University of Texas at Austin

Shelby Hearon:

An Inventory of Her Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator Hearon, Shelby, 1931-2016
Title Shelby Hearon Papers
Dates: 1966-1996
Extent: 41 boxes (17.8 linear feet), 1 oversize box, and 9 galley folders
Abstract: These papers document Shelby Hearon's extensive literary career through manuscripts, galley proofs, research materials, correspondence and photographs. The collection provides insight into Hearon's work patterns, in particular her research methodology and attention to detail. Correspondence with her agent and editor and their comments on new story ideas and marketing plans provide additional interest.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-01891
Language: English
Access Open for research. Researchers must create an online Research Account and agree to the Materials Use Policy before using archival materials. Part or all of this collection is housed off-site and may require up to three business days’ notice for access in the Ransom Center’s Reading and Viewing Room. Please contact the Center before requesting this material:

Administrative Information

Acquisition Purchase, 1994-96 (R13123, R13723)
Processed by Jennifer Peters, 1996

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Shelby Reed was born in 1931 in Marion, Kentucky, and raised in Kentucky and Texas. She displayed an early talent for writing, winning first place in the Texas Interscholastic League ready-writing contest her senior year in high school. After graduating from The University of Texas at Austin in 1953, she married attorney Robert Hearon and turned to raising a family. She was active in the Austin community, serving as president of the PTA, Junior League of Austin, and Planned Parenthood.
In 1962, Hearon began writing fiction, feeling that she had "no work that grew out of my own personal identity." After five years of rewriting and revision, she sent her first completed novel, Armadillo in the Grass, over the transom to Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., where it was discovered by editor Judith Jones and published in 1968. The story of artist Clara Blue and her emerging artistic sensibility won immediate acclaim. Since then, Hearon has published thirteen novels, a biography of Barbara Jordan, and numerous short stories and articles for magazines, newspapers, and journals, such as Redbook, McCall's, Cosmopolitan, The Writer, Dallas Morning News, Harper's Bazaar, Texas Monthly, Readers Digest, GQ, Family Circle, Southwest Review, and Mississippi Review. After publishing books with Doubleday and Atheneum, Hearon returned to Knopf in 1989 with the publication of Owning Jolene.
Hearon's writing focuses on women, often from an upper middle-class background, who are searching for their own identity and voice. Most of her novels have some connection to Texas. The ties of family and friends, a focus on appearance versus reality, and an interest in science further enhance Hearon's plots. A meticulous writer, Hearon researched her topics thoroughly and made considerable revisions before submitting a finished manuscript.
Hearon's skill as a writer were recognized with awards, grants, and teaching opportunities. She wass a five-time recipient of the NEA/PEN Syndication short story prize, and twice won the Texas Institute of Letters fiction prize. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship for Fiction in 1982, a NEA Creative Writing Fellowship in 1983, an Ingram Merrill grant in 1987, and an American Academy of Arts and Letters fiction award in 1990 for Owning Jolene. She won the New York Women in Communications Award in 1984. She taught at a number of colleges, including Bennington College, the University of Houston, the University of California at Irvine, University of Illinois at Chicago, Colgate University, and the University of Miami. She served on the Texas Commission on the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts.
Hearon died on December 10, 2016, in Burlington, Vermont.

Scope and Contents

The Shelby Hearon papers contain manuscripts, galley proofs, research materials, notes, correspondence, clippings, photographs, and other printed material, and are arranged in two series: I. Books, 1966-1996 (35 boxes), which contains research notes, manuscripts, and promotional files for all of Hearon's books published between 1968 and 1994; and II. Working Files, 1968-96 (6 boxes), which contains a broad assortment of files pertaining to other aspects of Hearon's writing.
Hearon's literary career is well documented in this collection. The files trace Hearon's emerging voice as a novelist, beginning with her talks to womens' groups in the late 1960s and early 1970s focusing on the importance of taking time away from family for one's self, and following her growth into a full-time working writer. Besides books, Hearon's short stories, articles, and book reviews are collected, highlighted by two unpublished stories and one unpublished article from 1974. Also of interest are the files devoted to Hearon's single work of non-fiction, a co-authored autobiography of Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. Non-manuscript material in Series II spotlights Hearon's other literary activities, such as grant requests, lectures, and correspondence pertaining to new editions of her books. Taken as a whole, the collection offers an overview of the career of a late 20th-century midlist writer.
The collection also reveals Hearon's working patterns, illustrating the attention to detail that characterizes all aspects of her writing, from her earliest research, which includes traveling to the place about which she is writing, collecting newspapers, photographs, conversational tidbits, and history, through her many manuscript revisions, following a manuscript from its outline and early notes to galley proofs. Titles are further enriched by the presence of files documenting the promotion and reception of each title, from clippings, to correspondence with the publisher, to fan mail. The researcher should be aware that the materials in this collection contain only a small amount of personal information, much of which must be inferred from documents pertaining to her professional career.
The papers contain a mix of original folders and files created from loose materials by the archivist. Folders with titles in single quotes denote Hearon's original files, whereas those without generally contain materials grouped by subject by the cataloger. The original files are marked by a fluidity of title; Hearon often started a folder for one reason and added related materials later. As a result, date ranges in single folders can be very broad. Additionally, related material is often split up. Researchers may want to check a number of different files for materials relating to the same subject.
Similarly, correspondence can be found throughout the collection, in addition to the files devoted to correspondence in Series II. An index at the end of the finding aid gives the box and folder number for each correspondent; due to its scattered nature, all of Hearon's outgoing correspondence is indexed as well. Of particular note are the files in both series for Hearon's agent Wendy Weil and her editors Judith Jones, Sally Arteseros, and Thomas A. Stewart. Pertaining mainly to the actual publication process, the letters also document the agent's and editor's initial reaction to a new manuscript, and their ideas for marketing and promotion of a title. Additionally, because Hearon developed warm relationships with these figures, their letters exchanged personal as well as professional information. Correspondence with contemporary writers of note such as Allan Gurganus, Sue Kaufman, Reynolds Price, and Anne Tyler is present in this collection, but the letters tend to be single formal exchanges. Far more interesting are the correspondents to whom Hearon wrote while researching her books, such as J. Eddie Weems and Ross Gandy, who give her background information on, respectively, Waco, Texas, and Mexico City after the earthquake.
Additional notes, drafts, and clippings relating to Afternoon of a Faun, Five Hundred Scorpions, Group Therapy, Hug Dancing, Life Estates (under title "Friends for Life"), and Owning Jolene are available at the Southwestern Writers Collection at Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.

Series Descriptions

Index Terms


Arteseros, Sally
Bacon, Paul, 1923-
Broyles, William
Busch, Frederick, 1941-
Cheever, Benjamin, 1948-
Davison, Peter
Eisenhower, Josh S. D., 1922-
Gandy, Daniel Ross, 1935-
Geeslin, Campbell
Graves, John, 1920-
Hirsch, Edward
Jones, Judith
Nicholas, Nancy
Stewart, Thomas A.
Weems, J. Eddie, 1924-
Weil, Wendy


Pressworks Publishing, Inc. (Dallas, Texas)


Jordon, Barbara, 1936-
Authors, American--Texas
American fiction--20th century
Women authors

Document Types

Book reviews
First drafts
Galley proofs

Shelby Hearon Papers--Detailed Description