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Myra Dell McLarey (1942–)

Howard County native Myra Dell McLarey is a teacher and an author of a wide variety of works, many influenced by her childhood in southwest Arkansas. She is best known for her 1995 debut novel Water from the Well, a semi-autobiographical work of fiction set in the fictional town of Sugar Springs, Arkansas.

Myra Dell McLarey, the youngest of five children, was born on September 5, 1942, in Okay (Howard County), the company town of the Okay Cement Plant, to Charles Drowns McLarey Jr. and Josie Earline Fincher McLarey. Her father was a supervisor at the cement plant as well as a deputy sheriff and the elected constable of the Saratoga-Okay township; her mother was a homemaker and later a nurse.

McLarey attended school at Okay and then went to high school at the nearby town of Saratoga (Howard County), graduating in 1960. Following graduation, McLarey attended Abilene Christian College, Texarkana College, and Trinity University (San Antonio) before earning a bachelor’s degree in history from Southern State College (now Southern Arkansas University) in Magnolia (Columbia County) in 1964 and a master’s degree in history from Central Missouri State (now University of Central Missouri) in Warrensburg in 1965. She later studied at the Breadloaf School of English at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, and did doctoral work in African-American history and the history of the West at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) before completing course work for a doctorate in education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1995.

McLarey taught literature at a high school in Maine from 1970 to 1986 before serving on the faculty of the Tennessee Governor’s Academy for Writing Teachers (1987–1995) and teaching writing at Harvard (1991–2000). She has also taught at Emerson University, the University of New Hampshire, and the New England Conservatory of Music. She is currently serving in the English department at Ensworth High School in Nashville, Tennessee, and has served on the faculty of the Institute for Writing and Thinking at Bard College. McLarey married Steven Prati on December 31, 1982, and has one daughter.

McLarey’s Water from the Well has been described as a work of “place” and brings to life the characters, locations, and memories of southwest Arkansas through a century’s worth of short tales that explore a rural community divided by race. Water from the Well was a finalist for the Lillian Smith Award, which “honors those authors who, through their writing, carry on [Lillian] Smith’s legacy of elucidating the condition of racial and social inequity and proposing a vision of justice and human understanding.”

In addition to Water from the Well, McLarey is the co-author of Moncrief, My Journey to the NBA (1990), written with Arkansas basketball legend Sidney Moncrief, as well a children’s book, When You Take a Pig to a Party (2000), written with her daughter, Kristina. She is also the co-author of “Scrappers,” a screenplay about a season of girl’s basketball. Her novel, The Road to Eden’s Ridge (2002), is “a love story evocative of The Bridges of Madison County” and was co-authored with Linda Weeks under the pen name M. L. Rose. Her latest novel, The Last Will and Testament of Rosetta Sugars Tramble, was published in 2011 and was nominated for the Lillian Smith Book Award, given to recognize books that challenge readers on issues of racial and social justice.

For additional information:
Bausch, Richard. “Talkies.” The New York Times. October 29, 1995. Online at http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/12/20/nnp/morgan-pleasure.html (accessed April 9, 2014).

Dixon, Joyce. “Review of Water from the Well.” Southern Scribe: Our Culture of Storytelling. http://www.southernscribe.com/reviews/general_fiction/water_well.htm (accessed April 9, 2014).

Myra McLarey. http://www.myramclarey.com/ (accessed April 9, 2014).

Ryan Parson
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated 4/9/2014

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