"As they say around the Texas Legislature, if you can't drink their whiskey, screw their women, take their money, and vote against 'em anyway, you don't belong in office.""Being slightly paranoid is like being slightly pregnant - it tends to get worse.""I believe in practicing prudence at least once every two or three years.""I believe that ignorance is the root of all evil. And that no one knows the truth.""I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults.""It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.""Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention.""Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful.""The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion.""You can't ignore politics, no matter how much you'd like to."
Ivins was born in Monterey, California and raised in Houston, Texas. Her father Jim Ivins, known as "General Jim" because of his rigid authoritarianism (or sometimes "Admiral Jim" for his love of sailing), was an oil and gas executive, and the family lived in Houston's affluent River Oaks neighborhood.Ivins graduated from St. John's School in 1962. In high school, she was active in extracurricular activities, including the yearbook staff. She had her first pieces of journalism published in The Review, the official student newspaper of St. John's School, though she never wrote any of the political columns that would become her specialty later in life. Ivins later became co-editor of the arts and culture section of the student paper. In addition, she frequently participated in theater productions and earned a lifetime membership to Johnnycake, the drama club.
Ivins enrolled in Scripps College in 1962 but was not happy there, and transferred to Smith College in 1963. During this time, she became romantically involved with Henry "Hank" Holland, Jr., a family friend, and then a student at Yale, whom she referred to as "the love of my life." When he was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1964, her friends would later say that she never seemed to find anyone else who could replace his memory, and she never married. She spent her junior year at the Institute of Political Science in Paris, and received her B.A. in history in 1966. She earned a master's degree at Columbia University's school of journalism in 1967.
While at Smith, Ivins spent three summers as an intern at the Houston Chronicle. Her jobs there included the complaint department as well as "sewer editor," as she put it, responsible an reported on the nuts and bolts of local city life.
After graduating from Columbia, she took a job in the Twin Cities at the Minneapolis Tribune, where she covered "militant blacks, angry Indians, radical students, uppity women and a motley assortment of other misfits and troublemakers."
In 1970 Ivins left the Tribune for Austin, Texas to be the co-editor and political reporter for the Texas Observer. She covered the Texas Legislature and befriended folklorist John Henry Faulk, Secretary of State Bob Bullock and future Governor Ann Richards, among others. She also gained increasing national attention through op-ed and feature stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post along with a busy speaking schedule inside and outside Texas. The Times, concerned that its prevailing writing style was too staid and lifeless, hired her away from the Observer in 1976, and she wrote for the Times until 1982. During her run there, Ivins became Rocky Mountain bureau chief, covering nine western states, although the writer was known to say she was named chief because there was no one else in the bureau. Ivins also wrote the obituary for Elvis Presley in The New York Times for the August 17, 1977 edition. Generally, her more colorful writing style clashed with the editors' expectations, and in 1980, after she wrote about a "community chicken-killing festival" in New Mexico and called it a "gang-pluck," she was recalled to New York as punishment. When Abe Rosenthal, editor of the Times, accused her of trying to inspire readers to think "dirty thoughts" with these words, her response was, "Damn if I could fool you, Mr. Rosenthal." One friend saw her rebellion against the Times authority structure as a continuation of her rebellion against her father's authority. In late 1981, after receiving an offer from the Dallas Times Herald to write a column about anything she liked, Ivins left New York for Dallas.
Ivins wrote for the Dallas Times Herald for ten years, although by 1985 the editors had moved her to the paper's Austin bureau to reduce friction with Dallas city leaders. Her freelance work and speaking engagements continued to grow, and she hired Elizabeth Faulk, John Henry Faulk's widow, as a personal assistant. In 1991, her book Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She? was published, and spent 29 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Also in 1991, rival newspaper Dallas Morning News bought the Times Herald and closed it down. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram immediately made Ivins an offer and said she could stay in Austin. Ivins accepted, and wrote a column for the Fort Worth paper from 1982 until 2001, when she became an independent journalist. Her column, syndicated by Creators Syndicate, eventually appeared in nearly 400 newspapers nationwide.
Ivins also remained a board member and contributor to the Texas Democracy Foundation, which publishes the Texas Observer in Austin.
In 1995, humorist Florence King wrote in a The American Enterprise column that Ivins had plagiarized King's work and mis-stated a quotation from a King column in a 1988 Mother Jones article. David Rubien, writing in Salon, described the incident: "In a 1995 article for Mother Jones on Southern manners and mores, she extensively quoted, with affectionate attribution, statements from Florence King's book Southern Ladies and Gentlemen. But for some careless reason Ivins still fails to comprehend, she left the attribution off a few King statements." Ivins wrote a letter of apology to King, but characteristically ended it with:"...boy you really are a mean bitch, aren't you? Sincerely, Molly Ivins, plagiarist." King published Ivins's apology and her own reply in a later article.
In 1999, Ivins was diagnosed with stage III inflammatory breast cancer. The cancer recurred in 2003 and again in late 2005. In January 2006 she reported that she was again undergoing chemotherapy. In December 2006 she took leave from her column to again undergo treatment. She wrote two columns in January 2007, but returned to the hospital on the 26th for further treatment. Ivins died at her Austin, Texas home in hospice care on January 31, 2007, at age 62.
After her death, George W. Bush, a frequent target of her barbs, said in a statement, "I respected her convictions, her passionate belief in the power of words. She fought her illness with that same passion. Her quick wit and commitment will be missed."
Written from an unabashed liberal perspective, Ivins's style was peppered with colorful phrases to create the "feel" of Texas. When outraged by instances of what she considered malfeasance or stupidity on the part of public officials, she couched her argument in an air of stunned amusement. She enjoyed telling stories about the Texas Legislature, which she simply called "The Lege." She contended that it is one of the most corrupt, most incompetent, and funniest governing bodies in the nation—a well she dipped from on a regular basis. For example:
Practice, practice, practice, that's what Texas provides when it comes to sleaze and stink. Who can forget such great explanations as "Well, I'll just make a little bit of money, I won't make a whole lot"? And "There was never a Bible in the room"?
In 2003, she coined the term "Great Liberal Backlash of 2003," and was a passionate critic of the 2003 Iraq War. She is also credited with applying the nickname "Shrub" to George W. Bush.
On the subject of Pat Buchanan's famously combative "culture war speech" at the 1992 Republican Convention, which attracted controversy over Buchanan's aggressive rhetoric against Bill Clinton, liberals, supporters of reproductive and gay rights, and for his comparison of American politics to religious warfare, Ivins famously quipped that the speech had "probably sounded better in the original German," implicitly comparing Buchanan to Nazism.
"We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war...We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, 'Stop it, now!'" (from her last column)
"Having breast cancer is massive amounts of no fun. First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that."
"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."—quoted by John Nichols for The Nation Original source: "The Fun's in the Fight" column for Mother Jones, 1993.
On Bill Clinton: "If left to my own devices, I'd spend all my time pointing out that he's weaker than bus-station chili. But the man is so constantly subjected to such hideous and unfair abuse that I wind up standing up for him on the general principle that some fairness should be applied. Besides, no one but a fool or a Republican ever took him for a liberal." (Introduction to You Got to Dance With Them What Brung You)
On James M. Collins, US Representative, R-Dallas: "If his IQ slips any lower we'll have to water him twice a day." Collins had said that the current energy crisis could be averted if "...we didn't use all that gas on school busing..." Ivins' quote engendered substantial controversy, with calls and letters pouring into her newspaper, The Dallas Times Herald. The newspaper turned the controversy into a publicity campaign, with billboards all over the city asking, "Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?"—which she later employed as the title for her first book.
On George W. Bush, she likened him to a Post Turtle.
"Of Bush's credentials as an economic conservative, there is no question at all - he owes his political life to big corporate money; he's a CEO's wet dream. He carries their water, he's stumpbroke - however you put it, George W. Bush is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America. ... We can find no evidence that it has ever occurred to him to question whether it is wise to do what big business wants."
William Allen White Award from the University of Kansas (2001)
Smith Medal from Smith College (2001)
Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2001)
Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Progress and Service (2003)
Pringle Prize for Washington Journalism from Columbia University (2003)
Eugene V. Debs Award in the field of journalism (2003)
David Brower Award for journalism from the Sierra Club (2004)
David Nyhan Prize for Political Journalism from the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University (2006)
The Molly National Journalism Prize from the Texas Democracy Foundation (2006)
In addition to these formal awards, Ivins said that she was particularly proud of two distinct honors: having the Minneapolis police force's mascot pig named after her, and being banned from the Texas A&M campus.
In Huntsville, TX each year the Walker County Democrat Club has a Charity Dinner in honor of Molly Ivins.