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Larry L. King, author of numerous essays, memoirs, and political narratives for Harper’s Magazine between 1965 and 1971, passed away on December 20 at the age of 83. King was a contributing editor for the magazine during Willie Morris’s tenure as editor-in-chief; he also wrote for Texas Monthly and many other publications, and was perhaps best known as the author of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which began as a reported story for Playboy and eventually became a Broadway musical.
The New York Times’s obituary identified some of the hallmarks of King’s writing:
Mr. King had a big personality suffused with humor, characteristics evident in his work. Critics often noted his affinity for the wordplay, wry attitude and joy in the existence of scalawags that were hallmarks of Mark Twain. Nor was he, like Twain, loath to cast aspersions on the dull, the self-righteous and the oafish.
The Times also singles out King’s “The Old Man,” which was published in the April 1971 issue of Harper’s. The memoir places King’s wry sensibility in the service of a sincere and tender exploration of his relationship with his father, a farmer and blacksmith whose time stretched “from five years before men on horseback rushed to homestead the Cherokee Strip to a year beyond man’s first walk on the moon”:
Old Man, I thought, what is the secret? What keeps you interested, laughing, loving each breath? I remembered his enthusiastic voice on the telephone when I told him I had given my son his middle name: “I’m puttin’ a five-dollar bill in the mail to buy him his first pair of long pants. Put it up and keep it. I want that exact five-dollar bill to pay for my namesake’s first long pants.” Grand satisfactions had visited his face earlier on our Austin trip when my son brought him a gigantic three-dollar pocket watch. The boy had shoved it at him — “Here, Grand Dad, this is for you, I bought it out of my allowance” — and then had moved quickly away from the dangers of sentimental thanks and unmanly hugs.
More from Harper’s Magazine:
Official Business — March 17, 2015, 4:01 am
Listen to the broadcast version of “American Hustle,” Alexandra Starr’s story, for the April 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine, about how elite youth basketball exploits African athletes.
Official Business — January 8, 2015, 3:57 pm
We defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish its cartoons—and our right to critique them.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”