Acclaimed novelist Larry McMurtry, whose canon is predominantly set in the Old West or in contemporary Texas, will receive a 2014 National Humanities Medal for outstanding achievement at the White House this week.
President Obama will present the award to the 79-year-old author and nine other noted Americans, including food writer and activist Alice Waters and architect/preservationist Everett L. Fly, during a ceremony on September 10. “Mr. McMurtry’s work evokes the character and drama of the American West with stories that examine quintessentially American lives,” the White House stated in the citation announcing his selection.
McMurtry is the prolific author of 29 novels — including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lonesome Dove and The Last Picture Show — three memoirs, two collections of essays, and more than 30 screenplays — among them the Academy Award-winning adapted screenplay for Brokeback Mountain.
“I don’t remember either of my parents ever reading me a story — perhaps that’s why I’ve made up so many,” he wrote in his first memoir, Books.
The current issue of Entertainment Weekly picks the one work of fiction that best defines each state, and for Texas, it’s Lonesome Dove. “Everything is bigger in Texas, including this novel’s ambition," the writers state, adding that the “cattle-drive epic features some of the most beautifully descriptive prose put to paper.”
McMurtry, who received a master’s degree from Rice University in 1961 and was a lecturer of freshman English and creative writing, set several of his best-selling books, including Terms of Endearment, in Houston. The novel, which was made into an Academy-Award winning movie, was part of a trilogy that includes Moving On and All My Friends Are Going to be Strangers.
McMurtry also set three other books in modern-day Houston: Somebody’s Darling, Some Can Whistle, and The Evening Star.
He was one of the country’s most accomplished book collectors, with stores in his hometown of Archer City, Houston, and Washington, D.C. at various points in his life, until he sold most of his prized books in 2012.
The award honors an individual or organization whose work has “deepened the nation’s understanding of the human experience, broadened citizens’ engagement with history and literature, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to cultural resources,” according to the National Endowment for the Humanities. Previous recipients include authors Joan Didion, Frank Deford, Phillip Roth, Joyce Carol Oats, and playwright Anna Deavere Smith.
“No other author has captured the spirit and imagination of his home state and the American West more than Larry McMurtry,” Rice President David Leebron said in a statement. “His work speaks to people and their challenges everywhere. We are proud of Larry’s extraordinary body of work and join President Obama in celebrating his remarkable legacy.”