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Larry McMurtry, Pulitzer Prize-Winning American West Author, Dies At 84

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Larry McMurtry once took Susan Sontag to a stock car race. I wish I could have been a fly and buzzed around any plate of nachos they may have shared trackside to overhear that conversation. Larry McMurtry, a great novelist of the American West, died yesterday at the age of 84. He wrote more than 30 novels and shared an Academy Award for his screenplay of "Brokeback Mountain." His novel "Lonesome Dove" won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986, a story of two aging, leathery, retired Texas Rangers, Captain Woodrow Call and Captain Augustus McRae, and Deets, Pea-Eye Parker, Bolivar and Newt, their trail companions, on a ride to lead a herd of stolen cattle from the Rio Grande to Miles City, Montana, through a landscape of raids, ropes around the neck and loves.

The eastern sky was red as coals in a forge, Larry McMurtry wrote, lighting up the flats along the river. Dew had wet the million needles of the chaparral. And when the rim of the sun edged over the horizon, the chaparral seemed to be spotted with diamonds. A bush in the backyard was filled with little rainbows as the sun touched the dew.

It was tribute enough to sun-up that it could make even chaparral bushes look beautiful, Augustus thought. And he watched the process happily, knowing it would only last a few minutes. The sun spread reddish-gold light through the shining bushes, among which a few goats wandered, bleating. Even when the sun rose above the low bluffs to the south, a layer of light lingered for a bit at the level of the chaparral, as if independent of its source. Then the sun lifted clear like an immense coin. The dew quickly died, and the light that filled the bushes was like red dirt dispersed, leaving clear, slightly bluish air. The earth is mostly just a bone yard, wrote Larry McMurtry, but pretty in the sunlight. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.