Writer Lewis Grizzard once referred to David Housel as an Auburn evangelist. With more than 40 years of service to the university, his name is almost synonymous with the loveliest village on the Plains and especially with Auburn athletics. He graduated from AU with a degree in journalism in 1969, worked in the ticket office, taught journalism and was the adviser to the school newspaper, became assistant sports information director and eventually sports information director and athletic director. He retired in 2005 and still lives in Auburn and is considered an unofficial historian of the school.
He’s written several books over the years, most about Auburn and/or sports, but his new work, From the Backbooth at Chappy’s, with the subtitle Stories of the South: Football, Politics, Religion and More, published this summer by Archway Publishing, goes beyond those previous themes. The book is a compilation of short essays garnered from innumerable conversations at the Auburn location of the New York-style deli. His appreciation for the perspectives of others comes through in the book; his pleasant nature, sense of humor and affable style help you understand why so many friends like to gather around that back booth. – Allison Law
Your other books have been mostly about athletics.
Yes, and Auburn (athletics) in particular. But this one, it’s been said is “Housel unleashed,” because I’m not bound to the athletic genre, and I’m not really bound to writing about Auburn. If you’re writing for a certain publication – for example, if I was writing in the football program, I had to say things that were positive about the football program. Not that I would say anything that was negative, but I was limited in what I can say and what I can write. But this one, I’m free, and I can say, and did say, whatever I wanted to say and however I felt it. As I say, it’s more than about football.
You’ve had several signings now. Talk about meeting friends and fans at those signings.
I don’t know that I have any fans, but I am blessed to have a lot of friends. It’s been good and uplifting and heartwarming to see people who want to get the book, who want to come out and say hello, who’ve been friends for a long time, many of whom I haven’t seen in a long time. That’s really been the joy of all this – reconnecting with people. I like it when they buy a book, but I like them even if they don’t buy a book (laughs).
You started out teaching journalism at Auburn?
That was part of it. I graduated in journalism in 1969. In August of 1969, I went to the Huntsville News. At the time the largest morning newspaper in the Tennessee Valley. It might help that it was the only morning newspaper in the Tennessee Valley. I was news editor there for about a year. I came back to the athletic department in the ticket office, and I was there for two years. I taught journalism for nine years and was adviser to The Plainsman.
Do you miss teaching?
I miss interacting with the students. I (would get) tired of the subject matter, but never got tired of interacting with the students. Now in retirement, I host a book club in the Honors College at Auburn, and every term I have about 12 to 14 Honors College students, and we meet once a week. They pick books, and we read books and talk about books. I really, really enjoy that contact with the students.
Folks talk about how young people are going to hell. I totally disagree with that. People need to come and interact with the students I have in this book club. They’re smarter than we ever were, because the world’s different. They have good values, and they’re grounded. I feel good about the future because we’ve got good students. Young people are our future, and I believe in them. These folks who are criticizing them, they just don’t interact with them.
Do you still follow Auburn athletics?
I follow them. I certainly want Auburn to be successful and to win, but I have to say, I don’t live and die by it anymore. Yes, I still care. But I’m not carrying the sword anymore. Younger generations are carrying the sword. “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away,” like McArthur said, and I’m in the fading away process. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care.
Do you think you’ll write another book?
I have this Facebook page; I like and post things in there occasionally. I don’t plan on writing another book, (but) I don’t say I won’t. Since this book has come out, I think I’ve written a few things that are worthy of another book, but I don’t know if I will have enough time or enough of those kinds of stories. I’m just going to enjoy this one and see where this goes.