Novalyne Price Ellis


Novalyne Price Ellis (born Novalyne Price) on March 9th, 1908 in Brownwood, Brown County, Texas, USA. She died at age 91 in Lafayette, Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, USA. She is buried at Clear Creek Cemetery, Bangs, Brown County, Texas, USA.

She was a Texas-born schoolteacher and writer who became close friends with and occasionally dated famed pulp fiction writer Robert E. Howard.

Howard himself did not write much or anything about Novalyne in his letters.

Novalyne's Childhood

Daughter of Homer Hogg Price and Etna Reed Price. She was born during the second year they were married.

In 1983 Novalyne self-published a book about the Landrum family. The book was a project started by Etna Reed Price, Novalyne’s mother, and then later finished by Novalyne. It contains the story of Mary Emmaline Landrum, Novalyne’s grandmother, also known as “Mammy” and her family. In the book Novalyne tells us about her childhood:

I suppose, I was a problem child. At the age of nine months, I began talking. By the time I was a year and a half old, I began learning little poems and readings which mother taughc me. Each time we went to town, clerks in stores stood me on the counters, and I said all the poems and other readings I knew. Mother seemed proud of that and also that people gave me nickels and dimes when I spoke for them. 

Later, it became a bigger problem because I could not just go to school and study reading and arithmetic. I wanted to take “expression” as we called it in those days. I was four when Mother and Daddy separated. Sometime after that, Mother took me to an expression teacher at one of Brownwood’s local colleges and asked her when she should start giving me expression lessons. The teacher told her she was doing everything that was necessary, for she herself was all the teacher I needed at that time. But, the lady suggested, when I became twelve years old, I should begin taking lessons from a real expression teacher. That was good and bad advice.

When Novalyne turned twelve, her mother married “Mr. Sears” and Novalyne stayed in Brownwood with his parents while attending school.

Without telling them or mother, I started taking expression lessons from Miss Bess Brown, who taught at the school I attended. I took speech for almost six months before any of the family knew about it. I wouldn’t have told them then, but Miss Brown insisted on being paid. She talked to everybody about needing her money. I really caught it. People said I was the stubbornest, most hardheaded kid anybody had ever seen, and nobody knew what I’d do next. Mother came to town and listened patiently, explained even more patiently that she got up every morning at four o’clock to go to the cow pens to help milk fifteen or twenty cows. Then, she said, with deceptive softness, she churned butter in a little wooden barrel because she sold over ninety pounds of butter a week, took care of several hundred chickens, and sold the eggs. If she had a spare moment after she sewed awhile, she worked in the fields. She thought she earned enough to be able to pay for her only child’s expression lessons, and her child should have those lessons even if she herself had to steal some of the butter and egg money. When she talked with Miss Brown, she also mentioned that she would make my costume for the recital Miss Brown was planning, and that she would make a costume for any other little girl whose mother might want to pay for it. Mother backed me all the way, paid for my expression classes out of the butter and egg money, and sewed a few costumes on the side.

I loved the speech classes. But I was the only one. To everybody else, It was an extra subject that poor folks could not afford, and so when I was fourteen, I began teaching private classes in expression to six little girls, three of whom were twelve. Their parents paid me three dollars a month for each child, and I thought I was rich. Not only did those private classes assure me of my own lessons, but I bought my first pair of high—heeled shoes! I kept those private classes during the rest of my high school and college career. They, too, helped to make it possible for me to have the “frill” lessons that later became the subject I loved and taught for more than forty 

Novalyne and Robert E. Howard

Novalyne was introduced to Robert E. Howard by their mutual friend Tevis Clyde Smith probably in 1933. In 1934 when Novalyne arrived in Cross Plains as a new schoolteacher she would play a major role in Howard’s life.

When Novalyne made several attempts to call Howard, only to be told by his mother that he could not come to the phone or was out of town, she got tired of being brushed off and talked to her cousin who gave her a ride out to the Howard home. She was greeted rather cooly by her father but more eagerly by Robert. This was the start of a sometimes affectionate, sometimes stormy relationship.

From Rusty Burke’s short biography of Howard:

For the first time there was someone locally who shared Howard’s interests – and she was a woman! However, his insistence upon personally caring for his ailing mother, whom Novalyne felt would benefit more from the services of a professional nurse, rankled at her, as did his refusal to attend social events. Marriage often entered their minds and was even occasionally discussed, but they did not entertain the same feelings at the same time. When she would think she was in love, he would insist he needed his freedom. When he thought he was ready for love, she saw only their differences. They were both passionate, fiercely independent people, which made for an intense and exciting relationship, but one that was impossible to sustain.

Many people in Cross Plains at the time had opinions about Howard and they couldn’t quite figure him out. Novalyne once told her roommate:

He’s trying to tell people he’s a writer and writers have a right to be odd. Since they think he’s crazy, anyway, he’ll show them just how crazy he can be.

Howard and Novalyne spent much time together on and off. They often went for a car ride together and just talked. Sometimes they went to see a movie.

Howard sometimes wrote letters to Novalyn. This is the first one and it’s from September 27, 1934:

How about going to the show in Brownwood Sunday afternoon? I’ll be over about 1:30 p.m. Let me know by return mail,

Your friend,

In the spring of 1936, Novalyne was accepted into the graduate program in education at Louisiana State and left Cross Plains.


Novalyne retired in 1979, but in the summer of ’83, two former students, who had graduated from high school in 1964, called her and asked her desperately to come out of her retirement to help the candidate running for Sheriff who they thought was the best qualified and most honest, but not the best speaker.

My husband and son sighed and said they were afraid my retirement wouldn’t last!

I will always be grateful to a wonderful mother who taught me herself; then stood by me all the way through the long years of study and work that made me the happiest speech teacher who ever faced a class.


Price was for the most part raised on a farm in Brownwood, Texas. With aspirations of becoming a writer, Price became a school teacher to pay for her education at Daniel Baker College. She graduated in May 1933. Later she entered Louisiana State University.

Price taught English, public speaking, and history between 1934 and 1936 at Cross Plains High School. Cross Plains was also home to writer Robert E. Howard, to whom Price had been briefly introduced in 1933. Price initially sought out Howard for advice as to how she could get her writing published. Common interests and personal chemistry, however, created a strong bond of friendship between the two. Despite personality differences, misunderstandings, and unsuccessful attempts to bring their relationship beyond casual dating, Price and Howard remained close until Howard’s suicide in 1936. After Howard’s death, Price shifted her focus away from a writing career and strove to become the best teacher she could be, ultimately remaining a teacher until her retirement.

According to Mrs. Ellis’s book about her “Mammy’s family”, In Search of Tomorrow: The Westward Movement of the Landrum Family (self-published by Novalyne in 1983), Novalyne says that on October 2nd, 1942 Price married John Douglas Robarts. Robarts was a Second Lieutenant serving in the US Army Infantry. They had a child, Marvin Douglas. Price and Robarts were divorced in May 1946.

While working as a teacher at Daniel Baker College, Price met and, in 1947, married William W. Ellis. Price and Ellis resided in Louisiana. William W. Ellis adopted Marvin and changed his name to Marvin Douglas Ellis. Marvin acknowledges William Ellis as his only father.

Price’s love of teaching and gift at speechwriting was recognized in 1981 with her admittance into the National Forensic Hall of Fame. Her marriage to Ellis lasted forty-seven years until Ellis died in 1994. Price continued living alone in Lafayette, Louisiana until she died.


Throughout her life, Price did sell a number of articles and short stories, but it is her 1986 memoir, One Who Walked Alone, about her relationship with Howard for which she is best known. The 1996 movie, The Whole Wide World, starring Vincent D’Onofrio and Renée Zellweger is a direct adaptation of One Who Walked Alone.


Credits, links and further information

Novalyne Price Daniel Baker Yearbook 1927
Circa 1930s

Sources: Alchetron, Wikipedia, Find a grave, Robert Derie (Bobby Dee) for providing an index to One who walked alone.