‘The River Always Wins’: Dallas Conservationist David Marquis’ Essay on Water is a Metaphor for Hope and Progress

Marquis' lyric essay is filled with ties to Dallas, starting with its Oak Cliff-based author and its relations to the city, the Trinity River, and Deep Vellum Publishing.

“Rivers, ancient as days, may differ in the life along their banks, their depth, or the frequency of their flooding, but one thing is true: if enough drops flow together in the same direction long enough, the river always wins.”

Thus begins David Marquis’ lyric essay on water called “The River Always Wins,” which was published earlier this year. The essay, as stated by its subtitle, is a metaphor for hope and progress, one that also reflects on the importance of conservation efforts, which Marquis is no stranger to.

“The River Always Wins” author David Marquis [Image: theactivistheart.com]

Marquis has had a wide-ranging career, from being a playwright to contributing to news publications to working as a conservationist and activist. In Dallas, he has been the chairman of the Mayor’s Green Building Task Force, helped shape the City’s Long Range Water Supply Plan, and founded the 118-acre Oak Cliff Nature Preserve.

Marquis was also a representative on behalf of EarthX for Dallas’ Comprehensive Environmental & Climate Action Plan’s (CECAP) Stakeholder Advisory Committee.

He helped shape the ordinance that supports environmental efforts in Dallas and worked extensively to develop the broad coalition that supported CECAP, which was passed unanimously by the Dallas City Council in May 2020.

North Texas ties

“The River Always Wins” was heavily influenced by Marquis’ relationship with Dallas. As he writes in the essay’s acknowledgements, the genesis for the essay was a poem he had written for an inaugural event supporting Dallas’ first African American mayor, Ron Kirk, in 1995. The poem was about a river that made its way to the sea.  

The poem stayed with him over the years and helped him form the idea for “The River Always Wins.”

Water holds a special meaning for Marquis. He grew up in West Texas during the 1950s when there was a drought, so he understands what it’s like to severely lack the natural resource.

“I think that’s one of the reasons I have such a deep relationship with water,” he told Dallas Innovates. “I come from a place where there was very little water.”

Throughout the essay, Marquis mentions one of Dallas-Fort Worth’s greatest natural resources: the Trinity River. The Trinity is 710 miles long and affects the lives of half of all Texans, according to Marquis. 

“The Trinity is extremely important to me because if we don’t interact with the nature closest to us, we’re missing an opportunity on a daily basis to do some good,” Marquis says.

A Dallas creation

Instead of working with a major publishing house like Simon & Schuster, Marquis decided to keep all facets of his book close to home.

“For me, it was a choice of being more hands-on in such a way that I help the literary scene in Dallas,” Marquis says.

He chose Dallas-based nonprofit Deep Vellum Publishing’s imprint La Reunion Publishing as the work’s publisher. And, Deep Vellum’s own executive director and publisher, Will Evans, was Marquis’ editor.

Coincidentally, La Reunion Publishing also has ties to the local river.

Frenchman Victor Considerant formed a utopian socialist colony on the banks of the Trinity called La Reunion, which the imprint is named after. La Reunion Publishing was created last year to tell the stories of people and places in Texas. 

The journey continues

Although “The River Always Wins” has been published, Marquis’ work with the essay is far from over.

“I really believe all performing art, all communication is an exchange of energy between human beings and so we want to do a lot more things,” Marquis says.

So far, Marquis and Deep Vellum Publishing have been able to release excerpts of the essay in video form, which can be found here, and an audiobook version of the book is on its way. Marquis also wants to host live readings when it becomes safe to do so.

The Washington Post book editor Ron Charles spoke on the essay recently, writing “I’m usually allergic to to modern works of inspiration, but there’s something calming about Marquis’s aphorisms on the persistent, irresistible force of water.”

With the success of the essay, Marquis is looking to turn the singular work into a trilogy. 

“I’ve got plenty of writing to do and all of my work somehow seems to keep coming back to nature and our relationship to it,” Marquis says.

The trilogy is currently set to follow the same direction as “The River Always Wins” by comparing life to the flow of water, but as with a river, it always has the possibility of changing its course.

No matter what, as Marquis puts it: “I have a feeling that water is going to be a part of my work for a long time to come.”

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