McMurtryland

It’s a state of mind.

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

by Greg Giddings

In 1966, Larry McMurtry (in)famously dedicated his third novel with these words: “The Last Picture Show is lovingly dedicated to my home town.”  Both readers and commentators through the years have assumed that McMurtry was speaking ironically in that dedication, as McMurtry’s description of Thalia, the novel’s fictionalized name for Archer City, is hardly flattering. In fact, Lera Patrick Tyler Lich, author of Larry McMurtry’s Texas: Evolution of Myth, claims that

“The Last Picture Show was written at least in part to expel the hostility [McMurtry] felt for Archer City. Even though the stimulus for writing this novel may have been a recent visit to his hometown, an antipathy toward Archer City had existed for years. His experiences there as a youth and in urban San Francisco and Houston as an adult produced a bitter realism…”

Read more of Giddings’ The Love Song of Larry J. McMurtry>

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McMurtry in Twilight_smMcMurtry in Twilight

McMurtry opens up to the Writers Workshop

by the workshop writers, Introduction by Bill Marvel

There was some irony in the occasion. Just months before, this had been the setting in which Larry McMurtry’s big dream, to turn Archer City into a book town, gave way to reality in what amounted to a gigantic going-out-of-business sale. After the final bang of the auctioneer’s gavel, the packing up, the slam of trunk lids and car doors, the town would be down to its last book store, Booked Up #1. That’s where on a hot July afternoon Archer City’s most famous citizen graciously took his place at a table to face a small but eager group of students, writers and would-be writers.

“Here I am,” he said, “to address your curiosity.” Read the whole McMurtry interview, McMurtry in Twilight>

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Larry McMurtry didn’t make Archer City. The town, in fact, has formed Larry and his stories throughout his life. But Larry’s presence here is immense, both professionally and personally. See all sides of one of America’s greatest writers and how he and the town will be eternally bound together even when they’ve been at odds. 

FenceSpur_Thibodeaux

George Getschow, the Mayborn’s  writer-in-residence and Archer City Workshop founder, wrote about how McMurtry’s ranching heritage shaped the writer.

IDIOT RIDGE – It looks like any other cattle gate in west Texas — crude and rough as the ranch behind it. A rusted stirrup, the ranch brand, is mounted on top, and its white paint is rigid and cracked like the ground beneath.

But this is no ordinary gate.

Read more of Getschow’s The Rancher & the Writer> (reproduced from Spurs of Inspiration)

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McMurtry4 copyThe Bookkeeper

by Nicole Holland Pearce (AC ’10)

There he is. A small, rumpled figure unloading books from a sea of boxes, throwing out volumes, piling others on top of them­selves. It is methodic. Bookshelves surround him, stretching from floor to ceiling. He stands in the center of them, near a large table, which is also filled with books overflowing to the floor. I walked up behind him on the balls of my feet—I’m not sure if he wants any company. His light gray hair tufts ungraciously on his head, and thick plastic eyeglasses lie across his nose. On a stark white strip of paper, taped on their side, it reads, Mr. McMurtry.

Read more of Pearce’s The Bookkeeper>

(reproduced from Chirp)

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Coming next: More sides of Archer City’s most famous son.

3 thoughts on “McMurtryland

  1. The day we interviewed Larry McMurtry, I was struck by his hands. I sat next to him, which meant I was one of the only ones who could hear his voice as our hour with him wore on, and wore him out. He is 77 years old and recovering from a stroke, which made us even more grateful for our rare opportunity to sit in his bookstore and ask him whatever we wanted.

    As he talked about his literary life in books, movies and television, I couldn’t help but notice his hands. They are the soft, callous-free hands of an avid indoorsman. This shouldn’t have surprised me, I suppose. After all, he’s a full-time writer. He wakes up and writes five pages before moving on to activities like physical therapy, tending to an ever-growing number of dogs, and apparently watching TV shows as disparate as The Sopranos and Everybody Loves Raymond. (He doesn’t find these shows to be disparate at all, which he explains in the interview.) But I guess I always thought of him as a cowboy. I wasn’t surprised he writes his five pages faithfully every day — most successful writers have a similar routine — but I think I imagined him spending the rest of the day working the McMurtry land that has been in his family for generations, living the life of an aging cowboy.

    It’s silly now that I think about it. McMurtry grew up as a cowboy and he no doubt had hands as rough as any other young man on Idiot Ridge. But he left Archer County and the cowboy life behind as soon as he got the chance, and in time the callouses were bound to soften and disappear, no longer necessary. Archer County never left him, though. The callouses must still be clear in his memory or he wouldn’t be able to write the way he does about cowboys, like an insider. Respectful but honest.

    As someone who has come to writing a little later in life than most of my classmates, I found it encouraging somehow. McMurtry’s callouses are long gone, but the memories are still clear enough to be mined for stories decades later. Now if I can just follow his lead and write five pages a day…

  2. According to conventional wisdom, TV rots your brain. It’s a vast wasteland. It’s poison. Being a bookworm or a movie buff has a certain degree of normalcy / respectability to it. But if someone asks what your hobbies are and you say “watching TV,” you’re a couch potato in a wifebeater aiming a Cheeto-dust-stained remote at your precious boob tube. That’s why I was surprised and a little gratified to hear Larry McMurtry speak so positively of the medium.
    The reason McMurtry gave for meeting with us was: “I feel I owe it to literature.” All due respect, I wonder if a more accurate phrasing of his sentiment might have been, “I feel I owe it to storytelling.”
    The meaning is the same. His intention was to pass advice and hard-learned tricks of the trade to a select group of young writers who, he’s been reassured, will take his words to heart more than most.
    But during the interview, he seemed to talk more about the industry, how it’s changed, and the increasing variety of creative outlets — books, movies, television, the Internet — than about “literature,” per se.
    The only career I can see myself abandoning journalism to pursue is writing for a television show. A novel is three hundred pages long, a song three minutes, a movie two hours, but a good television show runs for four, five, six years – it becomes as much of a weekly staple as Sunday-morning church or that Friday-night beer. We watch characters develop over that span of time, and we can’t help but become invested in them and their problems. When Ross and Rachel ended up together in the end, or when Jim and Pam got married, or when Mulder found out what happened to his sister, those were emotional payoffs half a decade in the making. Television’s the only medium that can tell stories on that scale.

  3. I was lucky to make it to the interview with Larry McMurtry that day. His generosity struck me the moment he started speaking. His shoulders slouched and voice dimmed to levels below the hum of the struggling air conditioner, you could tell he was exhausted. He agreed to it though, he said, for literature’s sake. Certain he would rather be somewhere else than stared down by a group of aspiring writers, I noticed how he answered with persistent focus each question. The last McMurtry book I read, “Books: A Memoir,” was fresh on my mind, how those vignettes on his life of book collecting seemed to me a window into that persistence over a lifetime. It showed reflections on his obsession, what makes him fascinating as a person and writer, someone indeed rare. As I sat there with him in his last standing bookstore, looking at this obsessed man, I thought about what passionate people like that do for society. They push us forward.

    Though McMurtry does not exactly see himself as part of the writers workshop, I know it’s because of the workshop, the time spent getting to know his books after I was introduced to the place that produced such a writer, befriending his hometown, and the time he’s given us in interviews over the years, that I have this relationship to this town and this author like no other.

    I recently went to hear his son James play in Dallas, in part because I’ve heard it played religiously at George’s house since he’s been bringing writers to Archer City. I don’t like bothering famous people. It seems like such a hard thing to lose your privacy and then fight to keep it, but I know many of the writers who’ve been out to the gate of his ranch feel a bit like family, whether he likes it or not. It’s an inspiring place to set your focus. It seemed like a small town gracious act that day for a literary master to indulge our questions, demonstrating again a life dedicated to literature because it meant that much. Though he doesn’t see himself as one probably, his life devoted to books certainly is a good teacher.

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