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IfkrVV::’ ,NOWXPAW”.: ;:e ” Offeaftliv, J. Frank Dobie, whose archives seeded Wittliff’s collection. career. “We started the press when we were just children, really,” Wittliff says. “Right out of school. It was a little mom-andpop organization. It was great fun, and it worked. We were actually making a living. Basically, one day I was sitting there and I thought, ‘Well, today is just like yesterday. And tomorrow’s going to be like today, too. And then I thought, `Jesus, this is stagnant.”‘ In 1969, Wittliff traveled to Mexico and photographed vaqueros working in the traditional ways. His pictures eventually added up to a traveling exhibit and book entitled Vaquero. He wrote a screenplay called Thaddeus Rose and Eddie, which was made into a CBS movie starring Johnny Cash. Francis Ford Coppola hired Wittliff to work on the script for The Black Stallion, cementing his career in the industry. Over the years, his screen credits have included Raggedy Man, Lonesome Dove, Legends of the Fall, and The Perfect Storm. Because Encino Press had specialized in regional material about Texas and the Southwest, the Wittliffs got to know almost everybody in local literary circles, and those friendships played a supporting role in the genesis of the Southwestern Writers Collection. “We had the relationships with the people,” Sally says. “There’s a certain amount of arrogance in being a writer. They don’t want to think of their archives as going into the garbage heap when they’re gone.” Writers Collection curator Connie Todd recalls that J. Frank Dobie’s secretary inherited the writer’s house and its contents. The day before she began selling off the contents, in 1985, she called Wittliff. “Because of Bill’s publishing house and screenwriting, the Texas literary scene knew him and trusted him,” Todd says. “So he was sitting at Dobie’s desk, writing a check for it, when he looked over in the corner and saw a pile of boxes. The secretary said they were the last of Doctor D’s writing archives.” They were going to be sold, she said, so Wittliff looked them over. “How much for everything?” Wittliff asked. Wittliff called his wife to make sure the check would clear and then walked away with boxes of Dobie’s manuscripts. The sale was over. “I was working for [Wittliff] at the time,” Todd says. “As we unloaded the boxes and piled them on the Encino Press’s floor, Bill began to realize that it was time to start a collection of some kind. He wanted to focus on Texas and Southwestern writers.” Dobie, Wittliff says, made the case that Texas was a valid subject for writers as long as they weren’t provincial. “There was a moment in time when that was an unusual thing to recognize,” he says. “He saw how it fit with other things in the world.” Wittliff had spoken to Texas State classes about screenwriting, so he approached the school about putting Dobie’s papers there. He also offered to explore more acquisitions if Texas State offered some space and a curator. “That was when it all started,” she says, “almost 22 years ago.” From its earliest days, the Southwestern Writers Collection has been a story of serendipity, which is to say a story of Wittliffs ability to see, and to make, connections. “I think the great secret of the universe is in this sentence: Whatever you’re looking for is looking for you too,” Wittliff says. “Once we started this collection, as goofy as it sounds, stuff started walking through the door, showing itself one place or other.” Within a year of the collection’s founding in 1986, a copy of Cabeza de Vaca’s La Relacion turned up for sale just a few miles from Wittliff’s office. The 1555 edition, one of 20 copies in the world, recounts the Spanish conquistador’s shipwreck on Galveston Island, subsequent enslavement by Indians, and eventual liberty. It is the first written account of the American Southwest. “I’m told that there’s another one for sale now from Buenos Aires or somewhere down in South America that’s a million dollars,” Wittliff says. \(He declines to specify the price paid for the think another one would turn up in my lifetime.” The Wittliffs and an anonymous friend bought the book and donated it to the collection. “La Relacian became a catalyst,” Todd says. “Immediately there was research done. We digitized it and put it up on the Web site \(http:// so that everybody in the world could see it. That was wonderful for scholars who were studying text.” The collection also began attracting film artifacts through Wittliff’s screenwriting work. Friends like Tommy Lee Jones and Sam Shepard periodically dropped by the campus to drop off boxes of material. “We have countless hours of conversation on tape between Sam and Bob Dylan,” Wittliff says. “Unproduced plays. A lot of stuff like that.” Then there’s Candy Barr, a world 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 18, 2008