- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - When Dan Jenkins was growing up on Fort Worth’s South Side, an aunt gave him an old typewriter. He taught himself to type by copying stories out of the local newspaper. It wasn’t long before he was retooling those stories in an effort to improve them.

Those were early footsteps in a decades-long journey that would ultimately see Jenkins become one of America’s best known sports writers and novelists. Along the way, he applied a timeless literary mantra: Write what you know.

Among other things, Jenkins knows golf. He knows football. And he knows Fort Worth.

As his daughter, Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins, once wrote in a forward to one of his novels, her father’s “love for and preoccupation with his birthplace exceeds even that of Faulkner’s with his Mississippi or Shakespeare’s with his England.”

Starting with his best-selling first novel, “Semi-Tough,” Jenkins has presented millions of readers with imagery richly drawn from his hometown and a parade of composite characters with names such as Billy Clyde Puckett, Shake Tiller and Jim Tom Pinch. Now, in his latest work, Jenkins has cast himself as the lead protagonist.

In “Dan Jenkins: His Ownself,” the 84-year-old sports journalist retraces a six-decade career that took him from two now-defunct Texas newspapers - the Fort Worth Press and The Dallas Times Herald - to Sports Illustrated in New York and on to literary celebrity as a prolific novelist who saw three of his books transformed into movies.

Across 266 pages in what he calls “a semi-memoir,” he tells of his friendship with legendary Fort Worth golfer Ben Hogan and replays vignettes of other sports greats such as Texas Christian University’s back-to-back quarterbacks Slingin’ Sammy Baugh and Davey O’Brien, Southern Methodist University’s Doak Walker and the University of Texas’ Bobby Layne.

Jenkins also sounds off on political correctness, tuneless modern music, “editors with tin ears,” and funny-colored health drinks that “could pass for A-Rod’s specimen.” There is a pervasive suggestion that he longs for an earlier era of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, good manners and stiff backbones.

At his home in Fort Worth’s River Crest neighborhood and later over lunch at Colonial Country Club, the white-haired octogenarian readily displays plenty of his trademark prickly humor and shows no interest in retiring.

He has another book coming out next year - a collection of humorous golf vignettes - and covers all the major tournaments for Golf Digest. He is also the official historian for national college football.

“A lot of it’s my temperament,” he said in explaining his nonstop work ethic. “I’d rather be doing something than not doing something.”

Jenkins works out of a home office filled with awards, Hall of Fame citations and photographs of old friends and sports figures, many of whom happen to be both.

Other hallmarks from his career, including cover jackets of his novels and a gray typewriter spattered with residue from Wite-Out correction fluid, are on display in a window exhibit at the Colonial.

In 2013, Jenkins won the highest honor in sports writing, the Red Smith Award, named after the late New York Times sports writer who has served as one of Jenkins‘ role models. Jenkins also received the PEN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing and, in 2012, was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, becoming one of only three writers to receive the honor.

Jenkins says it took a year and a half to write “His Ownself,” which a mostly favorable New York Times review described as a “casual and sly sportswriter’s memoir” that displays the author’s ability to capture a personality “in a few comic strokes.”

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