A Guide to the James Crumley Papers, 1965-1990
Novelist James Crumley was born in Three Rivers, Texas, on October 12, 1939 and spent most of his childhood in south Texas. He maintained a straight-A average in high school while also playing football. After graduation he attended the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta on a Navy ROTC scholarship, but soon left to enlist in the U.S. Army, where he served from 1958 to 1961. Crumley then returned to Texas and enrolled at Texas A and I (now Texas A and M University-Kingsville), where he had received a football scholarship. Crumley completed his BA in History in 1964, and was accepted into the University of Iowa’s prestigious creative writing program, where he earned a MFA in 1966. Immediately after graduating he joined the English faculty the University of Montana at Missoula. His masters thesis was eventually published as the novel, One Count to Cadence, in 1969, a popular and critically acclaimed look at the Vietnam War. After his novel was published, Crumley left Montana to hold a series of visiting professorships: the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville (1969-70), Colorado State University (1971-74), Reed College in Portland, Oregon (1976-1977), Carnegie-Mellon University (1979-1980) and the University of Texas at El Paso (1981-1984.)
During a two-year stretch as a freelance writer (1974-1976) Crumley published the first in a series of crime novels for which he would become known. The Wrong Case (1975) featured a detective named Milo Milodragovitch, who would also appear in later novels. “I always introduce my work by explaining that I am a bastard child of Raymond Chandler – without his books, my books would be completely different. We cover some of the same ground, his dark streets in LA, my twisted highways in the mountain west. But because of the events surrounding the Vietnam War, my detectives are not as comfortable with traditional morality as Philip Marlowe seems to be,” (Contemporary Authors, 2000).
In 1978 The Last Good Kiss (1978) was published, which introduced Crumley’s other detective protagonist, C.W. Sughrue. His third crime novel, Dancing Bear (Milodragovitch series), was published in 1983. After leaving his last teaching job in 1984, Crumley has worked full-time as a writer. He’s made his home base in Missoula, Montana since the mid-1980s. He has worked on film screenplays, which remain unproduced, and has continued to write and publish fiction. The Muddy Fork and Other Things : Short Fiction and Nonfiction was published in 1991, featuring many of Crumley’s short stories. The detective series continued with The Mexican Tree Duck (Sughrue series) in 1993, and Bordersnakes (1996), which brought together Milodragovitch and Sughrue for the first time.
According to Robert E. Burkholder in the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook (1984), Crumley’s crime novels stand “the genre on its head by creating an antiheroic protagonist plagued by the weakness and vice of the corrupt world in which he lives and works and endowing him, nevertheless, with the sort of noble instincts that motivate him to sift through the scum in order to identify right from wrong. Crumley’s detectives are curiously amoral moralists.”
Nine boxes of manuscripts, galley proofs, notes, clippings, correspondence, legal papers, photographs, poetry, screenplays, short stories and artifacts, 1957-1992 document James Crumley's writing career. The collection has been arranged into five series: 1. Works, 1965-1992; 2. Correspondence, 1957-1986; 3. Clippings 1971-1992; 4. Personal Materials, 1957-1979; and 5. Works by Other Authors, n.d.
The Works series comprises the largest part of the collection. It documents Crumley's writing process from drafts through proof copy or published work. The Novels subseries makes up the largest portion of the series, with the numerous Dancing Bear files documenting Crumley's changing ideas for titles and other aspects related to the novel. The Correspondence series contains mostly fan letters written to him, but also includes correspondence regarding the film rights for Crumley’s novel, One Count to Cadence. The Personal series contains photographs, certificates and legal documents related to Crumley’s education, military career, and marriages. Works by others include screenplays based on Crumley’s novel The Last Good Kiss, and poetry.
Series I : Works (1965-1992) The Works series comprises the largest part of the collection. It documents Crumley's writing process from drafts through proof copy or published work.
Subseries A : Novels (1965-1992) This subseries has been arranged in chronological order by date of the novel’s creation. This subseries makes up the largest portion of the Works series, with the numerous Dancing Bear files documenting Crumley's changing ideas for titles and other aspects related to the novel. Although multiple drafts of each work are present, the drafts typically include only the first few chapters of the work. The specific portions of each work represented and any variant titles are identified by the folder titles. Each of Crumley’s novels is represented here, including one unpublished novel, by the title “Meat”.
Subseries B : Short Stories (1971-81) This subseries has been arranged in alphabetical order by title, and includes mainly annotated typescripts and fragments of each short story, as well as one galley, and one carbon copy.
Subseries C: Screenplays (1978-90) Arranged in alphabetical order by title of screenplay, this series includes typescripts of screenplays based on Crumley’s novels Dancing Bear and The Last Good Kiss, as well others not based on Crumley’s novels.
Subseries D : Poetry (n.d.) This series is arranged alphabetically by title and includes two annotated typescripts of poems apparently written by Crumley.
Series II : Correspondence (1957-1986) Arranged in order from earliest to most recent, the correspondence in this series consists largely of fan letters written to Crumley, as well as two 1957 letters from Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson congratulating Crumley on his scholastic achievements. Several drafts of letters written by Crumley are also included, such as a 1969 letter to MGM studios regarding a film treatment of One Count to Cadence.
Series III : Clippings (1971-1992) This series includes newspaper and magazine articles related to Crumley’s literary career.
Series IV : Personal (1957-1979) This series contains photographs, certificates and legal documents related to Crumley’s education, military career, and marriages, as well as a steel hardhat and cap.
Series V : Works by Others
Subseries A : Screenplays (n.d.) Arranged in alphabetical order by author, this subseries includes two screenplays based on Crumley’s novel The Last Good Kiss.
Subseries B : Poetry (n.d.) Also arranged in alphabetical order by author, this subseries includes poetry by Kathy Callaway (1 folder), various authors (1 folder), and unidentified authors (1 folder).
Open for research.
Gift donated by James Crumley, 1992.
Processed by Alicia Leschper and Amanda York, 2001.
One Count to Cadence. New York : Random House, 1969; The Wrong Case. New York : Random House, 1975; The Last Good Kiss. New York : Random House, 1978; Dancing Bear. New York : Random House, 1983; The Mexican Tree Duck. New York : Random House, 1993; Bordersnakes. New York : Mysterious Press, 1996; and The Muddy Fork and Other Things : Short Fiction and Nonfiction. Livingston, Montana : Clark City Press, 1991.
Detailed Description of the Collection