Larry Jeff McMurtry’s early novels of Texas in transition placed him, as a very young man, among the most important writers of his native state. As he matured and broadened his scope, McMurtry gained wide recognition as a skilled writer, one whose particular and natural interest in the West, its past and its present, provided him a special position among regional novelists. However, since the publication of Lonesome Dove, which landed on the best-seller lists and won him the Pulitzer Prize (1986), McMurtry has been considered one of the giants of American literature.
He was born to William Jefferson McMurtry and Hazel Ruth (McIver) McMurtry in Wichita Falls, Texas, the nearest town of any size to his family’s Archer County ranch. His paternal grandparents had arrived in Texas in 1877. They had lived in Denton County in northeast Texas for some ten years, then moved west to Archer County in north central Texas, purchasing a few acres of ranch land there. McMurtry’s father and most of his uncles were cowboy-ranchers, all but McMurtry’s father having settled in or near the Panhandle town of Clarendon, Texas, which served as a trade center for the great ranches of that vast, open territory. The nine McMurtry sons eventually accumulated, among them, ranches of almost 150,000 acres, on which they grazed thousands of head of cattle. At annual family gatherings in Clarendon, much of the men’s time was spent exchanging yarns. This fare was perhaps more nourishing to the bookish yet book-starved Larry than was the standard reunion barbecue.
McMurtry attended public schools in Archer City. The school library in such a town provided little to satisfy a potentially serious reader. Its few dozen shelves held biographies of figures in American history or of greats in the sports world. It is no wonder that McMurtry wrote of his excitement when, having first entered a university library at age eighteen, he realized that before him lay “the whole of the world’s literature.” After one year at Rice University in Houston, McMurtry transferred to North Texas State College in Denton, where he completed a B.A. in 1958. Back at Rice for graduate work, McMurtry completed his M.A. in the spring of 1960. He continued his studies as a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University in 1960. He returned to Rice in 1963, where he found the atmosphere a comfortable one for writing. He remained at Rice until 1972.
It was during...
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