Author Anne Sloan, perhaps fearful of offending the muse, is fiercely protective of her work. In this way, she is not unlike other literary types. Still, at the West Alabama Ice House the other day, it seemed the writer was being singularly reticent about the story behind her latest work, The History of Mirabeau B. Lamar High School, slated to drop this month. And that was before she was hit in the head by a stray basketball.
We saw it coming. Indeed, we tried to swat the ball away but couldn’t—our reaction times not being what they once were—and it slammed full force into Sloan’s right cheek. Dazed, but only for a moment, she gracefully accepted the apology of a redheaded twenty-something who loped over to our table, although obviously the incident did nothing to improve relations between we the press and the author of St. Andrews Episcopal Church: Faithfully Serving Houston Heights for 100 Years. She only became cagier.
In truth, Sloan, who graduated not from Lamar but Reagan, is a very sweet woman, even if she did guard the book’s backstory, and much of her own history, like the Breaking Bad finale. (“Don’t put that in there,” is a phrase we heard often.)
She was most at home rattling off the names of illustrious graduate after illustrious graduate and expressing her affection for the school and the unity it inspires. “Lamar graduates are joined at the hip,” she confirmed. “They marry each other, they have breakfast, lunch, and dinner clubs, they go on cruises together. The classes have websites, they have directories.” Reagan alums apparently do not eat breakfast together or go on cruises, we learned.
Be that as it may, her History, with a forward by former Texas governor Mark White (class of ’58), clocks in at more than 200 pages. Lovingly laid out with handsome photographs, Sloan’s work offers nothing less than a surgical examination of the temple of secondary education that is Lamar, from the Art Deco architecture of the main building, to the administration and faculty, to its impressive list of alums. Who knew, for instance, that Donald Barthelme, always associated with U of H, had attended Lamar, as did sound artist Max Neuhaus?
Given that the book was commissioned by the Lamar alumni association, we hadn’t expected a warts-and-all treatment. Nevertheless, we couldn’t resist asking if any serial killers had attended Lamar, or if she’d written about the school’s beloved chemistry teacher, Richard Millet, a real-life Walter White who developed a late-in-life crack addiction that ruined his career. Sloan’s answers: no, and no, and don’t put that in the story.
“I didn’t think Houstonia was a controversial magazine,” she fired back, and for a moment we didn’t know whether to be relieved or insulted.
“What’s so special about Lamar?” we crankily retorted. “I was trying to figure that out for 18 months,” she said. “The only answers that I came up with were location, location, location.” She speculated that Lamar might owe its specialness to its diversity, or the fact that so many different neighborhoods feed into one school, including River Oaks, where Lamar is located. Then, ever wary, Sloan hastily clarified her hypothesis. “I’m not talking about money,” she said. “I’m talking about values and culture.”
Whatever the source of Lamar’s genius, Sloan’s book-length study of it seems motivated not by earnings but a genuine fascination with the place, where she taught English for a portion of her 20-year career at HISD before leaving in 1983 to take over a family appliance business.
The morning after our afternoon at the ice house, we stopped by Sloan’s lovely Heights home to pick up her book’s galleys, which she’d lent us on the condition that we wouldn’t show them to our Houstonia coworkers. We guarded them with our lives.