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Writer at Large: The Creative Journeys of William Broyles

Exhibition Now Open

Portrait of Bill Broyles
Bill Broyles awards and photos on display

The Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Cast Away and Apollo 13, fifth-generation Texan William Broyles has always blazed his own trail. Raised in Baytown, he studied writing under Larry McMurtry at Rice University in the 1960s. A campus leader active in student rights and in the Civil Rights movement, he still managed to go on a much-publicized date with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s daughter Lynda Bird. After earning a Masters from Oxford Broyles was drafted and served as a Marine Lieutenant in Viet Nam. In 1972, at age twenty-seven, he became the founding editor of Texas Monthly. Later he was the first combat veteran to return to the battlefields of Viet Nam, a journey which inspired his classic account of reconciliation, Brothers in Arms: A Journey from War to Peace.

The Wittliff’s brand-new literary exhibition, Writer at Large: The Creative Journeys of William Broyles, provides a thrilling, immersive journey into the life and work of one of Texas’s brightest creative lights. The exhibit showcases archival treasures from the extensive Broyles Papers, donated by the author to The Wittliff Collections. The complete Broyles archive contains over five hundred boxes.

Broyles’ tenure as Texas Monthly’s first editor in the 1970s made him a national media star. The startup magazine had been widely expected to fail. Instead, under his guidance, it won a National Magazine Award for General Excellence in its first year. Texas Monthly will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in 2023. On display at The Wittliff are several iconic magazine covers from the Broyles era, along with photographs and behind-the-scenes writings that bring the magazine’s legendary early days to life.

After his success at Texas Monthly, Broyles refused to become complacent. Like many Americans who fought in Viet Nam, he remained haunted by the experience. In 1984, he spent a month in Viet Nam, which was then still recovering from the long war and closed to Americans. In mountain villages on the Chinese border, big cities, and the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta he met men and women we had made war against. In one memorable moment, he was invited to tea by a woman whose son his own platoon had most likely killed. The exhibition retraces this groundbreaking journey through photographs, artifacts, his reporter’s notebook, and a well-used map of Ho Chi Minh City.

After a stint as editor-in-chief of Newsweek magazine, Broyles wrote cover stories for magazines like The Atlantic and Esquire. His 1984 story, “Why Men Love War,” was selected for Esquire’s 80th Anniversary volume as one of the eight greatest war stories of all time.

Broyles then turned to television and film. In 1988 he co-created the Emmy-winning television series, China Beach, which focused on the role of women in the Viet Nam War. In 1994, Broyles co-wrote Apollo 13 with Al Reinert, a colleague from his Texas Monthly days. The screenwriters received an Academy Award nomination and Broyles quickly became an A-list screenwriter. He has penned several other major films, including Flags of Our Fathers, Jarhead, Unfaithful, Entrapment, and The Polar Express. Key archives representing all of Broyles’ major films are featured in the new exhibit.

Broyles’ landmark cinematic achievement is Cast Away, which he worked on for seven years. While researching the story, Broyles had himself dropped off with nothing but the clothes on his back on a remote beach in the Mexican desert. After a week of struggling to survive, just as the character does in the film, he finally learned to make fire. A few days after mastering the bare necessities of life, he felt a terrible loneliness. The next morning a volleyball washed up on the beach. Loneliness over. “Wilson” was born.

The new exhibition offers a special showcase dedicated to the making of Cast Away. The display includes correspondence between Broyles and Tom Hanks as they brainstormed about the story. Also featured are script pages, storyboards, production memos and photos that highlight the creative process behind the making of this iconic American film. Broyles wrote Cast Away to begin and end on a crossroads in the Panhandle. Like all his work, it’s rooted in Texas.

Writer at Large: The Creative Journeys of William Broyles will run through May 26, 2023. Writer at Large is co-curated by archivist Susannah Broyles and literary curator Steve Davis.

Exhibition Gallery