“In the tradition of Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, the writers, assembled at the Spur Hotel, quickly disperse in all directions from the intersection of Center and Main to chat with the locals, closely observe their customs and way of life and craft stories from their interviews and observations. Around noon each day, they head down to Larry’s favorite diner, the Archer City Dairy Queen, chat with the locals and engage in a deep conversation about the art and craft of storytelling. To remind them of the importance of storytelling to the community, Getschow encourages his students to carry copies of Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen with them wherever they go.
“So many great writers and great stories have emerged out of the Archer City Writers Workshop over the last decade that it’s formed its own mythology, its own legend. Just as this one-stoplight town and the windswept prairies surrounding it inspired a young rancher named Larry McMurtry to produce a crop of novels that many consider the greatest western literature of all time — Horseman, Pass By; The Last Picture Show; and Lonesome Dove — Archer City has spawned a new generation of up-and-coming authors of literary nonfiction.” George Getschow
The Archer City Writers Workshop is a fluid group of writers of all levels who gather in Larry McMurtry’s hometown to soak in the atmosphere that gave birth to his stories.
The roots of the ACWW go back to 2005, when George Getschow, then writer-in-residence and lecturer at the University of North Texas’ Frank W. and Sue Mayborn School of Journalism, would teach his literary journalism class in Archer City.
Following the close of the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference each July, George would lead the students, plus a few nationally renowned writers who had spoken at the conference, to Archer City for immersion into the landscape and people who lived in Larry McMurtry’s home place.
After George’s retirement, the literary journalism class no longer made the pilgrimage to Archer City but a group of alumni and professional writers continued the tradition by gathering to encourage and learn from each other.
A list of year by year meetings and speakers doesn’t really tell the story of what happens with the ACWW. Although there’s plenty of dust, and plenty of references to Archer City as a dusty town, common sense tells you it’s not magic dust that produces writers in the fashion of McMurtry.
But something does happen. The swirling alchemy of atmosphere and people who care about telling stories, the importance of place, and filling it with memorable characters makes magic.
Each workshop is different. But each time, the magic still happens. A writer’s eyes are opened to new possibilities for a story he or she had been stuck on. A tired writer is energized by the enthusiasm of a new writer. The confidence of a new writer is boosted by the encouragement of a veteran. A discouraged writer is reminded of what he or she is called to do. Beginners find their voice.
Brief history of AC classes/workshops –
2005-2014 — Literary journalism graduate class from the University of North Texas’ Frank and Sue Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism taught by George Getschow. For the first couple of years, the class was three weeks long. It was shortened to a week in later years.
2014 — George’s last UNT class in Archer City.
2015 — Informal gathering of alumni and Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference speakers and attendees, including Kim Cross, Ron Powers, Bill Marvel, and George.
2016 — Kim directed invitation-only workshop under the Archer City Story Center name with writing coach and former University of Missouri journalism professor Jacqui Banaszynski, Canadian writer Eva Holland, and author and former editor of the Best American Sports Writing series Glenn Stout also leading. Also under the Story Center name, Sarah Junek held a workshop for high school students.
A Mayborn literary journalism alumni group met for a brief workshop/reunion.
2017 — Kim directed an invitation-only workshop with Glenn after the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference again under the Archer City Story Center name. Glenn directed a three-day book proposal workshop at the Spur just before the Mayborn Conference.
In early August, George led the first organized workshop under the Archer City Writers Workshop name with discussions led by Erik Calonius, Skip Hollandsworth, Bill Marvel, and Eric Nishimoto.
2018 — The Archer City Writers Workshop met at the Spur immediately after the Mayborn Conference, with sessions led by George, Bill, Erik, Joe Pappalardo, and Glenn. We held a community event at the Royal Theater with Brantley Hargrove, an AC alumnus, speaking about his book, The Man Who Caught the Storm: The Life of Legendary Tornado Chaser Tim Samaras.
2019 — With a grant from the Wichita Falls Area Community Foundation Royal C. “Bingo” Kinder Advised Fund, the ACWW was able to host another community event at the Royal Theater to cap workshops led by George, Julia Flynn Siler, Bill Marvel, Ben Montgomery, Jason Ryan, and James Scott. At the Royal, Ben spoke about his book, The Man Who Walked Backward: An American Dreamer’s Search for Meaning in the Great Depression. A panel led by Erik Calonius discussed how historical writers bring life to characters long dead. Jason, James, and Julie were panelists.
2020 — In early 2020, the ACWW received another grant from the Wichita Falls Area Community Foundation Royal C. “Bingo” Kinder Advised Fund, but when the pandemic shut travel and gatherings down, the WFACF extended the time limit on using the funds through early 2022.