Carol Shields: For much of her 22-year career as a novelist, Illinois native Carol Shields has distinguished herself in the genre of what a colleague affectionately calls "chick fiction"--women telling the stories of their lives with a minimum of sentimentality and a maximum of emotional yearning. She earned a 1995 Pulitzer for Stone Diaries. Shields has been far more interested throughout her literary career in small emotions than big, her-story meets his-story epics, although her books often use whole decades as a backdrop for family turmoil. Shields reads from her work as part of Arts & Letters Live "Distinguished Writers" series at 7:30 p.m. in the Horchow Auditorium of the Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 N. Harwood. Tickets are $12-$14. Call (214) 922-1220.
Berlin to Broadway With Kurt Weill: As tragic as world wars, dictatorships, and political persecution are, they make some damn fine fuel for artistic achievement--at least, when artists are brave enough to risk death and take on the injustices of their age. Expatriate German composer Kurt Weill went from wildly praised Berlin composer in the '30s to enemy of the Third Reich to political refugee who became a passionate defender of American democracy. Once on these shores, Weill and his actress-singer wife, Lotte Lenya, restarted their collaborative process with lyricists such as Ira Gershwin and poets such as Ogden Nash. Rife with ironic decadence, class warfare, and surrealistic romanticism, Weill's pre- and post-Nazi songs are the basis for Stage West's musical From Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill. It features 40 songs that span the last 22 years of his career. Performances happen 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 7:30 p.m. Sunday through March 14 at Stage West, 3055 S. University Drive, Fort Worth. Tickets are $12-$16. Call (817) 924-9454.
The Texas Debates: The Race for Attorney General: With a cast of characters like Phil Gramm, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Dick "Let the Saipanese Children Sweat" Armey, Texas congressional races are usually much more colorful than the mundane competition for the attorney general's office. But with Dan Morales stepping down, Republicans like Tom Pauken and Democrats like Jim Mattox are circling like vultures. They would wield influence in hot issues: anti-drug laws, capital punishment, and tobacco company reparations. Sam Baker of radio station KERA 90.1 moderates "The Texas Debates: The Race for Attorney General," which includes participants Pauken, Mattox, John Cornyn, Morris Overstreet, and Barry Williamson. The show is broadcast live at 8 p.m. on KERA-TV Channel 13 and on the radio on KERA 90.1. Call (214) 871-1390.
12th Annual Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering: To paraphrase Winston Churchill, early-20th-century Texas cowboy culture was a lot more than "whiskey, sodomy, and the revolver." They wrote and performed poetry and songs for themselves, each other, and their equestrian sidekicks, often combining American Indian mysticism with O. Henryesque humor and tall tales about Anglo prairie and mountain folk. The 12th Annual Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering is the second-oldest of its kind in the United States. Joel Nelson, J.B. Allen, Pat Patterson, Adrian Lopez, and Felicia Wood are some of the old veterans and whippersnappers who share time with dancers, singers, chuck-wagon breakfasts, celebrity roping, a cattle call, and other events that involve li'l doggies. Events happen day and night February 27 and 28 and March 1 on the campus of Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. Call (915) 837-8191.
Fine Arts Chamber Players: Sure, the Meyerson is a monument gilded to fit the pomp and circumstance of Dead White European Males, but even the purveyors of their compositions get bored performing everything on such a grand scale. The Fine Arts Chamber Players' Fourth Saturday series is the equivalent of a billboard artist taking a break with a sketch pad, as these members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra kick back (as much as you can in the echoing halls of the Dallas Museum of Art) and perform the music of American and European composers that's both more intimate and relatively more obscure than the rigidly observed, safe programming performed by most city symphonies. The concert happens at 3 p.m. in the Horchow Auditorium of the Dallas Museum of art, 1717 N. Harwood. The Fourth Saturday Performance series is always free, but remember that seats fill up fast for these shows, so it's best to show up early. For more info call (214) 922-1200.
Second Annual Texas Independence Day Music Festival: With Texas favorite Lou Ann Barton recently added to the Second Annual Texas Independence Day Music Festival, an already formidable lineup of blues and roots rockers from the North Texas area is getting a shot of sweet, smoky bourbon to go with the barrels of white lightning some of the greener performers will bring to this celebration of our state's 162nd birthday. Barton kicked the stuff awhile ago, but her twangy, achy voice--a potent concoction of tupelo honey, road gravel, and Knob Creek--still requires all who stay for more than one song to choose a designated driver for after the show. Co-host James Buck and Cold Blue Steel welcome Texas Slim, Hash Brown, Holland K. Smith, the Texas Topcats, and Blanche Fury, among others in a salute to the absolutely distinctive intersection of blues, honky-tonk, and swing that is the Texas musical heritage. The festival kicks off at 2 p.m. at Sons of Hermann Hall. Tickets are $10-$12. Call (214)747-4422.
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Tex! The State of the Union: Writers don't stop struggling once they reap the (usually modest) benefits of actually getting paid for their words. Often, the bigger fight begins here, as wordsmiths find they must keep the market on their mind at the same time they write from their heart. This union of practicality and passion happens inside many published writers, and it also happens among the business-literary halves of writing journals. The Writer's Garret and the Austin Writers' League present a panel of staffers from Tex!, discussing how, in their words, "literature liberals and publishing conservatives united to produce a new literary journal." The event happens at 3 p.m. upstairs at Paperbacks Plus, 6115 La Vista. It's free, but donations are gratefully accepted. Call (214) 828-1715.
Sofa Not Included: The phrase "sofa art" is imbued with such contempt not because of the art itself, but because of the sofa that's determining its placement in the room. Phrases like "focal point" and "center of vision" are introduced to the hanging of art when interior design collides with creative expression. But this may not be such a bad collision, at least according to the artists behind the gallery:untitled show Sofa Not Included. Five different artists have contributed work in different media to a show that includes moveable couches, so you can see how the stuff looks when aesthetic considerations overtake artistic ones. Viewers will also view the work of Chad Farris, a visually impaired painter. The show runs through March 21 at gallery:untitled, 3603 Parry Ave. The gallery is open Wednesday-Saturday or by appointment daily. Call (214) 821-1685.
Long Day's Journey Into Night: The Dallas Theater Center may not be breaking any new theatrical ground with a production of one of the most lyrically tortured family dramas in the history of American theater (and given the amounts of torture and lyricism that have been poured into family memory plays on the American stage, that sets a high standard). But Long Day's Journey Into Night, Eugene O'Neill's semi-autobiographical story of one adult son loosening the ties that bind, gag, and strangle, is so beautifully written and starkly observant, it's easy to take for granted: Nowadays, theater artists refer to it more than they actually stage it. Richard Hamburger hopes to mess things up a bit by presenting this smothering drama on a wide stage inside the not-known-for-its-intimacy Arts District Theater. He performed a similar feat with the intricate psychological evolution in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, so we'll see. Performances happen 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday through March 22 at the Arts District Theater. Tickets are $16-$49. Call (214) 522-TIXX.
The Pictures of Texas Monthly: Texans love to complain about how we're depicted as slow-talkin', tradition-lovin,' phrase-spoutin' eccentrics, but the truth is, we contribute to that image as much as anyone to fuel the Texana tourist trade. Case in point--almost all the lame "Texas culture" stories in Texas Monthly, which work overtime to present us as... well, slow-talkin', tradition-lovin,' phrase-spoutin' eccentrics. The terrific photos that run next to the silly copy have been assembled in one place. Some of the best pictures here are Texas subjects shot by non-Texans such as William Wegman, Annie Leibovitz, and Helmut Newton. The show runs through March 29 at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, 3120 McKinney. It's free. Call (214) 953-1212.