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James Crumley Papers

Identifier: SWWC-055

Scope and Contents

Nine boxes of manuscripts, galley proofs, notes, clippings, correspondence, legal papers, photographs, poetry, screenplays, short stories and artifacts, 1957-1992, document the writing career of James Crumley. The collection has been arranged into five series: Works, 1965-1992; Correspondence, 1957-1986; Clippings 1971-1992; Personal Materials, 1957-1979; and Works by Others, undated.

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 to Count 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.


  • 1965-1992, undated


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Materials from the Wittliff Collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. The user assumes responsibility for determining copyright status, obtaining permission to publish, and abiding by U.S. copyright laws.

Biographical Notes

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&I (now Texas A&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 at the University of Montana at Missoula. His masters thesis was eventually published as the novel, "One to Count 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.”

Crumley’s final published works include The Putt at the End of the World (2000); the Milodragovitch series novel, The Final Country (2001); and one in the Sughrue series, The Right Madness (2005). He passed away September 17, 2008 from complications from kidney and pulmonary disease.


5 Linear Feet

9 boxes (Includes oversize and artifacts.)

Language of Materials


Metadata Rights Declarations

  • The descriptive data created for this finding aid is licensed under the CC0 Creative Commons license and is free for use without restriction.


Nine boxes of manuscripts, galley proofs, notes, clippings, correspondence, legal papers, photographs, poetry, screenplays, short stories and artifacts, 1957-1992, document the writing career of James Crumley.

Physical Location

Materials may be stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use:

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Crumley, 1992.

Related Materials

Also see James Crumley Additions (UPWC 14140).

Guide to the James Crumley Papers
Alicia Leschper and Amanda York
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2011: Finding aid revised by Maggie DeBrecht.
  • 2021: Revised for ArchivesSpace by Susannah Broyles.

Repository Details

Part of the The Wittliff Collections Repository

601 University Drive
San Marcos Texas 78666 USA