Can a struggling town produce a thriving tradition of writers, poets, playwrights, photographers and artists?

 Step under the stoplight at Center and Main and see for yourself.

portal graphic 2 copy

 illustration by Eric Nishimoto

The writer needs subjects — interesting people with their problems and possibilities, who interact with one another in a setting that itself presents them with problems and possibilities. A setting with a variety of people.

A setting with many problems and few possibilities with a rich past, a vivid present, and an uncertain future.  

Bill Marvel, master storyteller

showcasing

The Epically True Tale of an Ice Cream Calamity

Snapshots from the Last Picture Show

2014 Auction of Larry McMurtry’s First Edition Works

Finding My Voice Up Where the Air is Clear

A Tribute to Larry McMurtry

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New! Blue Paints 

 by James Hoggard, Midwestern State University

The Love Song of Larry J. McMurtry: The Last Picture Show

by Greg Giddings, Midwestern State University

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         Fossils          

by Elizabeth Langton

The Bird Lady of Archer City

by Kathy Floyd

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Notes from the Auction Ring

by the workshop writers

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McMurtry in Twilight

McMurtry opens up to the Writers Workshop

Listen to an excerpt from McMurtry in Twilight

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Texas Monthly Features Center & Main

 

coming soon

More stories from the 2014 Writers

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Please join our community of readers and storytellers in Archer County and around the world by clicking on the tabs below or at the top of this page. Here’s what you’ll find:

  • AboutWho we are and why we’re here.
  • Musings on Walt: Reflections about how Archer County has inspired a storytelling culture that has transformed it into an incubator for a new generation of writers.
  • Under the Stoplight: Showcasing short stories inspired by the iconic images of Archer County.
  • McMurtryland: Intimate portraits and interviews with one of America’s greatest writers.
  • Tales from Archer County: Portraits of the people and places of this parched country you’ll never forget.
  • Rhymes & Rhythms: Every variety of poetic form – poems, lyrics, ballads, odes, ditties, limericks, haiku, posies – born in Archer County.
  • Framing Archer County: Photos of people and places that tell their own story.
  • On Becoming a Writer: Essays by students, alums and mentors on how the Archer City Writers Workshop shaped and formed them into the writers they are today.

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“The Archer City Writers Workshop” and our website, “Center & Main: Stories from the Heart of McMurtry Country,” are operated under the auspices of the Frank W. and Sue Mayborn School of Journalism.

For more information about The Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, visit our website

at themayborn.com

14 thoughts on “Can a struggling town produce a thriving tradition of writers, poets, playwrights, photographers and artists?

  1. What a great website! Is there a better place to be than McMurtryland on a cloudless, moonlit night?

    Growing up in Archer City, I’ve stood at the corner of Center and Main more times than I can remember. As a youngster I attended movies at the Royal Theater, and as a teen I often found myself sitting in my car late at night, staring up at the red light, feeling like Lonnie Bannon. Interestingly, I once asked Larry if we were likely to see another book about Lonnie. He had, after all, penned sequels and prequels to some of his other works. He shot me a quizzical look and asked, “Who?”
    “Lonnie Bannon,” I replied. “From Horseman, Pass By.”
    He smiled and shook his head.
    I remember reading an interview he gave once in which he dissed his first novel saying it was overly sentimental. But to me, that is the appeal of Horseman, Pass By and the reason it’s my favorite McMurtry book. It never fails to move me. The novel’s last passage is as good as writing gets and the last sentence is one of the best ever written. In my opinion.

    I have also enjoyed and greatly admire the works of Benjamin Capps, Ceil Cleveland, Bill Crowley and other storytellers from Archer City. It’s a group I’m proud to be associated with. And I am often asked, “Why has Archer City produced so many writers? Is there something in the water there?” These days my reply is, “Yes. There is something in the water. For sure.” I’ve quit searching for the real reason because it has proven too elusive and I no longer have the stamina or desire to navigate that slippery slope. I’ll leave that to others.

    Center and Main is a wonderful tribute to Archer City and Larry McMurtry. It’s nothing short of a love letter written to the two by George Getschow and the Frank W. and Sue Mayborn School of Journalism. But It is also about the love they have for the art of storytelling. And in sharing their feelings, they have created a unique and fantastic place for readers and storytellers around the world to congregate. Unable to make the pilgrimage to Archer City? Looking for something good to read? Have a story to tell? Just want to share your thoughts? You’ve come to the right place.

    • I consider Jim Black one of Archer City’s literary lights. The author of two novels set in Archer City, creator and director of a memorable and amusing play performed in the community theater that once housed “The Last Picture Show,” and mentor to the Archer City Writers Workshop, Jim’s voice is worth paying attention to. So when he described Center & Main as “nothing short of a love letter” to Larry McMurtry and Archer City, it made me stop and think. I would never have thought of Center & Main as “a love letter.” But the more I think about it, the more I think Jim’s right. When we established the Mayborn’s first Writers Workshop in Archer City in 2005 at the Spur Hotel, neither the townspeople nor Larry paid us much attention. In fact, they treated us very much like “outsiders” –a weird, bumbling band of storytellers who were scampering all over their city and county, day and night, asking a lot of ridiculous questions about their lives, their livelihoods and their deepest secrets. Who are these ‘writers’ anyway? What are they up to? They don’t give a damn about our rights to privacy, do they? But as we returned year after year, producing narratives that the good folks of Archer City found, well, “entertaining,” our relationship with the town and with Larry changed. Larry and all the other residents began opening up their homes and hearts to “the writers,” as we’re now referred to collectively. They showered us with their gift of story. Today, after 10 years of crisscrossing Center and Main and hanging out with Larry and all the other great storytellers who inhabit Archer City, I have to say that Jim’s right. Center and Main truly is “nothing short of a love letter” to Larry McMurtry and Archer City.

  2. Some say you can’t write about something without changing it. Maybe we changed Archer City over these years, in some very small way. If we did, I hope Center and Main serves as evidence that we love this town. Every word to be found here, even if it describes some lost soul, should serve as paean to this place.

  3. Thank you Jim, for getting things going with your note, and thank you George, for pushing this site to happen. Archer City needs a love letter written by the people who know what it means. I love the town, and the Archer City that exists beyond the place. I’ve stood at Center and Main too and more than few nights I didn’t want to leave. Maybe now we won’t have to.

  4. I am so proud to see this beautiful website that features a night shot of Archer City’s Center & Main. Brings back memories of my childhood. I want to salute the work of George Getschow and the Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism for keeping those beautiful stories coming from the heart of North Texas–that rural place where lives are transformed by others and by place, Western heritage and the ghosts of the past and new friends in the present and future. Congratulations! And thank you.

  5. “Center & Main is not only important, it’s so well done. It is as if you piled up 10 years worth of collective non fiction literature experiences and parked it along a busy Interstate for all the world to see.”

  6. Ladies and Gentleman
    Have reviewed the web site and read most of it, most or all of it of great credence (I wish this comment section had spell check.) None the less I have one complaint. “Can a struggling town.” What is struggling? Since I have been involved in the development of Archer City, I have seen down town store fronts change names and ideas multiple times. Because the book stores have been reduced from 4 to one does not mean the town is stuggling. Because the Bed and Breakfast that housed Larry’s Oscar trophy has sold and become a private residence does not mean the town is struggling. Before Larry’s return we were doing what we do, and if Larry closes it all we will still be doing what we do; running businesses, raising children, cattle and crops, drilling oil wells and housing all those people that drive else where to work for a honest living, paying taxes and dying in Archer County. (By the way the County Seat Courthouse is the largest employer in the county.) It may look like a dying place but if you step back a read what you all have written is sounds like there is plenty going on to keep this place , “in place”. My life and lineage has provided multiple occasions to make the statement, and I quote myself, ” This is the land of opportunity.” If you think about it, it is just that for you writers, that for the last ten years have come to “my” little town. You have taken what was new and different for you your pens, stimulated our economy and stimulated the people with whom you have connected.
    This place aint struggling. It is existing and will continue to exist as long as it maintains its uniqueness and one of a kind character. Maybe the title should read, “Can a SMALL West Texas town” or “Can McMurtry’s home town” or heck “Can Archer City, Texas”
    Just a thought. I welcome your debate.

    • Dear Abby (ok, that’s kind of funny),

      I think we agreed on “struggling” because it describes what the good people of Archer City have been and done for decades: y’all are an amazingly resilient group of people who have continued to thrive in so many ways despite severe droughts, economic challenges, droughts, and droughts. The almost mythic mettle of the Old West is evident in every person I’ve had the honor of knowing in Archer City (and I sincerely mean “honor”), and that spirit is what not only permeates all of Larry’s stories, but is also why creativity prospers in your town today. Perhaps “struggling” is not the right word to describe all of you who live in Archer City, because you have and continue to carve out lives of strength, independence and tenacity. Such is the nobility of the Old West that continues on in Archer City. But “struggling” is descriptive of the fight that y’all have been engaged in to thrive in the harshness of your corner of Texas, and certainly a poetic contrast to the burgeoning creative and artistic life that beats within the heart of a town that we, the writers, have come to love and respect.

      And thank you, Abby, for all you’ve done to make the Writers Workshop a success as host and home to all of us. You’re a great and cherished friend.

    • Go, Abby! I love your comment here. You see AC from the inside, and the visiting writers are only able to see it from the outside, as visitors, no matter much we felt at home while we were there. In a way we’re like tourists who fell in love with a place, but there’s still a huge divide between the locals and the well-meaning tourists. (In those situations the locals are always more aware of the divide than the tourists!) Neither group can be truly objective in judging the place, but both views are useful to the other side to help form a more well-rounded understanding. It’s good for the tourists to know what it looks like from the inside, and it’s good for the locals to know what it looks like from the outside. So,way to go for kicking off this discussion!

      Ever since I left Archer City this summer I’ve been thinking, “IS Archer City really ‘dying?’ Or ‘poor’ or ‘struggling’ or any of the other things I kept hearing?” (Mind you, I heard those comments from AC residents and outsiders alike.) I decided Archer City is actually a “rich” and “thriving” town in all the best ways — character (and characters!), community, stories, grit, kindness, service, pride, history… the list goes on and on. I suppose the website’s question of whether it is a dying/struggling town is a question of survival, as in, “Will Archer City exist, as a town on a map, 15 years from now? Or will it be one of those deserted little hamlets you pass on Texas roads sometimes?” I’m no sociologist, but I don’t think Archer CIty is in any danger of disappearing like that. There will need to be a certain amount of reinvention if the town wants to keep its young people from moving away in search of jobs, but that’s a problem every small town faces and I don’t think it’s a hopeless situation with the technology that’s available.

      While I don’t think AC is defined by its biggest celebrity — especially once you get there and get to know the place — Larry McMurtry has long been the reason people stumbled across Archer City. Would we have ever landed there but for him? Probably not, but that’s a shame. I would love to see that loose partnership between McMurtry and Archer City continue to whatever extent it can so that AC can draw more and more people into town, because it’s worth a visit. But tourists need guides of some sort, like you, Abby — someone to point them in the right direction to find what AC does best: great people and small-town Texas hospitality. With the right pieces in place, I could imagine Archer City being the most welcoming, authentic writer’s colony around. Stories grow thick there and they don’t depend on rain to grow! I hope y’all find a way to bring in writers to harvest those fields for generations to come.

    • Abby is not only a hometown boy, he’s a man who has invested his time and money to help transform Archer City into a literary center. His dedication to this noble cause is above and beyond that of anyone else I know in Archer City. Without the Spur Hotel, we don’t have a writer’s workshop. Without his commitment to transform the ruined Royal Theater into a vibrant community theater, there wouldn’t be a theater. Without Abby, Archer City would never have even crossed my mind as a place that could nurture an artist’s colony. In short, Abby’s perspective is sagacious and his dedication to Archer City is inspiring. Every writer who has participated in the Archer City Writers Workshop over the last decade owes you something that you probably don’t receive very often: a huge thank you. Thank you Abby for all you have done over the last decade to help create a new generation of writers.
      –George Getschow, founder, the Archer City Writers Workshop

  7. Abby,

    First of all I want to thank you for the kindness and hospitality you extend to us year after year in making The Spur available as a story hatchery, a cozy home away from home. Without the Spur,heaven knows where we’d roost, but we’d not be nearly as productive.

    It’s pretty clear that we have, collectively, come to love Archer City and its people. Their kindness and openness — and often, patience — as we invade their lives and homes to tell their stories have left deep marks in our hearts. The stories we write are only one proof of that. Whenever we gather, talk inevitably turns to Archer City and the folks there we’ve come to know and love and respect.

    And so we gave long and careful thought before settling on “Can a struggling town…” to lead off this website.
    Because Archer City,like so many small towns, is manifestly struggling. (I can point you to dozens that have given up the struggle.) Look up and down Center at the vacant shops. And not just Larry’s bookstores, but places that once thrived selling people the things they need and want, useful things, things they now drive to Wichita Falls to buy. Where are your young men and women going to find work that can support them and their families? How many of your houses stand empty, waiting for an owner or renter who may never come? You once had — how many? Was it four, five? — gas stations. Now you’re down to two, both of which double as convenience stores and one as a cafe. They didn’t call it The Last Picture Show for nothing.

    None of this, as I said, is unique to Archer City. It is the fate our fast-paced urban civilization deals out to to the small towns that once nurtured it. The Walmart-ization of America, except it started long before Walmart. Certainly there are signs of life in Archer City. We like to think in our own very small way we are one of them. But I think all of us would like to see more of those signs. Our hearts lurched when the cafe across from the Spur shut down recently. Would it come back, or become another one of those empty Center and Main shells? We breathed a sigh of relief when it reopened.

    So. Struggling.

    But struggling is not dying. Far from it. And it is the struggle that makes Archer City so interesting to us as writers. No struggle, no story. Show us a people who do not face a struggle and we lose in interest and turn away. It’s like watching a football game at which only one team has turned up to play. The other is on the field, but has already given up and is ready for the locker room.

    We come to Archer City year after year to witness that struggle and to cheer, in our way, for the home team. The fact that we’re there is our answer to the question we post at the top of this website: Can a struggling town produce a thriving tradition of writers, poets, playwrights, photographers and artists?
    We’re betting on it.

  8. To me, it seems pointless to debate the economic health of Archer City. It’s true that some of the shops have closed doors or reopened under different names. It’s true that the cattle industry has been eclipsed by the oil industry and more recently the wind industry. It’s true that there’s no Walmart or even a big grocery story like there is in nearby Bowie. But does that mean Archer City is “struggling?”

    When the tribe first suggested the word “struggling,” I shook my head. In my mind, Archer City isn’t struggling. Hell, just ask the bartender at the VFW Post how much beer they sell. Just because the median income and population have stayed the same for more than 30 years doesn’t mean the town is struggling.

    Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the word “struggling” covers a lot of territory beyond the town’s economy. On a daily basis, people in Archer City struggle to work a land devoid of rain, to understand the needs of God and community, to comprehend the beauty of their landscape. And if living in a place where the average temperature feels like the sixth layer of hell isn’t considered a struggle, then I don’t know what is.

    I disagree with our “master storyteller,” Bill Marvel. The fact that we — George’s Tribe of Storytellers — keep returning every year doesn’t answer the question “Can a struggling town produce a tradition of writers, poets, playwrights, photographers and artists?” That question has already been answered by the people who’s poetry and song fill the Rhymes & Rhythms section of Center & Main, by Jim Black whose stories have dazzled readers for decades and, of course, by the Pulitzer Prize winning author, Larry McMurtry, whose words are still influencing generations of readers and writers. (The Last Picture Show is still one of my favorites.) Writers crisscrossing Center and Main today, looking for stories, are simply following the well-worn path of our literary ancestors.

  9. Christian, I’m moved by your suggestion that the question has already been answered and that writers crisscrossing Center and Main today, looking for stories, are simply following the well-worn path of their literary ancestors.

    There’s a long list of Archer City writers whose footprints can be found on that cherished trail. In addition to the works of Larry McMurtry, Benjamin Capps, Ceil Cleveland, and Bill Crowley, you’ll find Trails Through Archer—a fascinating history of Archer County compiled and told by Jack Loftin; the vivid short stories of Abby Abernathy (in 2005 I had the honor of directing his play, Efforts Misused, at the Royal Theater); the wonderful poetry of Helen Slack and Bob Lewis; the celebrated plays of Ben Lobpries; and the offerings of a number of terrific Archer County News columnists whose stories have entertained residents through the years—Joe Stults, Ruby Robertson, Sonny Armstrong, Michael Wren, Gary Beesinger, and Joe Miller, to name a few.

    Several names deserving mention have escaped me, and to them I humbly apologize. Hopefully, others can help complete the list.

  10. Small towns are ripe for storytelling, places where the literature of truth can flourish, because of their honesty, their struggles and their lives lived out in public. There’s no place to hide in a small town. You have to be real. And they are. That’s what they give us.

    I was in Archer City last Thursday for a quick visit. I drove up for the day and spent it with Jackie, cooking in her kitchen, watching her normal day unfold as I have on a few occasions. This time I had come to pick up the gallons of prickly pear juice she’d saved and put up in the freezer for me to make jelly. When I turned off the main road onto the pothole filled street that leads to her house, I felt the same petrified feeling. Why am I here? I want to be, but I wish it would get more comfortable. It hasn’t yet, going up to her doorstep, even though a friendly holler greets me before she does. You’d think it would though. We’re friends. It’s an odd mixture of feeling at home and out of place all the time when I’m with Jackie. She’s comforting and scary as hell.

    The counter was lined with still hot crab apple jelly jars, crystals sparkling gold through the dim light. The stove had a pot full of blood red prickly pear juice boiling and evidence splattered on the walls and cabinet that a lot of work had been done before I’d gotten there. We needed sugar. So I headed out to the Dollar Store for some more. I’d brought food to make beef stew in an effort to pay back the unbelievable kindness it is to process buckets of prickly pear into juice. By the time I left we’d fed two cowgirls who stopped by around lunch, distributed a few food pantry boxes to neighbors, and had more neighbors drop by with a hot store-bought pizza and salad. It was the same as last time, a revolving door of all-day-long visitations by many of the same characters.

    The town is just under a couple thousand, all the streets are square, and most any place you need to be you could actually just walk. Many do. On this trip, there isn’t a single time I don’t pass someone walking some place on the road, waving as I pass, looking me in the eye through my car window as if I were the fish in the tank. Their pedestrian movement slows me down and the personal glance feels a bit invasive. The glass goes both ways. Our movement slows them down, stopping them to think about the big city and beyond, our inquisitive interest a bit of an intrusion welcomed by many after ten years of coming around but not all.

    These small towns and the experience of living in one seem so rare; seem to offer something necessary for the writer, not just a subject that’s real and important to society to remain in touch with, but also an audience. As much as I am an invasion of their daily life, they are invading mine, observing me, and analyzing my world and where I come from because they know I’m an outsider. I feel it and I get exposed every time I visit. I don’t just feel like a silent observer in Archer City. I can’t hide either.

    Though great writing has sprung up out of all kinds of places, and they still tell you to head to New York to make it, I often fantasize how I’d much rather spend a few years in Archer City growing as a writer over any other place. If not Archer, at least give me a small town over New York. It doesn’t often happen that way. The big city calls everyone eventually.

    I was in an acting class this morning with an artist I’m writing a story about. He’s had a horrible life but has made the most of it. He said it was his hardest class because it makes you look at yourself, which for most people isn’t easy. To me, being exposed is as critical to the story as the story itself. So can a struggling/small town produce a thriving tradition of writers and other artists? I’m from a small town that’s struggled and existed, though it’s three times the size of Archer City. I don’t know everyone in the town. There are more newcomers than old-timers these days. In Archer City you can walk from one end of the city limit to the other in minutes. And when you interact with people in the town it makes you look at yourself.

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