Heading northwest out of Dallas before morning rush hour, glass and concrete slip away to nothing but shrubs, scattered trees and long, low rises that are not so much hills as the memory of hills. After nearly three hours and an impressive number of cows, the landscape resolves into a crossroads called Archer City, where a woman standing next to a trash dumpster passes along directions to the house of writer Larry McMurtry.
McMurtry lives in the town where he was born. But he has added his own brand to the place by opening a collection of bookstores on or near the main drag and filling them with hundreds of thousands of books.
His devotion to creating and preserving stories has made him the patron saint of not only Archer City but also the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, which took place last weekend in Grapevine, Texas. And so it happened that on the opening day of the conference, a group of attendees made the annual pilgrimage to Archer City for a visit to McMurtry’s bookstores and private collection.
A converted carriage house filled with 32,000 books, McMurtry’s private library contains a treasure trove of Americana. More surprising is the unparalleled collection of H.G. Wells’ writing and the substantial amount of works of visual storytelling, from books of still photography to underground and adult comics.
One visitor found a volume containing the only short story McMurtry ever published. (He is reported to have burned more than 50 others.) Another guest noted the Joyce Carol Oates section, which seemed to include her complete works.
The author’s health kept him from meeting guests, but the collection itself was worth the trip. McMurtry’s library is “the most important possession that he has in all the world,” says Mayborn Conference director George Getschow.
This week on Storyboard, we’ll be recapping the Mayborn happenings in detail, from Archer City road trips to storytelling tips. Posts will include the wit and wisdom of literary superstars Mary Karr, Mark Bowden and Gary Smith, along with many other writers you know (and a few you don’t). We’ll also be linking up with other sites’ coverage, to give you as complete a picture as possible of the weekend.
So keep checking back all week for ideas on memoir, magazine writing and books, as well as anecdotes from some of the best writers around.