Jim Turner

The Phippen Museum will offer free admission all day long for Writers of the Purple Sage, a presentation by historian and writer Jim Turner. Offered in cooperation with Arizona Humanities’ Speakers Bureau, AZ Speaks, Turner will discuss stories from Arizona novelists at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26, at the Phippen Museum, 4701 N. Highway 89, Prescott.

This presentation covers five Arizona novelists — Zane Grey, Harold Bell Wright, Richard Summers, Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce and Susan Lowell.

Grey spent his honeymoon at the Grand Canyon and went on to be one of the first and most famous Western writers of all time.

“I start with Zane Grey, he’s not really an Arizonan, but he wrote his first Westerns after visiting the Grand Canyon on a mountain lion hunt in 1905,” Turner said. “Before that, he was writing like baseball stories and naval sea stories and that sort of thing but he really got fascinated with the West.”

Wright came to Tucson with lung problems and became a best seller from 1900 to 1930.

“Most people don’t know him, but at one point in the 1920s, he outsold Zane Grey, everybody, he was a bestseller,” Turner said. “He wrote kind of the quintessential cowboy, ‘When a Man’s a Man,’ or ‘The Mine with the Iron Door,’ and they were terribly written, but they were very popular. I want to say like Stephen King but Stephen King is a good writer.

“Harold Bell Wright was a best seller because people liked his Western stories and they had a lot of homely atmosphere.”

Summers, a University of Arizona writing professor, wrote “Dark Madonna” in 1937, capturing Hispanic culture and folklore.

“Now, you’ve got a writer that’s telling it like it is,” Turner said. “It was during the Depression, and at the same time, John Steinbeck’s ‘Cannery Row’ came out and ‘Tortilla Flat,’ and I think Summers had that same idea because it’s about Mexican peasants and so is Steinbeck. So he kind of copies those.”

Wilbur-Cruce describes ranch life and the blending of Tohono O’odham, Hispanic and Anglo folkways in “A Beautiful, Cruel Country.”

“She grew up on a ranch down by the border, Mexican border east of Tucson. And she’s one of the top 10 Arizona writers,” Turner said. “It’s not a Wild West. It’s a True West, I guess you could call it.”

Lowell wrote an award-winning, young-adult novel about an Arizona ranch girl, “My Name is Lavina Cumming,” based closely on the life of her grandmother.

“I worked for Susan Lowell for a publishing company and she wrote this story about her grandmother,” Turner said. “Recently, I did some research with her because her grandmother left the ranch in 1906. I think she was about 8 years old. They put her on a train with a note saying, ‘I am Lavina Cumming, get me to this address in Santa Clara, California.’”

For more information about Jim Turner, visit www.jimturnerhistorian.org.

For more information on this or any other event at the Phippen Museum, call 928-778-1385, or visit www.phippenartmuseum.org.

Jesse Bertel is a reporter/videographer for the Prescott News Network. Follow him on Twitter @ JesseBertel, email him at jbertel@prescottaz.com, or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2043.

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