When I started this blog about finding the perfect western, one of the goals was to start reading as many award winning westerns as I could find. Since 1953, the Western Writers of America have been giving out a variety of accolades called the Spur Awards for numerous categories of storytelling. I decided that I would pick my favorite western novels that had not won Spur awards, then read the novels that beat them the year that they were published. Easier said than done.
There are nearly a dozen types of awards given out. I still have trouble understanding the difference between “Best Western Novel” and “Best Novel of the West”. The categories also change names over time, so trying to figure out which category my favorite novels should have fit into became a near impossible task. Once I took a few random guesses at category, I began trying to track down some of these novels that represented the best of the genre.
Several I could not find, in on-line books stores, ebay, or inter library loans. Two others I did manage to track down, but frankly they read as alarmingly simple and not particularly worth my time. I had seen some memorable books on the winners list (Aces & Eights by Loren Estleman, several books from the Lonesome Dove series, etc) but the books were terribly inconsistent. The “Spur Award Winner” logo quickly faded as a sure signal that I was holding a quality book.
Two years ago I noticed that a creative writing professor from my alma mater had won a Spur Award, quite surprising since I didn’t recall him ever writing a western in the past. Far Bright Star not only won the Spur, but it also received great praise from critics outside the genre as well. Recently I picked up Shavetail, more for the main character’s background as New Englander going west than for it being s Spur winner. As I am close to the end I find it to be an engrossing, well written book well worth the award.
The Spur Award seems to have gone through a series of changes over the years, but I am increasingly confident that future award winners will be worth my time, and yours.