Tucson is the arts capital of Arizona, though some might consider this a somewhat dubious distinction. There are scores of artists and artisans who call the desert home, and there are galleries throughout the Old Pueblo showing everything from your basic cowboy-and-Indian portraits to the cutting-edge avant-garde. World-famous Southwestern artists like Ted DeGrazia and Maynard Dixon have called the Old Pueblo home.
The city is awash in the arts and images of Mexico, and that nation’s folk arts are particularly popular as both tourist souvenirs and local decor. Despite being hundreds of miles from the Navajo and Hopi Reservations in northeastern Arizona, Tucson is known throughout the Southwest as a center for Native American arts, and February’s Southwest Indian Arts Fair on the grounds of the University of Arizona’s Arizona State Museum is one of the largest and most popular events of its kind.
Tucson has a literary tradition going back to its early days, and in the early 20th century the nation’s best-selling author, Harold Bell Wright, moved to the city because of sickness and later claimed that Tucson had saved his life. Perhaps the three best-known authors to have lived in the Old Pueblo are Edward Abbey, J. A. Jance, and Pulitzer-winning Barbara Kingsolver. Abbey, one of the west’s most famous tricksters, polemicists, novelists, and nature writers, lived in Tucson off and on for many years, and is buried somewhere out in the desert southwest of the city in a secret grave.
Jance is a best-selling mystery novelist whose plots often play out in Bisbee and Cochise County. Kingsolver, author of a trilogy of novels that take place in Tucson, among many other works, lived in Tucson for many years and even freelanced for the Tucson Weekly, a popular alternative weekly here.
Another Old Pueblo writer with a national reputation is the great Charles Bowden, who used to be on the staff of the dying afternoon daily the Tucson Citizen and has over the last 20 years or more written several nonfiction works revealing the darker sides of the Sunbelt and the borderlands. Friends of mine who work the few local big-box bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble have reported somewhat regular sightings of two great American writers: Cormac McCarthy, author of several novels about the Southwest, including one, Blood Meridian, in which Southern Arizona figures briefly; and Larry McMurtry, author of the The Last Picture Show, Lonesome Dove, and many others.
Perhaps Tucson’s most famous resident, though she doesn’t live here full-time, is Linda Ronstadt, the beloved singer who hit her peak in popular music in the 1970s but continues to sing and tour and is a very popular figure in the Old Pueblo, as her family dates back here to territorial times.
The city’s most robust arts-related economy has since the 1940s centered on the film industry. This has largely been the result of the building of Old Tucson Studios, and the popularity over much of the 20th century of the Western, for which Tucson and its environs often provided the iconic scenery.
© Tim Hull from Moon Tucson, 1st Edition