Written by: 
Lisa Sciortino

The shelves of a large bookcase that inhabits the Flower Mound home of George Getschow cradle copies of every published book written by his late friend Larry McMurtry ('58).

A Pulitzer Prize- and Academy Award-winning author and screenwriter, McMurtry, who earned an English degree at UNT, is considered one of America's most influential writers.

Each of the books on those shelves contains a simple handwritten inscription: "To George, in friendship."

Pastures of the Empty Page book cover

"That means the most to me. He cared about our friendship. He honored our friendship by being there whenever I needed him," says Getschow, a Pulitzer Prize finalist who taught literary journalism at UNT's Frank W. and Sue Mayborn School of Journalism from 2002 to 2017 prior to retiring.

A longtime writer and former bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, Getschow spent more than a decade as the writer in residence for UNT's annual Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, a premier event he co-founded in 2005 for aspiring and experienced writers from throughout the nation.

Now Getschow is honoring the friendship he forged with McMurtry, a lifelong resident of Archer City, located about two dozen miles southwest of Wichita Falls.

He curated and edited the recently published book Pastures of the Empty Page: Fellow Writers on the Life and Legacy of Larry McMurtry (University of Texas Press). The collection of essays was penned by a "conclave" of more than three dozen Texas and national writers who did so at Getschow's personal request.

In the essays they share about McMurtry's impact on their respective lives and literature. Among the writers are Skip Hollandsworth, executive editor of Texas Monthly; The Gates of the Alamo novelist and screenwriter Stephen Harrigan; and McMurtry's longtime writing partner Diana Ossana.

Workshop Beginnings

Besides serving as editor, Getschow also wrote the introduction for Pastures chronicling McMurtry's extraordinary life as a cowboy, bibliophile, novelist and screenwriter.

The book's title is derived from an essay by McMurtry who, prior to his 2021 death, wrote dozens of novels including Lonesome Dove and The Last Picture Show, screenplays such as the 2006 Oscar winner Brokeback Mountain, essays and short stories that laid waste to popular literature's oft-fabled notions about cowboy life in the American West.

"Every essay in the book provides a piece to this puzzle of, 'Who was Larry McMurtry? Why did he become this incredible writer, this incredible screenwriter, this incredible book collector and antiquarian bookseller?'" Getschow says.

In 2005, Getschow and Mitch Land, former dean of the Mayborn School of Journalism, launched the Archer City Writers Workshop, bringing students from the Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism to Archer City annually to take part in a weekslong program that ran for a decade. It became known as the Archer City Writers Workshop.

McMurtry learned about the workshop early in its existence and for years made himself available — along with his Archer City home and legendary bookstore, Booked Up, which housed more than 400,000 titles — to Getschow, the students and professional writers in attendance.

"The students enjoyed hanging out with Larry. They enjoyed hanging out with people of the town that took us in and made us feel part of the community. It was a very special experience and the highlight of my career as a teacher at UNT," Getschow says.

A 'Life Changing' Experience

In compiling and editing the book, Getschow was struck by the reach of McMurtry's impact.

"What I found was that Larry's influence on every Texas writer is unfathomable," Getschow says.

Kathy Floyd briefly met McMurtry while attending the Archer City Writers Workshop in 2013 as a student in Mayborn's graduate certificate in narrative journalism program. She describes the workshop as "life changing."

Floyd now serves as administrator of the Archer City Writers Workshop, which continues to host alumni of Getschow's original program as well as professional writers, aspiring writers with other jobs and high school students from Archer City. An essay she wrote is among those included in Pastures.

"Being able to talk with some of the other writers who contributed to the book, I never thought that would be possible. I just feel very fortunate to be part of it," she says.

Getschow says, "What we've done with Pastures is provide an intimate portrait of America's greatest Western writer and, frankly, one of America's greatest novelists."

Proceeds from the book's sales have been dedicated to a nonprofit foundation called The Archer City Writers Workshop: A Living Legacy to Larry McMurtry. Getschow and Floyd set up the foundation to create and support a permanent writing center in Acher City for aspiring and professional writers seeking to emulate McMurtry's storytelling skills.

Getschow considers the book his way "of returning the endless favors that Larry did for me — the greatest favor of which was meeting with my students and professional writers who flocked to Archer City over the years hoping to channel Larry as their muse."