The Southwest Collection is home to the papers of a number of prominent fiction and non-fiction writers, but few among them were as prolific as Western fiction writer Elmer Kelton. Born in 1926 in Horse Camp, Texas (a name that destined him to do something related to West Texas…), Kelton was raised on the McElroy Ranch near Crane, Texas, where his father worked for over thirty years. This experience among a host of others throughout his life shaped the ensuing five decades of non-stop composition.
After a stint at the University of Texas at Austin from 1942 to 1944, then 1946 to 1948 (sandwiching two years of service in the army during World War 2), he acquired a journalism degree and returned to West Texas where he spent over a decade writing for local newspapers. Kelton’s work appeared primarily the San Angelo Standard-Times, but pieces appeared throughout the region, such the one above from the Big Spring Daily Herald.
But it was the authorship of more than 30 novels that made his reputation. The resulting accolades are almost too many to list (but we’ll try). 3 Western Heritage Awards, given by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Center; 7 Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America; the Barbara McCombs/Lon Tinkle Award from the Institute of Texas Letters; a lifetime achievement award from the National Cowboy Symposium; and the first Lone Star award for lifetime Achievement from the Larry McMurtry Center for Arts and Humanities at Midwestern State University. Oh, and in April 1997 the Texas Legislature declared an Elmer Kelton Day.
Novel-writing and award receptions had to be scheduled around his other career. Kelton spent five years as Sheep and Goat Raiser Magazine’s editor, twenty-two as associate editor of Livestock Weekly, and of course, the diligent newspaper work that he continued until the 1990s. The excerpt above is an excellent example both of his prose and the sense of humor that permeated it (as well as a host of entertaining ads for the upcoming local rodeo).
As a longstanding member (over 40 years) of the Western Writers of America, Kelton often found himself collaborating with other writers. The letters below and above, dating from 1972, concern a project wherein several writers would compose a story by passing it from writer to writer, each of whom would add to it before giving it to the next. Although the outcome of this project wasn’t apparent from a brief search through the boxes of correspondence in his Papers, we suspect a dedicated researcher might find the answer someday.
Elmer Kelton’s catalog continued to grow even after his passing in 2009, with Texas Standoff, a novel in his Texas Rangers series, appearing posthumously in 2010. But honestly, our 500 words of description are hardly able to do justice to the man’s colossal body of work. His novels are widely available in libraries (including ours) and you’d do well to pick one up and read it through. Or, if you’d like to research further into the nuts and bolts of a famed Western writer’s process, our helpful Reference staff would be happy to get Kelton’s papers into your hands.