When Elmer Kelton died in the fall of 2009, the literary world lost a consummate writer, a man the New York Times called a “novelist who brought the sensibility of the old-style western to bear on a modern Texas landscape of oil fields and financially troubled ranches.” Kelton was also a modest, kind man, always willing to advise a struggling writer or write a blurb for a first time published author, or assign publishing rights to his six masterpieces to a small university press.
TCU Press owes a great debt of gratitude to Kelton, and this volume, Elmer Kelton: Memories and Essays, attempts to explore just what it is that made Kelton its leading author.
Editors Judy Alter and James Ward Lee gathered together a group of Kelton aficionados who had either published or taught or sold his books, or were simply friends. In several meetings, they divided up the main themes of Kelton’s writing: Alter provides the overview of Kelton’s career; Felton Cochran, longtime owner of Cactus Books in San Angelo, describes how the friendship between bookstore owner and author grew over the years; Ricky Burk, pastor of the church from which Kelton was buried, talks about the man’s influence in his community; Kelton’s son, Steve, explains how Kelton’s career as journalist permeated his novels; Ruth McAdams, who has taught Kelton for years, explores how he deals with the themes of endurance and change; Joyce Roach delicately covers how race and ethnicity figure in Kelton’s plots and the development of his unforgettable characters;
Lee gives readers his inimitable take on the Hewey Calloway Trilogy—The Good Old Boys, The Smiling Country, and Six Bits a Day; and Bob J. Frye takes a wry look at Kelton’s use of humor throughout his career. The book also contains Kelton’s own view of the history of the Western novel, a response to revisionist criticism. And finally Cochran provides us a list of most, not all, of Elmer Kelton’s extraordinary body of work.
Judy Alter is the former director of TCU Press and author of more than forty books. Her most recent books are Cooking My Way through Life with Books and Kids, published by State House Press (2009), and, with Katie Sherrod, Grace and Gumption: The Cookbook, published by TCU Press (2010).
James Ward Lee is the author of Classics of Texas Fiction (E-Heart Press, 1987), Texas, My Texas (UNT Press, 1992), Adventures with a Texas Humanist (TCU Press, 2007), and Texas Country Singers (TCU Press, 2008), among others. He is a fellow of the Texas Folklore Society and a member of the Texas Institute of Letters.