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Texas Literary Icon Larry McMurtry Has Died


by Miguel Perez 26 Mar 2021 12:12 PM

Larry McMurtry, the North Texas novelist celebrated for his honest portrayal of life in Texas and the Old West, has died at 84. He leaves behind classics ranging from Lonesome Dove to Terms of Endearment; The Last Picture Show to Horseman, Pass By.

A spokesperson for the author’s family confirmed the death but did not specify a cause.

McMurtry was a prolific author, writing a multitude of novels, screenplays, essays and books of history and memoir.

That career reached new heights with the release of Lonesome Dove. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for the novel, about two retired Texas Rangers returning a herd of stolen cattle to Montana from Texas. The book was turned into a popular TV miniseries, which earned 18 Emmy Award nominations and 7 wins.

He was also an Oscar-winning screenwriter. He transformed Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx’s short story about two cowboys who fall in love, into the critically-acclaimed film alongside his collaborator Diana Ossana. In fact, films based on McMurtry’s fiction, including Terms of Endearment and Hud, have garnered a whopping 34 Oscar nominations and 13 wins.

The ranch outside Archer City, Texas where McMurtry spent his childhood became the inspiration for many of his books, including Horseman, Pass By and The Last Picture Show.

The city released the following statement today:

“The City of Archer City is extremely saddened to hear of Larry’s passing.  Larry left an incredible legacy through his extensive body of both fictional and non-fictional writing, his movies and his bookstores. He also brought Archer City into the global limelight, connecting us with his fans across the globe.  We will all miss him. On behalf of the Mayor and City Council we offer our sincere condolences to his family.”

McMurtry had an affinity for rare books. He opened a bookshop called Booked Up while living in Washington, DC in the 1970s. McMurtry returned to Archer City, to open a location there, which once housed hundreds of thousands of titles.

He earned degrees from the University of North Texas and Rice University. He wrote his first books while teaching English at Rice, as well as Texas Christian University, George Mason College and American University.

McMurtry was widely decorated for his work. He was a Guggenheim Fellow, a recipient of the National Humanities Medal, and a three-time recipient of the Jesse J. Jones Award from the Texas Institute of Letters.

Here is a sample from some of Larry McMurtry’s memorable work:

  • “The earth is mostly just a boneyard. But pretty in the sunlight.”     — Lonesome Dove
  • “Prose, I believe, must accord with the land. … A lyricism appropriate to the Southwest needs to be as clean as a bleached bone and as well-spaced as trees on the llano. The elements still dominate here, and a spare, elemental language, with now and then a touch of elegance, will suffice.”                 — In a Narrow Grave
  • “It’s really quite simple. Mr. Isinglass robbed my father, destroyed my mother, exiled my brothers, and ruined me. If I catch him asleep I’ll kill him. I do hope you like this pudding. I had to ride quite a way to find the plums.”    —Anything for Billy
  • “I don’t remember either of my parents ever reading me a story – perhaps that’s why I’ve made up so many. . . . Of books, there were none. . . . The only magazine I can remember seeing in the ranch house was ‘The Cattleman,’ the trade journal of the range cattle industry, which once ran an article on our family called ‘McMurtry Means Beef.”    — Books: A Memoir
  • “Being crazy about a woman like her’s always the right thing to do. Being a decrepit bag of bones is what’s ridiculous.”     — The Last Picture Show
  • “It may be that one reason writers from the American west have had such a hard time getting their words taken seriously is that they have been competing from the first with one of the most powerful visual images of all: the image of horses running. The Indian and the horse have been together in movies for as long as there have been movies.”    — Crazy Horse: A Life
  • “Only a rank degenerate would drive 1,500 miles across Texas without eating a chicken-fried steak.”     — In A Narrow Grave
  • “In the West, lifting up one’s eyes to the heavens can be a wise thing, for much of the land is ugly. The beauty of the sky is redemptive; its beauty prompts us to forgive the land its cruelty.”     —Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections on Sixty and Beyond
  • “He said there were going to be literary parties. I tried to imagine a literary party and was unable to. It was a very abstract effort, like trying to imagine a triangle or a cube.”    — All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers
  • “There’s laws against mobs assembling in this town,” Wyatt insisted. “And if there ain’t, I’ll make one up myself.” … “You’re afflicted with the means today, Wyatt,” Doc informed him.’      — The Last Kind Words Saloon
  • “From him to the stars, in all directions, there was only silence and emptiness.”     — Lonesome Dove
  • “Archer County is not particularly scenic [the setting for “Horseman Pass By” – which became the Paul Newman movie, “Hud”], but I was all primed to observe the impact of Hollywood on my hometown. Black humor was just being invented and I could think of no easier way to get in on it.”     — In a Narrow Grave
  • ‘The Texans stood watching as the boat pulled away and began its journey across the great gray plain of the sea . . . Call was silenced by the immense sweep of the water. He had not expected the sea to be so large: soon the boat containing Lady Carey and her party began to disappear, as a wagon might as it made its way across a sea of grass. Woodrow Call could be subdued by the ocean if he wanted to – Gus McCrae, for his part, had never felt happier: He was rich, he was safe, and the port of Galveston virtually teemed with whores. He had already visited five.”     — Dead Man’s Walk
  • “Biology may be destiny, as a famous thinker claimed; but then, I would contend, geography is destiny, too. I was born in a part of Texas that is essentially Midwestern. Small towns in my part of Texas don’t differ that much from towns in Kansas or Nebraska. These are towns where change comes slowly. And yet it comes.”     —Books: A Memoir
  • “Meanwhile there is still the West that was – with its achievement and its destruction – and the land that is, emptier and emptier on the plains, more and more weighed down with population on the Gulf and West Coasts, and always, that other, endlessly imagined West, the West that can never be fully believed or wholly denied . . . where buttes are tall and horizons long, where women mainly try to stay out of the way, and where an unforgettable company, Gene and Roy, Butch and Sundance, Clint and the Duke, wild bunches galore, and a masked man who kills the bad guys with silver bullets, still gallop from commercial to commercial on some screen somewhere, every day.
    That’s the West that even the most accurate scholarship can’t do a thing about.”    —Sacagawea’s Nickname: Essays on the American West

Got a tip? Email Miguel Perez at [email protected]. You can follow him on Twitter @quillindie.

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