The Wittliff features Larry McMurtry, Cormac McCarthy and many other masters of Classic Historical Fiction in new exhibition

San Marcos, TX
Released August 3, 2018

The Wittliff Collections puts the spotlight on authors who have brought to life the epic sweep of Texas history in its new exhibition, Literary Frontiers: Historical Fiction & the Creative Imagination.

For generations Texas writers have illuminated the human stories at the heart of legends and myths, from the trail driving cowboys in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Doveto the Indian wars in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and Paulette Jiles’ News of the World. The genre also includes the iconic Texas battles for independence in novels by Stephen Harrigan and Elizabeth Crook and stories of the 1900 Galveston hurricane by Ann Weisgarber and Joe R. Lansdale.

Lonesome Dove

Lonesome Dove by Shannon Stirnweis (detail), 1985

“The best historical fiction puts readers inside the minds of people making history,” says Wittliff Collections Southwestern Literature Curator Steve Davis. “These writers have breathed imaginative life into people of the past and made their times come alive for us.”

Literary Frontiers presents hand-written manuscripts, vintage maps, rare photographs, and artifacts such as the hunting watch owned by Paulette Jiles’ grandfather, which inspired the watch carried by her character Captain Jefferson Kidd in News of the World. The exhibition also includes artwork such as the original oil painting used as the cover art for the first edition of Lonesome Dove.

“You can trace the arc of the creative process in this exhibition,” Davis says. “You can see the authors’ original inspiration — and many of these novels were inspired by real-life people. You can also examine the authors’ research, their manuscript drafts showing their struggles to find the right vision, and then the hard work and perseverance that created these classic books.”

Davis points to David Marion Wilkinson’s Not Between Brothers as one of the best examples of a Texas epic on display. Wilkinson’s book vividly interweaves the lives of Anglos, Mexicanos, and American Indians in Texas from 1821 until the eve of the Civil War. “You get such a rich sense of the daily life, not to mention the grand adventures these people had — along with the terrible hardships they suffered and the heartbreaks they endured.”

Historical novels are best-known for focusing on clashes of empire and other pivotal events, but Davis says that the genre is incredibly diverse. “One way to present historical fiction is through the lens of family history, as you see in Sandra Cisneros’s Caramelo, which traces several generations of a family with stories dating back to the Mexican Revolution. Then you have a writer like Stephen Harrigan, whose topics cover everything from the fall of the Alamo to the young Abraham Lincoln to an artist working in early 20th century Texas.”

Read the full article at The Wittliff Collections website