On Saturday morning, March 9, 2024, the sun rose over Tucson, Arizona, after two days of overcast skies and rain. Fifteen years since the first Tucson Book Festival was held on the University of Arizona Mall, the book fest is one of the largest and best attended in the United States. True West and Western Writers of America have been a part of the festival from the beginning and have a long tradition of sharing a booth. This year Executive Editor Bob Boze Bell and Editor Stuart Rosebrook went to Tucson to represent the magazine and joined True West contributor and WWA’s Roundup Editor Johnny D. Boggs in managing the festive and very active booth, which was conveniently across from the Women Writing the West and Wolfpack Publishing tents.

The True West/Western Writers of America booth at the 2024 Tucson Book Festival was a crossroads of writers and friends of the magazine, including Rob Mathiasch, Bunker de France, Johnny D. Boggs, Venetia Hobson Lewis, Stuart Rosebrook and Bob Boze Bell.
Sue Ritchie


On Saturday, Bell, Boggs and Rosebrook hosted a sold-out workshop, “Western Publishing Today.” While the trio and the audience didn’t necessarily determine the current state of publishing, everyone agreed that whether people are analog or digital readers—or many times both—good stories—nonfiction or fiction—always win the day. The team encouraged the participants to keep researching, writing, pursuing their passion for writing, adapt to the new formats, learn to write in many different genres and, most importantly, not to give up their
day jobs.

I am thankful to all the volunteers who helped us with the booth, including Bunker de France, Tom Van Dyke, Venetia Hobson Lewis, Micki Fuhrman Milom and Robert Mathiasch.

Until next year, keep writing, keep reading and share your love of the West wherever you go!


Spur Awards

As is the tradition, the Western Writers of America announced the annual Spur Award winners and finalists. Congratulations to all Spur winners including True West’s contributors Candy Moulton for Best Biography, W. Michael Gear for Short Fiction and Craig Johnson for Best Contemporary Western Novel.

According to Spur Awards Chair R.G. Yoho, “This was certainly a good year for Western literature, song, documentary and poetry.”

Biography: Sacajawea: Mystery, Myth, and Legend by Candy Moulton (South Dakota Historical Society Press).

Contemporary Nonfiction Book: The Lost Cowboy by J.B. Zielke (independently published).

First Nonfiction Book: The Lost Cowboy by J.B. Zielke (independently published).

First Novel: The Last Man: A Novel of the 1927 Santa Claus Bank Robbery by Thomas Goodman (Mainsail Media).

Historical Nonfiction Book: Continental Reckoning: The American West in the Age of Expansion by Elliott West (University of Nebraska Press).

Historical Novel: Death in Tall Grass: A Young Man’s Journey Through the Western Frontier by Donald Willerton (independently published).

Original Mass-Market Paperback Novel: Gunmetal Mountain by John Shirley (Pinnacle Books/Kensington Publishing).

Traditional Novel: Aesop’s Travels: A Crackerjack Tale of the Old West by Daniel Boyd (Montag Press).

Contemporary Western Novel: The Longmire Defense by Craig Johnson (Viking).

Short Fiction: “Bad Choices: A Wyoming Chronicles Story” by W. Michael Gear, published in Ridin’ with the Pack: A Western Short Story Collection (Wolfpack Publishing).

Short Nonfiction: “‘Those invaluable but greatly abused members of the community’: Dogs and the Difference on the Great Plains in the Fur Trade Era” by David C. Beyreis (South Dakota History, Spring 2023).

Western Documentary Script: The American Buffalo by Dayton Duncan (PBS).

Song: “High Country Trail” by Syd Masters, released on the CD Cabin Songs (Deer Pine).

Poem: “Counting Cattle with the Fathers” by Shelley Armitage, published in A Habit of Landscape (Finishing Line Press).

For the full list of winners and finalists, please go to: westernwritersofamerica.wildapricot.org.


True Westerner Award Ceremony

On Saturday night, March 9, 2024, True West’s Executive Editor Bob Boze Bell and Editor Stuart Rosebrook presented Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad owner Al Harper with the 11th Annual True Westerner Award. The well-attended event was held at Old Tucson Studios in Tucson, Arizona, in conjunction with the Tucson Book Festival. Thanks to Al Harper for hosting the wonderful evening in the Grand Palace Saloon, which included drinks and a delicious buffet dinner.

Al Harper received the 2024 True Westerner award to a standing ovation in the Grand Palace Saloon at Old Tucson Studios on March 9, 2024. Natalie Eleftheriadis


True West magazine was honored to name Al Harper the 2024 True Westerner of the Year for his three decades of dedication to the promotion and preservation of the West, his service to educating generations of guests at his historic railroads—and now Old Tucson Studios—and his determination to keep the Old West alive and entertaining for all ages, now and for years to come.

According to Bell, “Al Harper has done more to preserve our Western heritage this past year than anyone, with his crew taking on the herculean task of bringing back Old Tucson from the near-dead. The park had fallen on rough times, then when the pandemic hit, the movie location sat dormant for two years and the desert took its toll. It’s a very tough situation, but I believe Al is the man to bring it back to life.”

The inaugural True Westerner award went to Oscar-winning screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Osana at the Tucson Festival of Books in March 2013. Since the first award, recipients have included Forrest Fenn (2014), Marshall Trimble, (2015), Abe Hayes (2016), Brian Lebel (2017), Robert G. McCubbin (2018), John Fusco (2019), Mike Fox (2020), Paul Andrew Hutton (2021), Phil Spangenberger (2022) and Candy Moulton (2023).


The Ballad of Billy

After the True Westerner Award ceremony, Old Tucson’s Grand Palace Theater Company surprised the audience with a performance of Ken Korpi’s The Ballad of Bonney Will, starring Daniel Gilmore (shown) as Billy the Kid. Natalie Eleftheriadis


Following the True Westerner presentation in the Grand Palace, Al Harper, the director of Old Tucson, surprised the audience by having the Old Tucson stock company entertain the crowd with the Ken Korpi original musical, The Ballad of Bonney Will.

Playwright Ken Korpi also directed and shared credit for the music with the musical’s arranger David Kirk Grant. The songs of the fast-paced, high-action musical tell the story of Billy the Kid, and the five-member cast keeps the audience on the edge of their seats as the story of the outlaw’s life unfolds before them on stage.

When asked how he was inspired to write a musical about the legendary outlaw, Korpi said, “It’s the injustice of it all that inspired me, really. I felt morally compelled to tell his story. My aim was never to paint him as a perfect hero, because he wasn’t. But he was a good person. He felt pain, empathy, regret…he did not want to kill most of the people he killed, but did so out of necessity. As I wrote at the end of the show, ‘History tends to cast memories in black and white, but Billy, he was a lot of gray area.’”

The Ballad of Bonney Will stars Daniel Gilmore as Billy the Kid, Benny James as Pat Garrett/Sheriff Brady, Braden Cooley as John Tunstall/Bob Ollinger/Charles Bowdre, Kevin Orduno as Dick Brewer and Lydia Chandler as JH Koogler/Middleton/George Coe/Paulita.

For information on visiting Old Tucson Studios and the schedule of performances of The Ballad of Bonney Will, go to oldtucson.com or call 520-883-0100.

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