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Hearing Voices

Bill Wittliff and Edwin "Bud" Shrake, the recipients of the 2002 Texas Book Festival Bookend award, embody Texas literature today.

By November 2002Comments

AUTHORS BILL WITTLIFF AND EDWIN “Bud” Shrake hold a vast amount of Texas literature between them—Wittliff’s Emmy award–winning miniseries Lonesome Dove, which was based on the Larry McMurtry novel of the same name, and Shrake’s Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book, which is the best-selling sports book in American history, to name a few—so it is fitting that the two friends are the recipients of the 2002 Texas Book Festival Bookend award, which recognizes authors who have made a lifetime contribution to Texas literature.

While each author holds his own, the festival’s Author Selection Committee decided on giving the award jointly. Publicity coordinator Amy Tharp Nylund explained: “Each are completely worthy on their own, but the fact they are such good friends makes it a perfect time to honor both.” Indeed, the writers have known each other for more than thirty years (although, neither one seems to remember how they met). Shrake said it is appropriate that the two should receive this award together: “We have read and critiqued each other’s first drafts for so long that each of us has a fingerprint on the other’s work.” Shrake, who is 71 years old, got his start in newspapers, first working as a sports reporter for the Fort Worth Press and the Dallas Times-Herald (both now defunct) and later the Dallas Morning News. He eventually switched gears to magazines and wrote for Sports Illustrated from 1964 to 1979. Shrake has published nine works of fiction including Blessed McGill, The Borderland: A Novel of Texas, and his latest, Billy Boy. He has also written the autobiographies for Willie Nelson, Willie: An Autobiography, and former Oklahoma Sooners football coach Barry Switzer, Bootlegger’s Boy. He is currently working on a new novel set in Central Texas after the Civil War.

Wittliff is a 62-year-old renaissance man—he’s a published photographer, screenwriter, director, producer, and collector. (Does the movie The Perfect Storm ring a bell? Wittliff wrote the screenplay based on the Sebastian Junger book.) Wittliff was instrumental in founding two collections at Southwest Texas State University, in San Marcos: the Wittliff Gallery of Southwestern and Mexican Photography, which displays more than eight thousand photographs from the nineteenth century to the present day, and the Southwestern Writers Collection, which houses Texas literary memorabilia, including J. Frank Dobie’s personal papers and the entire production file from the Lonesome Dove miniseries. His latest work, “Boystown: La Zona de Tolerancia” is a group of images taken in Mexico’s infamous red-light district that he gathered from Mexican photographers.

The diversity in content and range of media utilized between the two embodies Texas literature, which is constantly evolving. While Wittliff says that literature in the Lone Star State is becoming mature, Shrake sees it becoming more and more urban, with a deepening divide between the contemporary and the past. “There will always be a place for Texas historical literature because of the unique creation of our republic­-state and its enduring legends,” Shrake said. “Modern Texas literature is searching for its identity and awaiting the new voices to proclaim it,” he explained. Until then, we’ve got at least two great voices to hear.

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