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Bill and Sally Wittliff

The wisdom of a culture is passed from generation to generation through the telling of its stories. – Bill Wittliff

From the very beginning, the idea was that this be a place of preservation—but also, and maybe most importantly, that it be a place of inspiration as well, a place where those with the itch to create but maybe not yet the courage could see by example how others before them had struggled to find their own true expression. – Bill Wittliff

Bill and Sally Wittliff in 2009
Bill & Sally Wittliff, 2009

Drs. Bill and Sally Wittliff founded The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University in 1986 to create a research archive, library, and exhibition gallery focused entirely on the creative spirit of Texas and the Southwest. Because of their continued support, today The Wittliff includes more than 500 special collections in literature, photography, music, and film, and it attracts visitors, researchers, and lifelong learners from around the globe. It stands as a tribute to their visionary legacy.

Encino Press (1963-1985)

Shortly after they graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, Bill and Sally co-founded the Encino Press in 1963. The press focused on Texas and the Southwest, and their first publication was a work by J. Frank Dobie, the esteemed author and folklorist, who allowed Bill and Sally to publish it royalty-free to encourage their ambitious endeavor. Encino Press went on to publish established authors such as Larry McMurtry as well as many emerging writers. 

While Bill focused on editing, book design, photography, and illustration, Sally ran the business side of the operation. Together, they published finely crafted books on Texas culture, winning more than 100 awards for their distinctive works of history, biography, and belles lettres. By the mid-1980s, Bill had turned his full attention to writing screenplays and photography, and Encino Press closed its doors in 1985. Bill and Sally donated the remaining inventory, and you can buy many Encino Press books in The Wittliff Store.

Founding of The Wittliff Collections

Bill and Sally Wittliff in 2007
Bill & Sally Wittliff, 2007

After J. Frank Dobie died in 1964, and his wife, Bertha, passed in 1974, the remaining estate was inherited by their nephew, the Austin ornithologist Edgar Kincaid, Jr. When Kincaid died in 1985, the executor asked Bill Wittliff if he wanted Dobie’s desk. When Bill went to buy it, he noticed several stacks of boxes, which contained more of Dobie’s papers. Bill bought the collection, which included diaries, journals, manuscripts, personal correspondence, candid snapshots, and memorabilia. 

After speaking with several universities throughout the state, Bill and Sally donated these materials to Southwest Texas State University in 1986, thereby establishing the Southwestern Writers Collection, which was devoted to collecting, preserving, and sharing the literary legacy of the Southwest. In the years since its founding, the collecting scope has expanded to include Southwestern and Mexican photography and Texas Music, and the name was changed to The Wittliff Collections in 2007 to recognize this broader mission.

The Wittliff has grown and flourished to become a crown jewel of Texas State University. This is largely due to the generous gifts Bill and Sally made. Together the couple raised half the funding--and personally provided the other half--so that Texas State could acquire a very rare 1555 edition of Cabeza de Vaca’s La relación y comentarios, the first written account of this region. That purchase also helped establish Texas State as the center of Cabeza de Vaca research, leading to significant scholarly work involving Texas State faculty and students. The Cabeza de Vaca volume, and the interactive website The Wittliff Collections developed around the book, also brought renewed attention to Texas’s long Hispanic history, a key asset as Texas State University transitioned into a Hispanic Serving Institution.

In addition to Cabeza de Vaca, Bill and Sally donated several million dollars’ worth of other rare and unique archival items, totaling more than 1,000 linear feet. Included are the comprehensive production archives from all of Bill Wittliff’s film projects, including Lonesome Dove, The Black Stallion, Legends of the Fall, and The Perfect Storm—these extensive film archives include screenplay drafts, production forms, set designs, costumes, props, outtakes, and publicity materials. Bill and Sally also donated thousands of fine art images, including nearly 9,000 signature vintage photographic prints and nearly 25,000 photographic negatives by artists ranging from Ansel Adams to Edward Curtis. The Wittliffs’ gifts also include hundreds of Bill’s own photographs, such as his images from the set of Lonesome Dove, and his series of photographs for his book, Vaquero: Genesis of the Texas Cowboy. The Wittliffs also actively collected artifacts and papers of individual writers over the decades, and those items, too, were donated to the collection.

Bill and Sally Wittliff in 2012
Bill & Sally Wittliff, 2012

Beyond Bill and Sally’s personal generosity are the numerous gifts donated to Texas State because of their efforts to convince leading artists of Texas and the Southwest to place their papers at The Wittliff Collections. The Wittliffs convinced Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Academy Award-nominated actor Sam Shepard to place major archives at Texas State. Other writers who donated valuable papers to the collection through the Wittliffs’ direct efforts are Larry McMurtry, Stephen Harrigan, Larry L. King, Beverly Lowry, and Bud Shrake. It was through Bill’s friendship with Cormac McCarthy that Texas State was able to purchase this writer’s papers in 2007. Bill and Sally also convinced friends in the film industry to donate their papers, including Academy-nominated screenwriter William Broyles, Jr. (Cast Away, Apollo 13) and Academy Award-winning writer and director Robert Benton (Places in the Heart, Kramer vs. Kramer). Bill and Sally Wittliff worked with Texas Monthly to arrange that magazine’s donation of its extensive archive. The Wittliffs also arranged substantial gifts of photography, including hundreds of photographs from renowned photographers such as Kate Breakey and Russell Lee. Finally, Bill and Sally convinced some of Texas’s best-known musicians, such as Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker, to make their own gifts to the collection. 

Bill and Sally also showed their commitment in other ways, too. They developed The Wittliff’s book series, first with the University of Texas Press and currently with Texas A&M Press. The result has been several important and award-winning books, including books by celebrated photographers as well as ground-breaking works such as Hecho en Tejas, the first-ever anthology to focus specifically on Texas Mexican writers. The Wittliffs are also responsible for the inspiring Vaquero statue on the Texas State campus adjacent to Old Main, which pays homage to the important and enduring Hispanic culture in Texas.

Taken as a whole, Bill and Sally’s substantial philanthropy in creating and developing a vital repository for the cultural arts at Texas State has reaped benefits for countless people, ranging from students, faculty, staff, visiting scholars, schoolchildren, community members, parents, tourists, and others interested in how the “Spirit of Place” is communicated artistically -- and the methods used by artists. Establishing The Wittliff Collections at Texas State also led directly to the founding of the Center of the Study of the Southwest, selected by the National Endowment for the Humanities as a regional center. 

Because of the foresight, hard work, and endless generosity of Bill and Sally Wittliff, the culture of Texas has been substantially enriched through the The Wittliff Collections’ holdings, exhibitions, books, research opportunities, scholarship, community outreach, and the sense of goodwill that springs from one’s inclination to do good in the world. 

Bill Wittliff (1940 – 2019)

Bill Wittliff by Michael O'Brien, 1985
Bill Wittliff by Michael O'Brien, 1985

Dr. Bill Wittliff was a distinguished filmmaker, photographer, publisher, and writer. He was a past president of the Texas Institute of Letters and was also a Fellow of the Institute, one of five living writers to be so honored. He received the Texas Book Festival’s Bookend Award for lifetime achievement. In 2002 he received the Texas Library Association’s Benefactor Award for his role in establishing and helping develop The Wittliff Collections at Texas State. In 2007 he was awarded the Texas Medal of Arts. He was inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame as well as the Texas Literary Hall of Fame. He was one of the original founders of Farm Aid and served on the board of the National Portrait Gallery for many years. 

Watch Bill talk about screenwriting and The Wittliff Collections in his own words. 

Read the loving obituary, written by his friend and fellow Texas writer Stephen Harrigan.

Also see the very moving memorial held at the Paramount Theater in Austin on September 8th, 2019, which featured William Broyles, Jr., Keith Carter, Joe Ely, Barbara Morgan, Willie Nelson, Stephan Harrigan and Sally Wittliff. 

Sally Wittliff

Sally Wittliff 2011
Sally Wittliff, 2011

Dr. Sally Wittliff is a former attorney in Austin and served as a board member for Texas State University Development Foundation. She volunteered for numerous charities in the Austin area over several decades. In 2002 she received the Texas Library Association’s Benefactor Award for her role in establishing and helping develop The Wittliff Collections at Texas State.