South of Texas State’s main campus, bands play nightly at the historic Cheatham Street Warehouse in front of a floor-to-ceiling, stage-lit Texas flag. Country classics, blues, original compositions, and local favorites such as George Strait’s hits, resonate within the honky-tonk – now preserved as a piece of local San Marcos culture. This lively musical hotspot draws students from the University as some of the visitors, musicians, and artists who fill the space. One of those students, now forever changed by his experience at Cheatham Street, is Texas State Alumnus and Texas Monthly writer Christian Wallace.
During his time at Texas State, while he completed his undergraduate degree in English, Wallace frequented the local Cheatham Street honky-tonk. Surprisingly, Wallace’s trips to Cheatham Street, where he embraced what he describes as a “vibrant community of artists,” influenced the subsequent thirteen years of his education and career. Cheatham Street was a place to explore and relax while attending classes at Texas State University, but the hangout also became a scholarly and journalistic interest for Wallace when he chose to focus his Honors thesis on the history of the establishment and local country music. During Wallace’s final years at Texas State, the location was in danger of being bulldozed before two Texas State professors purchased the space to prevent the destruction of this cultural hotspot – a potential loss that propelled Wallace’s research. Wallace completed his thesis, graduated from Texas State in 2007, and went on to earn a degree in Writing from the National University of Galway in Ireland. There, he explored Ireland’s culture through music, living with a group of artists and friends he made in this home-away-from-home. He began writing poetry to supplement his prose work, receiving acclaim and publishing several of his pieces in the States and Ireland. Wallace received a Pushcart nomination for a piece titled “Drought” that appeared in the Literati Quarterly and covered his experience working in a Texas oil field.
Today, Wallace is accomplishing a long-term goal of writing full-time for Texas Monthly. Having read the magazine his whole life, Wallace notes “[he] didn’t just want to write for a magazine, [he] wanted to write for Texas Monthly.” When Wallace returned to the States after graduate school, he realized to write for Texas Monthly he needed to secure an internship that would begin his career at the magazine. These internships, he found, were primarily awarded to students in exchange for course credit, so Wallace re-enrolled at his alma mater. Finding himself a student again, Wallace participated in the English department’s internship program, led by Internship Director Dan Price. This program allowed Wallace to pursue his Texas Monthly position, meeting only once every two weeks on campus to receive credit. Eventually, and because of his work as an intern, Wallace was able to advance to assistant editor in 2016.
His recent articles, achieving the most acclaim and exposure to date for his journalistic work, cover traditional Texas honky-tonks and their influence on the people who frequent them. Last year Wallace’s “Texas’s Greatest Honky-Tonk Hits,” was the cover article for Texas Monthly’s September issue. Facing away from the camera and leaning against a jukebox, Wallace himself is pictured on the cover of the magazine, selecting a song from the many Texas classics. This piece is currently a finalist for a National Magazine Award, which Wallace describes as “the Oscars of magazine writing.” He describes this project as symbolic of coming “full circle,” and returning to his academic interest in honky-tonks that started as a hobby while he studied at Texas State.
Currently, Wallace is creating episodes of a podcast that explores the West Texas oil boom and is titled “Boomtown.” Of all his projects, he claims this has been his most challenging. Wallace explains the thoughtful intention of scripting the pre-recorded show: if something needs to be changed “[he has] to go all the way back and re-record. It’s not like writing a story where [he] can just delete a word to change it.” This project has released episodes since December as weekly installments through Texas Monthly, showcasing Wallace as writer, reporter, and host.
As a journalist, his daily work may change from “reporting on a covered wagon in Houston, Texas” to “sitting in a basement listening to recorded archives,” as he prepares for and writes stories. Reflecting on the many hats he has worn in the time since completing his degree and achieving his dream of becoming a writer for Texas Monthly, Wallace recalls the resources he had at Texas State to help him reach his goals. Access to the Wittliff Collections, internship resources coordinated by the English Department, and professors available to offer advice are among the assets he valued most, seeing him through his time as a student and beyond.
– Kennedy Farrell, English Major