”

The lives and events in these books played a central in his discussions with Huntsville residents.  With Christmas around the corner, several asked about his work on Santa Claus, and Mr. Guinn provided some intriguing and entertaining responses.  Why does Santa Claus wear red and white trim, you may wonder?  Because the real St. Nicholas was a bishop, and red and white attire was customary for bishops.

Such conversations took began over dinner at the Homestead, with local residents and LEAP Ambassadors on hand.



For Megan Chapa, of greater interest was Guinn’s work on Bonnie and Clyde, which she read (twice) in class.  Guinn supplemented some of the information in the book with background stories about Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Estelle Parsons, who starred in the 1968 classic film, Bonnie And Clyde.  Interestingly, the duo had been known as “Clyde and Bonnie” until that time; it was the film that cemented “Bonnie and Clyde” into the nation’s consciousness.


Guinn also spoke to two of Professor Yawn’s classes.  One, an Introduction to Texas Government…


…heard much about Bonnie and Clyde, and the early days of law enforcement (and prison life) in Texas.  Interestingly, Clyde Barrow was imprisoned in both the Eastham Unit and the Walls Unit, giving him a direct connection to Huntsville.

In Yawn’s Politics and Media, the students heard more about the impact that Bonnie and Clyde, Charles Manson, and Jim Jones (his current book subject) had on the media.  Bonnie and Clyde, for example, were one of the first subjects to have photos of themselves wired across the nation.  In fact, without this technological development, they likely would have simply been locally known.  With the infamous photo of Bonnie Parker with cigar and gun…

…being wired across the US, however, the duo became nationally famous.  Similarly, Charles Manson and his high-profile attacks (of actress Sharon Tate) brought in Hollywood and seemed to typify the California lifestyle of the 1960s and 1970s.


Following classes, 25 students and faculty had a low-profile lunch with Mr. Guinn, who continued to discuss the impact of the subjects he has studied, much to the delight of those attending.


According to Bella Abril, who had also read “Go Down Together,” the meeting was “very interesting,” even if she finds hearing about Manson and Jim Jones a bit disturbing.

Interestingly, Guinn has a practice of including the names of people he meets into his novels (when not publishing books on biographical subjects, he publishes fiction such as Glorious and Buffalo Trail).  On this trip, LEAP Ambassador Austin Campbell was designated as a character in Guinn’s next novel.  This doesn’t mean, of course, that Austin will actually be in the novel, but his name will be given to a character, although (ominously) Guinn does not guarantee which character will get that name…

Also of interest is that Guinn offered several of the LEAP Ambassadors the opportunity to go with him to do research on his next book subject.  While the subject hasn’t been formally released, it will involved border towns in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  The Ambassadors are packing for a future road trip!

On his way out of Huntsville, Mr. Guinn stopped by the Texas Prison Museum to visit old friends Sandy Rogers and Jim Willett, who provided information and access to Guinn when he wrote about Bonnie and Clyde.


He signed more than a dozen copies of his books for sale at the TPM, and headed out of town–eager, we hope, to return next year to Huntsville, Texas.

Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Huron Daily Tribune, Laredo Morning Times, Beaumont Enterprise, Connecticut Post, and Midland Reporter Telegram. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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