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Upcoming event: Meet Bill Wittliff, Wednesday March 8th, 6 PM
Bill Wittliff was born in Taft, a small town in south Texas, in 1940. After his parents divorced, he and his brother Jim moved with their mother to Gregory, Texas, where Mrs. Wittliff ran a small telephone office during World War II (these experiences provided the basis for "Raggedy Man," Wittliff's feature film). Later, when his mother remarried, the family moved to a ranch in Blanco, a rural community of 700 in the hill country of central Texas.
In 1964, shortly after graduating from the University of Texas, Wittliff, with his wife Sally, founded a book publishing company, The Encino Press, which specialized in regional material about Texas and the Southwest. Encino eventually won over 100 awards for quality of design and content. The press began in the Wittliff's carport but later moved to a 19th-century Victorian house in central Austin in which O. Henry once lived and wrote and which serves as Bill's office today.
An accomplished photographer, Wittliff made photographs documenting the life of the Mexican vaquero (taken in the early 1970s) that have been exhibited in numerous galleries and institutions throughout this country and in Mexico, including the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, and the Texas Capitol. In Japan, they represented the United States during its bicentennial year. In 2004, the University of Texas Press published the images in the book Vaquero: Genesis of the Texas Cowboy featuring Wittliff’s reminiscences and an introduction by John Graves. In 2006, Wittliff’s book of photographs entitled La Vida Brinca (Life Jumps) was published by UT Press.
At 29, Wittliff was elected to the Texas Institute of Letters. He served as president during 1974-78, and sat on the Executive Council until 1990. In 1993, he was elected Fellow of the Institute. He is a member of the historic Texas Philosophical Society and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. He was one of the original founders of FarmAid, he is on the board of the Austin Film Festival, and he served for six years on the Executive Board of Trustees of Robert Redford's Sundance Institute. In 2008, Wittliff was asked to join the board of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D. C., and was inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame. In 2012, the Kappa Sigma Fraternity selected Wittliff, of the Tau Chapter at the University of Texas, as the 2012 Kappa Sigma Man of the Year.
Wittliff has been a screenwriter and producer of films and television since 1977, sometimes going on location but always based in Austin, one of the first writers in the state to be able to achieve a successful “off-site” career and an example to future filmmakers. In honor of his accomplishments, he was awarded the Texas Medal of Arts in 2007. His latest film, A Night in Old Mexico, featuring Robert Duvall in the starring role, debuted at the South by Southwest Film Festival in 2014. Currently he is working on a trilogy, the first novel of which is The Devil's Backbone (UT Press, 2014), illustrated by Jack Unruh.
While serving as screenwriter and executive producer of the classic television miniseries, Lonesome Dove, Wittliff took pictures every day on the set. These images have been exhibited at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and in other venues throughout the U.S. A portion of their ongoing sales goes to benefit the Wittliff Collection of Southwestern & Mexican Photography. In 2007 the University of Texas Press published the best-selling A Book of Photographs from Lonesome Dove, and in 2012, published A Book on the Making of Lonesome Dove, which includes many of Wittliff’s images taken behind the scenes during the filming of the Emmy® Award-winning miniseries.
In 1986, with the donation of their lifelong collection of original manuscripts and books, Bill and Sally founded the Southwestern Writers Collection at Texas State University-San Marcos. Since that time the collection has grown rapidly, supported by donors from all over the country. It houses materials from J. Frank Dobie, John Graves, Larry McMurtry, Walter Prescott Webb, Bud Shrake, Larry L. King, Horton Foote, Preston Jones, Sam Shepard, Willie Nelson, Katharine Ann Porter, Cormac McCarthy, and many others. Expanding the scope of the current facility, in 1996 the Wittliffs founded the Wittliff Collection of Southwestern & Mexican Photography which already includes works by Russell Lee, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Ansel Adams, Keith Carter, Henri Cartier Bresson, Lola Bravo, Laura Gilpin, Edward Weston, Graciela Iturbide, Edward Curtis, Nacho Lopez, Erwin E. Smith, Marco Antonio Cruz, Jim Bones, Paul Strand, Mariana Yampolsky, Joel-Peter Witkin, Annie Leibovitz, Edward Weston, Tina Modotti, and many others. The Wittliff Collections are housed in specially designed rooms and a large, chambered gallery on the top floor of the Albert B. Alkek Library on the university campus.
The Wittliffs live and work in Austin, Texas and have two grown children and four grandchildren.