Three chords and the literary truth: Willie Nelson to join Texas Institute of Letters

Perhaps it was because we were concerned about his health. Perhaps it was because he’s no Red-Headed Stranger to honors of the sort. Either way, almost two weeks have gone by since it was announced that hometown icon Willie Nelson was elected to the Texas Institute of Letters.

And this is the first we’ve mentioned it. Sorry, Willie. We’re still good, right?

The Texas Institute of Letters was founded in 1936 to “celebrate Texas literature and recognize distinctive literary achievement.” Among its honorees are such Lone Star literary icons as Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry and Sarah Bird and Americo Paredes.

RELATED: The Year in Willie — He’s not only still not dead, he’s lapping the field

And yet, Nelson is the first songwriter to be honored — as a songwriter. That distinction is necessary: Joe Ely was inducted last year, but for his literary efforts.

Perhaps that is what sparked the internal debate at the TIL that led to the rules being changed to allow songwriters to be honored.

"We began having discussions among the TIL council about quality writers whose works don't always result in 'books' — playwrights, screenwriters, and, of course, songwriters," TIL president Steven Davis told the Dallas Morning News. "The best writers in these genres are every bit as accomplished as authors of books — and yet the TIL has traditionally overlooked them.”

PHOTOS: Willie Nelson through the years

Where Nelson may have gained attention in recent years for such free-spirited songs as “Still Not Dead” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” it shouldn’t be forgotten he’s written such standards as “Night Life,” “Family Bible” and “Crazy,” as well as the spare poetry of such songs as “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Healing Hands of Time” and “I Never Cared For You.”

The new TIL members will be inducted in early April in San Antonio. Among the other 18 honorees are filmmaker Richard Linklater, UT playwright Kirk Lynn and Austin short story writer Jose Skinner.

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