Rice alum, author Larry McMurtry receives National Humanities Medal

Larry McMurtry, the acclaimed American novelist, essayist, screenwriter and bookseller who earned his master’s degree in English from Rice University in 1960, has received a 2014 National Humanities Medal for outstanding achievements in his field, the White House announced Sept. 3.

“Mr. McMurtry’s work evokes the character and drama of the American West with stories that examine quintessentially American lives,” the White House’s official citation read.

President Barack Obama will present the award to McMurtry in the White House’s East Room Sept. 10. McMurtry, whose work is predominantly set in either the old West or in contemporary Texas, is one of 10 recipients of this year’s award, which 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.

“No other author has captured the spirit and imagination of his home state and the American West than Larry McMurtry,” said Rice President David Leebron. “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.”

McMurtry is the author of 29 novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Lonesome Dove,” three memoirs, two collections of essays and more than 30 screenplays, among them the Academy Award-winning adapted screenplay for “Brokeback Mountain.” He lives in Archer City, Texas.

After receiving his master’s degree, McMurtry was a lecturer of freshman English and creative writing at Rice from 1961 to 1962. He has remained in close contact with the university and been a frequent speaker on campus.

In a 2009 Rice Magazine profile, McMurtry spoke about the university’s impact on his life. “I began reading seriously when I was at Rice,” McMurtry said. “I love Rice and think of it as my intellectual home.”

In recent years, McMurtry has voiced concern about the fate of books. In a 2009 lecture at Rice, McMurtry reflected on what he sees as a looming decline of the printed word as it is replaced by technology such as Google and the Kindle. “I had always thought that books may end, but reading would not,” he said at the time. “I’m not so sure anymore. It’s a mistake to assume that it will go on forever because there doesn’t seem to be anything that goes on forever.”

For more information about the National Humanities Medal, the White House’s announcement and the Sept. 10 award ceremony, see www.neh.gov/news/press-release/2015-09-03.

The Woodson Research Center at Rice’s Fondren Library maintains a major collection of manuscripts by McMurtry and his longtime collaborator, Diana Ossana. Information about this collection is available at: www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/ricewrc/00133/rice-00133.html.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.