The Western Writers of America lasso the best books of the year

March 20, 2013

Once they covered the literary landscape like the America buffalo, but nowadays Westerns seem to have ridden off into the sunset.

“Horse-puckey!” say the weather-beaten fans. Westerns may be down, but they’re not out. The true believers are still there, writin’ and readin’ the stuff. And the keepers of that campfire flame are the members of the Western Writers of America. Since 1953 — just before “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza” blasted onto American television screens — the WWA has recognized the best of the the genre.

Yesterday in Encampment, Wyo., they announced the winners of their annual prizes:

Robert M. Utley’s “Geronimo” (Yale Univ. Press) won for Best Western Nonfiction-Biography. In The Washington Post’s review, H.W. Brands wrote, “Geronimo famously eluded the United States Army during his lifetime, and he has been dodging historians since his death. Robert M. Utley, a distinguished chronicler of the West and author of a biography of Sitting Bull, is the latest to make the chase, and he has succeeded as well as anyone will.” This is the third time that Utley has won. Before retiring in 1980, he lived in Washington and worked for the National Park Service and the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

Thomas Cobb won the 2013 Spur Award for Best Western Long Novel for “With Blood in Their Eyes” (Univ. of Arizona Press), a historical novel that recreates a bloody shootout in Arizona in 1918. One of Cobb’s earlier novels was adapted as the 2009 movie “Crazy Heart,” which earned Jeff Bridges an Academy Award. This is the second time that Cobb has won the Spur.

Winners in 17 categories will be recognized at the WWA convention in Las Vegas June 25-29.

Follow on Twitter @RonCharles.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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