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Larry McMurtry (1936–2021), Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Lonesome Dove”

by Linnea Crowther

Larry McMurtry was an author and screenwriter known for novels including “Lonesome Dove” and “The Last Picture Show” as well as his Oscar-winning adapted screenplay for “Brokeback Mountain.”

Beloved novels became beloved movies

McMurtry wrote more than 30 novels, many of which were adapted into well-known movies. His debut novel, 1961’s “Horseman, Pass By,” became the Paul Newman movie “Hud.” “The Last Picture Show” (1966), “Terms of Endearment” (1975), and “Texasville” (1987) were also adapted into films. And then there was “Lonesome Dove” (1985), the novel that won McMurtry the Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into a wildly popular, Emmy-winning 1989 TV miniseries. Like many of McMurtry’s books, “Lonesome Dove” offered an alternate view of the American West, one that didn’t focus on a mythological golden age filled with heroic cowboys and dastardly bandits. He set his stories in more recent times, chronicling the end days of the Old West and the 20th-century decline of once-bustling towns. McMurtry also wrote many books that were not adapted into movies, including several sequels to “Lonesome Dove” and his “Berrybender Narratives” series.

Screenwriter

McMurtry didn’t adapt his own novels for the screen, but he did write screenplays. With his occasional writing partner, Diana Ossana, he adapted “Brokeback Mountain” from an Annie Proulx short story into one of the biggest and most controversial films of the 2000s. They shared the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. McMurtry also wrote TV films and movies including “Falling from Grace” and “Good Joe Bell.”

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Bookseller and book collector

In 1970, McMurtry opened the Washington, DC bookstore Booked Up. 18 years later, he opened a second branch of Booked Up in his hometown of Archer City, Texas. He focused on the Archer City location, building it to one of the largest used bookstores in the U.S., at one time sprawling across six buildings and carrying more than 400,000 titles. McMurtry also collected books for his personal use, with a home library of more than 30,000 books.

Notable quote

“I’ve tried as hard as I could to demythologize the West. Can’t do it. It’s impossible. I wrote a book called ‘Lonesome Dove,’ which I thought was a long critique of western mythology. It is now the chief source of western mythology. I didn’t shake it up at all. I actually think of ‘Lonesome Dove’ as the ‘Gone With the Wind’ of the West.” —from a 2013 interview with Texas Monthly

Tributes to Larry McMurtry

Full obituary: The New York Times

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