PEN America Mourns Death of Novelist, Former PEN America President Larry McMurtry
Lauded writer served as a leader and Member of PEN America for decades
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — PEN America today mourns the death of writer Larry McMurtry, a novelist, screenwriter, and bookseller who served as PEN America’s President and was a staunch defender of free expression. McMurtry was elected president of PEN America’s Board of Trustees in 1989 and served a two-year term. The author of over 30 novels—including Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment, and The Last Picture Show—winner of a Pulitzer and an Oscar, McMurtry died at the age of 84.
“In addition to his epic portrayals and subversions of the American West, McMurtry was through and through a vigorous defender of the freedom to write,” said PEN America President Ayad Akhtar. “We’ve lost a giant of American literature, and a giant in the history of PEN America.”
In 1989, McMurtry testified before Congress on behalf of PEN America to oppose provisions of federal immigration laws that for decades allowed the United States to exclude writers and others on ideological grounds. He said those provisions of the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act “are an affront to all who cherish the constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and association. To a writer whose living depends upon the uninhibited interchange of ideas and experiences, these provisions are especially appalling.” Some of those provisions were ultimately repealed.
“At a moment when nativism and authoritarianism are on the rise, it’s a sad moment to mark the passing of one of the great writers who also rallied to the defense of those whom others tried to muzzle,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, author of Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All. “We are grateful for Larry’s contributions not just to PEN America, not just to American literature, but to the right to speak freely.”
McMurtry joined former PEN America Presidents Susan Sontag and Norman Mailer in 1993 demanding President Bill Clinton rally to the defense of Salman Rushdie some four years after Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a death threat for Rushdie for his text The Satanic Verses. “If our democracy and others around the world fail to recognize this horrifying act of international terrorism for what it is and to challenge it energetically, we can expect that other chilling decrees of this kind will be issued in the future, endangering the lives of writers, their translators, and their publishers,” he and his co-authors wrote in the New York Review of Books.
McMurtry also participated in numerous readings and panel discussion in defense of imprisoned writers globally. In 1988, he joined Allen Ginsberg, Susan Sontag, Judy Blume, Norman Mailer, and Bharati Mukherjee as they read from letters and notebooks of persecuted writers at the Church of the Holy Family in New York City. You can listen to a recording of that event at the PEN America digital archive, as well as other recordings featuring McMurtry.