Larry McMurtry McMurtry, Larry (Vol. 127)

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Larry McMurtry 1936–

(Full name Larry Jeff McMurtry) American novelist, essayist, and screenwriter.

The following entry presents an overview of McMurtry's career through 1999. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 2, 3, 7, 11, 27, and 44.

McMurtry was known in the 1960s and 1970s as a regional author of distinction and acclaimed as a new voice from Texas. In his works, McMurtry reexamines the frontier myth, introducing more fully developed characters and a darker mood to the Western novel. However, with the publication of Lonesome Dove (1985)—his Pulitzer-Prize-winning, epic-length saga of a nineteenth-century cattle drive—McMurtry became a household name, praised by the public and critics alike. His works continue to focus on tensions between urbanization and the myth of the Texas frontier, as well as disillusionment among aging characters resistant to change. Many of McMurtry's novels, including Horseman, Pass By (1961), The Last Picture Show (1966), Terms of Endearment (1975), and The Evening Star (1992), have been made into successful films. McMurtry is known also for his essays that explore transitions in Texas literature and the nature of the film industry.

Biographical Information

McMurtry was born June 3, 1936, in Wichita Falls, Texas, to William Jefferson and Hazel Ruth McIver McMurtry. He grew up on his father's ranch, an experience from which he would draw material throughout his career. After graduating from Archer City High School in 1954, he attended North Texas State College where he earned a B.A. in 1958. He received an M.A. from Rice University in 1960 and studied under a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University from 1960 to 1961. In 1959 he married Josephine Scot with whom he had one son; the couple divorced in 1966. McMurtry took numerous short-term teaching assignments at Texas colleges and universities during the 1960s while he wrote. He published Horseman, Pass By in 1961 to strong criticàl reviews. The book was adapted into a movie entitled Hud the following year and won two Academy Awards. McMurtry continued developing his reputation—albeit as a regional writer-and published The Last Picture Show in 1966. He won an Oscar in 1972 for his work on the screenplay of this movie. By the 1970s he left Texas, opening a rare bookshop in Washington D.C.; however, he continued to write about both rural and urban Texans. While McMurtry's reputation as a writer and his popularity grew, it was not until the publication of his novel, Lonesome Dove, that he received widespread national recognition. He won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the novel and achieved greater acclaim when it was made into a popular television series. McMurtry has continued to write throughout the 1990s, publishing a sequel and two prequels in his Lonesome Dove series. In addition, he has collaborated with other writers on two fictional histories of real historical characters: Billy the Kid and Pretty Boy Floyd. He lives and writes in Arizona and Texas as well as managing his bookshop in Washington, D.C.

Major Works

McMurtry has published continuously and extensively throughout his career, writing several series of novels centering on common characters or places. His work is united by his themes, which include reluctance to face change, conflict between urbanization and Western myth, importance of place, and the role of the land. McMurtry's themes also include the emptiness of sex versus the promise of love, the void in marriage and family, the nostalgia of the past, emptiness of the present, and hopelessness of the future. In novels such as Horseman, Pass By and The Last Picture Show , McMurtry explores coming of age, as the youth of rural Texas face difficult choices, a lack of opportunities, needs which do not match resources, and disillusionment and loss of innocence. Throughout his career, McMurtry has explored these issues, following his characters throughout their lives. For instance, in his books about the mythical small town...

(The entire section is 48,839 words.)