The decade-spanning, ebbing and flowing career of playwright Horton Foote, who died yesterday at 92, seems about as rewarding as a writer could hope for. His mantel was weighted with two Oscars, a Drama Desk career achievement award and a Pulitzer Prize, though no Tony—for a man who penned more than 60 plays and films, his work only rarely crossed paths with Broadway.
My own experiences with Foote's work are minimal but powerful. The screen versions of To Kill a Mockingbird, which Foote adapted from Harper Lee's novel, and The Trip to Bountiful, filmed more than three decades after its stage debut, were both required viewing for my high school AP Lit class. I read The Young Man from Atlanta in college, which I found at the time to be a profoundly empathetic reframing of the Southern drawing-room drama. And just under a year ago, I was lucky enough to see the Goodman's remount of Signature Theatre Company's Bountiful revival, which I reviewed here.
The Times obituary by Wilborn Hampton, Foote's fellow Texan whose biography of the playwright is due in September, does justice both to Foote's lasting impact and to the writerly life. I particularly like the last graf:
“I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing,” he said in a 1999 interview. “I write almost every day. I’d write plays even if they were never done again. You’re at the mercy of whatever talent you have.”