At more than 300 feet tall, the University of Texas Tower looms over UT’s entire campus — and, according to author Elizabeth Crook, over the lives of those caught in its shadow on August 1, 1966. That was the day a madman ascended to the tower’s 28th floor and shot 45 people, killing 11.
This year, Crook released her newest novel, “Monday, Monday,” which opens with a ground-level account of the UT Tower shootings. The narrative itself is fictional, yet it is nevertheless rooted in a tragedy that many Americans still remember today.
“I had to speak with a lot of people,” Crook told an audience gathered at the LBJ Museum on Tuesday night, describing how she researched the 1966 shootings. “And I was so aware from the very beginning that this was not a tragedy that belonged to me. It belonged to other people.”
That understanding, she said, was one of the forces driving her to tell this story well. It is a story that, as Crook stressed at several points during her talk, begins amid sniper fire from the UT Tower, but does not end there.
“The tower kind of looms over the entire novel,” Crook said, “but it’s not all about the tower,” Crook said. She opens her novel with the 1966 shootings, but then proceeds to follow her characters throughout their lives.
Indeed, as one audience member noted, the book’s cover contains not an image of the tower, but that of a road running toward the horizon. The book is about journeys, not an individual event.
Crook’s own journey with this novel began in 2006, before more recent mass shootings commanded headlines in the United States. That year, a Texas Monthly article drew her to this particular event. She had been toying with the idea of writing a more light-hearted novel, but that changed after she read Texas Monthly executive editor Pamela Colloff’s article and she was moved to write about the lives of those impacted by the UT shootings.
Crook had a basic idea of where her story would go, but it was murky and unclear. She related the process of writing “Monday, Monday” to living your own life: “You don’t know what’s in the next chapter.”
And she kept writing, even as national headlines began reflecting the horrors described in her book’s opening pages.
In a way, Crook believes the tower shootings offer a glimpse into the long-term effects more recent shootings may have on those involved. Sandy Hook and Aurora, to mention just two, happened only a few years ago. The UT shootings, on the other hand, occurred nearly half a century ago.
Yet, for a moment Tuesday night, Crook brutally illustrated the horror and confusion many people experienced on UT’s campus in August 1, 1966. For several minutes, she read an excerpt from her novel, describing in graphic detail her own, fictionalized, account of the day in question.
And then, when she had finished her excerpt, she stopped and said to the audience: “And then we go on. That’s how the story begins.”