‘Lonesome Dove’ Author’s Papers on view at UH

Larry McMurtry Papers Chronicle Writer’s Beginnings through Pulitzer Prize-Winning Novel

"The west was virgin but for an instant, and in making the frontier safe for settlement, they also made it not a frontier, and thus doomed the way of life for which they were supremely fitted and which they dearly loved."  

The words come from Texas novelist, essayist and screenwriter Larry McMurtry in his description of the characters and story of "Lonesome Dove."  The 50-page, typewritten synopsis of what would become the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was shopped to various publishers before it received widespread critical and commercial success.  It is part of the Larry McMurtry Papers housed in the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections.  

"We have typescripts for most of his major works through 1987," said Julie Grob, digital projects and instruction librarian for Special Collections.  "We have a lot of things that were different side projects, works of nonfiction, screenplays for movies and TV.  We have a little correspondence and photographs." 

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the publishing of "Lonesome Dove," the story of two ex-Texas Rangers who take on a cattle drive from Texas to Montana.  The novel was brought to the small screen in 1989, in a popular television mini-series of the same name, making McMurtry even more of a household name.  

The UH collection contains such items as Big Chief tablet papers lined with suggested character names, drafts of typewritten manuscripts with McMurtry's handwritten remarks in the margins.  Fans familiar with the text know the character Newt Dobbs.  Margin notes show McMurtry toyed with the idea of naming him Skeeter or Luke.  One title page considers an alternate name for "Lonesome Dove"-"Clara's Orchard."   

"There's a copy of a book in the collection that was owned by Cybil Shepherd, who was his girlfriend for a while," Grob said.  "Being a fan of both of them, it's fun to see something in the collection that reminds me of their relationship."           

Everything in the collection is either handwritten or typewritten and is preserved in acid-free folders, acid-free boxes and secure climate-controlled storage to keep out the heat, humidity and light.    

McMurtry lived in the Bayou City in the late 1950s.  He completed graduate school in Houston and worked as a book reviewer for the Houston Post and a manager of bookstore on San Felipe.  

"The correspondence that we have is a series of letters to Grace David, who owned a book shop where he worked before becoming famous as a writer," Grob said.  "There also is some correspondence with a college buddy of his.  So, most of what we have is the early days, when he's starting out, and you see that he really wants to be a writer. He's trying to organize his life in such a way that he can do it." 

In one exchange, McMurtry writes to David about the spoils that come with fame. 

"I feel very detached from all that success ... Once I finish a book it ceases to seem like mine, and I learned a long time ago that the interesting thing about writing is writing. The act of writing, per se.  Everything that comes after it, even publication, is disappointing, or not so much disappointing as just irrelevant. Oscar didn't hurt. Money doesn't hurt. But neither really relate to writing. " 

The Larry McMurtry Papers is available for viewing by contacting the UH Special Collections at 713-743-9750 or by visiting the UH Special Collections on the 2nd floor of the M.D. Anderson Library.