The voices and visions of any region’s artists are rooted in the land, inspired by a certain lay of the earth and line of horizon, informed by the history and myth, traditions, and relationships of the people who live upon it. This “spirit of place” is at the very heart of the Wittliff Collections — it is the keystone that joins the literary and photographic archives of the Southwestern Writers Collection and the Southwestern & Mexican Photography Collection.
Founded at Texas State University-San Marcos by Austin screenwriter and photographer Bill Wittliff and his wife Sally, these repositories are devoted to preserving a creative legacy that will instruct and inspire the current generation as well as those to come, illuminating the artistic process and testifying to the importance of the southwestern and Mexican imagination in the wider world.
Primary to the mission is the safekeeping and sharing of the Southwest’s literature, film, and music, and the photography of the Southwest and Mexico through the acquisition of significant archives and supplementary materials.
Strongly committed to professional stewardship of all materials, and to personal service and timely access for scholars and researchers, the Wittliff Collections are equally dedicated to engaging the public and educating students. Among many other activities, the Collections publish two book series, present in-house exhibitions and traveling exhibitions from the archives, welcome tours and classes, and host readings, book signings, talks by esteemed authors and artists, and many other events in southwestern-inspired public rooms on the seventh floor of the Alkek Library.
Each year, thousands of students, researchers, and visitors engage with the Wittliff Collections’ treasured holdings, and through them discover how the unique conditions and character of a region — that “spirit of place” — shapes its people, their culture, and their creative arts.
The Southwestern Writers Collection preserves and exhibits the literary papers and artifacts of the Southwest’s leading authors, screenwriters, and songwriters, including the major archives of such literary notables as John Graves, Cormac McCarthy, and Rick Riordan, and significant materials illustrating the creative processes of Sam Shepard. It is also home to the production archives of Texas Monthly magazine, Fox’s animated series King of the Hill, and the CBS miniseries Lonesome Dove. Manuscripts, research notes and journals, drafts, correspondence, lyrics, interview tapes, snapshots, movie props, scripts, art works, personal artifacts, rare books, and much, much more make up the wealth of resources available to students and researchers. The touchstone of this collection is a rare 1555 edition of La relación y comentarios by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, the first written account of travel through the region.
The Southwestern & Mexican Photography Collection is devoted to the photographic arts of Mexico and the southwestern United States. This growing repository consists of a comprehensive range of work from these regions, representing the history of the medium from the nineteenth century to the present. Integral to the holdings are the major collections of prints by such renowned artists as Kate Breakey, Keith Carter, and Graciela Iturbide, and one of the largest archives of modern and contemporary Mexican photography in the United States. Adding further weight are iconic images by some of the greatest names in photography: Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Ansel Adams, Henry Cartier-Bresson, Edward Curtis, Annie Leibovitz, Tina Modotti, and Edward Weston, to name only a few. Important serial publications, books, videos, and related ephemera are also collected and made available for study.
The Lonesome Dove Collection represents the entire production record of the highly honored CBS miniseries. Included is every draft of Bill Wittliff’s screenplay, which he adapted from Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, as well as his series of fine-art photographs taken on-set now published in A Book of Photographs from Lonesome Dove. Among the materials documenting the show’s creation are principal costumes, set designs, props, production paperwork, continuity photos, and 77 hours of “dailies” — all the printed takes from the filming. Much of the material is part of the companion volume to Wittliff's photographs, A Book on the Making of Lonesome Dove, and many pieces are on display in the permanent Lonesome Dove Exhibition room.
After Texas folklorist J. Frank Dobie’s death, his wife Bertha gave Bill Wittliff a keystone, carved with a large star, which Dobie saved from one of the arches of the old Bee County courthouse and kept at his Paisano ranch west of Austin for many years.
When the Southwestern Writers Collection was established in 1986, the new Alkek Library was still on the drawing boards, and Bill was able to collaborate on the design of its special collections rooms. The Dobie papers the Wittliffs purchased in 1985 were the genesis and heart of the Writers Collection, and Bill asked that Dobie’s keystone be set into the stucco of the exhibition room. Its rustic beauty and metaphoric significance as the central stone that stabilizes the arch itself make it a natural choice as the symbol for the Wittliff Collections.