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Texas Bookends

TEXAS BOOKENDS: Bud Shrake & Bill Wittliff

This year the Texas Book Festival bestows its prestigious Bookend Award on two of the state”s literary greats: Bud Shrake and Bill Wittliff. To complement the honor, the Southwestern Writers Collection at Texas State University-San Marcos in San Marcos offers a “behind-the-scenes glimpse” of the working processes and milestone memorabilia of these famous native writers, in a combined exhibit mounted from their major collections housed in the extensive SWWC archives at the campus” Alkek Library.

Both nationally acclaimed men are Texas bred, to which their lives and work attest. Born in Fort Worth in 1931, Bud Shrake is a journalist, sportswriter, biographer, screenwriter and novelist best known for his classics of Southwestern fiction and the absurdist western, Blessed McGill (listed by A. C. Greene as one of Texas’ “fifty best books”). His most recent historical novel, The Borderland, plays a marvelous set of characters across a well-researched chessboard of 1839 post-Alamo Texas. From his early days at the Fort Worth Press Shrake”s talents have ranged wide, with a versatility that includes collaborations with the likes of Willie Nelson and Dennis Hopper on projects that involved both film and prose. A longtime contributor to Sports Illustrated, Shrake co-authored Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book: Lessons and Teachings from a Lifetime in Golf, as well as all the subsequent “little golf books" sparked by the premier volume’s success. The Red Book has since become the best-selling sports book in American publishing history. (photo of Shrake by Bill Wittliff)


Once described as a “renaissance hombre,” Bill Wittliff is a publisher, photographer, director, producer, and screenwriter whose acclaimed endeavors include the film adaptations of The Black Stallion, Lonesome Dove, Legends of the Fall, and The Perfect Storm, plus the establishment of Austin-based Encino Press. Born in the small south Texas town of Taft in 1940, Wittliff is also a collector interested in preserving his region's artistic and cultural heritage--and a benefactor who hopes his collecting will inspire creativity in generations to come. Beginning in 1986, with the donation of their lifelong accumulation of original manuscripts, books, photographs and ephemera, he and his wife Sally established and continue to support the Southwestern Writers Collection and Wittliff Gallery of Southwestern & Mexican Photography as centers for learning and research at Southwest Texas State University’s Alkek Library. (photo of Wittliff by Ted Albracht)

The Bookend Award recognizes lifetime achievement in Texas letters, and Shrake and Wittliff are deserving recipients. Together the two have been instrumental in effecting profound changes in Texas’ cultural landscape. As successful screenwriters, they both resisted Hollywood’s demands that they move to Los Angeles, helping to decentralize Hollywood and bring about the rise of a native Texas film industry.

At one time Shrake rented office space at Wittliff’s Encino Press, housed in a turn-of-the-century Austin home where famed short-story writer O. Henry once lived. Wittliff said, “When Bud and I would have writer’s block, we’d leave a paper and pencil out, hoping O. Henry would give us a signal. Alas, he never did. The message seemed to be, 'You guys do it.’"

And they have. Their long list of accomplishments has made them legendary among their fellows. In addition to their separate achievements, Shrake and Wittliff have also collaborated on projects. In 1973, Wittliff's Encino Press published a daring novel by Bud Shrake, Peter Arbiter--an inspired update of Petronius’ Satyricon that is hilariously reimagined in modern-day Texas. They often show each other early versions of work in progress--which led to Shrake dedicating The Borderland to Wittliff for his pivotal encouragement. The men even appeared together in small, but significant roles in the film version of Lonesome Dove--playing “Sodbusters One and Two,” who are shot, hanged, and burned by the Suggs gang.

Both Shrake and Wittliff have donated extensive archives to the Southwestern Writers Collection, and this special exhibit showcases highlights from their varied and distinguished careers. There is everything from Bill Wittliff’s earliest handwritten drafts of the Lonesome Dove script to Bud Shrake’s 1963 Dallas Morning News column after the JFK assassination. Photos from Shrake's research in Mexico and his hand-notated manuscript bring to life Blessed McGill in its early stages. Continuity snapshots offer "back-stage” peeks from the sets of Raggedy Man and Barbarosa, which Wittliff wrote and produced, and Red-Headed Stranger, which he also directed.

The display cases brim with correspondence, publicity materials, artifacts, and other treasures from these honored writers’ archives (visitors will especially enjoy the photograph of the pair as “sodbusters” from Lonesome Dove), and it”s all just a taste of what TxState's Southwestern Writers Collection holds. Interested in digging deeper? Archival access is available Monday through Friday 8 am to 5 pm (Tuesdays to 9 pm), and on weekends by appointment. Call 512.245.2313.

Shrake and Wittliff receive their Bookend Awards during a special session of the Texas Book Festival on November 16 in the House Chamber of the Texas Capitol. (Visit for more about the Texas Book Festival.)

Texas Bookends: Bud Shrake and Bill Wittliff, curated by Steve Davis, will be on exhibit at the Southwestern Writers Collection from October 20 through December 20, 2002.

Related Links

Texas Book Festival

Edwin “Bud” Shrake archives at Texas State”s Southwestern Writers Collection

Bill Wittliff archives at Texas State's Southwestern Writers Collection