Scope and Contents
These papers represent a broad view of Larry McMurtry’s literary career, including his collaborations with Diana Ossana. Handwritten notes, editorial correspondence, annotated typescripts, and production material show the creative process for McMurtry’s (and Ossana’s) novels, screenplays, teleplays, and essays. While many works are included here, Streets of Laredo and Dead Man’s Walk are among the most fully documented. Additional materials include speeches by McMurtry, and family photographs dating from ca. 1890-2008.
Larry McMurtry was born June 3, 1936, in Wichita Falls, TX, the son of William Jefferson, a rancher, and Hazel Ruth (McIver) McMurtry. McMurtry earned a B.A. degree from North Texas State College (now University) in 1958 and an M.A. from Rice University in 1960 with additional study at Stanford University. He married Josephine Ballard, July 15, 1959. In 1962, their son, singer songwriter James McMurtry, was born. In 1966, the couple divorced. McMurtry’s teaching career began at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX, where he taught from 1961 to 1962. From there he returned to his alma mater Rice University, as a lecturer in English and creative writing, 1963-69. He then moved north to Virginia and Washington D.C. and taught as Visiting professor at George Mason College, 1970, and at American University, 1970-71.
His first book, Horseman Pass By, was published in 1961 by Harpers, New York, and won a Jesse H. Jones Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. McMurtry has since published a steady stream of novels, screenplays, teleplays, and essays has emerged as one of Texas' most prominent fiction writers. Though he lived outside Texas for two decades, McMurtry has drawn themes for many of his novels from the uneasy interaction between his native state's mythic past and its problematic, ongoing urbanization during the later decades of the twentieth century. His earliest works, such as the critically acclaimed Horseman, Pass By and The Last Picture Show, expose the bleak prospects for adolescents on the rural ranches or in the small towns of west Texas, while his novels written in the 1970s, including Terms of Endearment, trace Texas characters drawn into the urban milieus of Houston, Hollywood, and Washington, D.C.
His 1986 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Lonesome Dove, received high praise for its realistic detailing of a cattle drive from the late nineteenth century. The book is a transformation into fiction of a part of Texas history the author previously approached in his essays on cowboys, ranching, and rodeos.
As a spokesman for the status of modern Texas letters, McMurtry has been known to criticize some Texas writers for their tendency to overlook the potentially rich material to be found in Texas's modern, industrialized society and growing urban areas. In a Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas, he concluded: "Texas writers are sometimes so anxious to avoid the accusation of provincialism that they will hardly condescend to render the particularities of their own place, though it ought to be clear that literature thrives on particulars. The material is here, and it has barely been touched. If this is truly the era of the Absurd, then all the better for the Texas writer, for where else except California can one find a richer mixture of absurdities? Literature has coped fairly well with the physical circumstances of life in Texas, but our emotional experience remains largely unexplored, and therein lie the drama, poems, and novels."
McMurtry became writing partners with Diana Ossana of Arizona for the screenplay “Pretty Boy Floyd”, in 1993, and has collaborated with her on many screenplays, teleplays, and novels since then. Although at the time Ossana had not previously published or even considered herself a “writer”, the pair found that her research skills, discipline, editing style and knack for writing female dialogue in particular complemented McMurtry’s work. (See essay entitled “Ours”, Box 68 F. 1, describing the beginnings of this collaboration.)
In addition to being a teacher and writer, McMurtry is also a savvy businessman, the founder and owner of renowned bookshops by the name of “Booked Up” in Washington, D.C.; Archer City, Texas; and Arizona.
Awards: Wallace Stegner fellowship, 1960; Jesse H. Jones Award, Texas Institute of Letters, 1962, for Horseman, Pass By; Guggenheim fellowship, 1964; Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Award (Oscar) for best screenplay based on material from another medium, 1972, for The Last Picture Show; Barbara McCombs/Lon Tinkle Award for continuing excellence in Texas letters, Texas Institute of Letters, 1986; Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Spur Award from Western Writers of America, and Texas Literary Award from Southwestern Booksellers Association, all 1986, all for Lonesome Dove; Robert Kirsch Award, Los Angeles Times, 2003, for McMurtry's body of work that "grows out of and reflects brilliantly upon the myth and reality of the American West in all of its infinite variety."
Source: Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2003.