Jan Jarboe Russell
Jan Jarboe Russell was born in Beaumont, Texas and grew up in small towns in the Piney Woods of East Texas. Her father was a minister of music in numerous Southern Baptist churches and later had a second career as a social worker. Her mother was an elementary school teacher. Books and music were constants in her household. At sixteen-years-old she landed a part-time job at the weekly newspaper, The Cleveland Advocate, in her hometown and settled on a career as a journalist and author.
She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. After graduation, she worked briefly as a reporter for the Savannah Morning News, and in 1973 became a political reporter at The San Antonio Light. In 1976, she joined the Hearst Bureau in Washington, D.C. where she focused on Texas politics.
In 1984, she was a Nieman Fellow At Harvard college, one of twelve American journalists to study at Harvard during that academic year. While at Harvard, she studied American literature. As a result, she shifted her career towards long-form journalism with a focus on politics, religion and social issues. Upon her return to Texas in 1985, she joined Texas Monthly magazine as a senior editor. In 1989, her story, “Adoption: The Woes of Wednesday’s Child,” about the need for reform of adoption practices in Texas, was selected the best magazine story of the year by the Headliner’s Club. In 1993, she won the award again for a story entitled “Why Me?” about the family of the Rev. Jimmy Allen, who lost three family members to AIDS.
Other articles for Texas Monthly include “No Retreat! No Surrender,” published in 2010, a story about how a genealogical society – The Daughters of The Republic of Texas – mismanaged The Alamo, and “The Worst Hard Time,” July 2011, a story about a brutal rape case in Russell’s hometown of Cleveland, Texas. In addition to Texas Monthly, where is a contributing editor, her articles have appeared in other magazines such as Slate and The New York Times.
In 1999, Scribner’s published her well-received biography of Lady Bird Johnson. On December 5, 1999, Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post named Lady Bird: A Biography of Mrs. Johnson one of his best books of the year. Said Yardley: “Jan Jarboe Russell treats Lady Bird Johnson as a substantial figure in her own right rather than merely an appendage to her husband, the president.” From 2000 to 2004, Russell wrote a twice-weekly column for the San Antonio Express News that was syndicated nationally by King Features. In 2007, she compiled and edited They Lived to Tell the Tale, published under The Explorer’s Club imprint in New York, New York.
For the past four years, Russell has been at work for Scribner’s on The Train to Crystal City, which tells the story of a secret World War II internment camp that was located in Crystal City, Texas. From 1942 to 1948, thousands of German, Japanese and Italian immigrants and children, many of them born in America, lived behind barbed wire in the 290-acre camp located at the southern tip of Texas, approximately thirty-five miles from the Mexican border.
Russell is a member of The Texas Institute of Letters and the Philosophical Society of Texas and serves as vice president of Gemini Ink, San Antonio’s literary organization. In addition, Russell is a certified black belt, first degree in Nia, a movement practice that combines dance, yoga and martial arts, and teaches regular Nia classes in San Antonio.
She lives in San Antonio with her husband, Dr. Lewis F. Russell, Jr. She is the mother of two children: Maury and Tyler Rabb, and has two step-daughters, Megan Russell and Cory Russell Leahy and a step son-in-law, Kevin Leahy.