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Porterfield donates archive to Wittliff Collection

020810porterfieldaBilly Porterfield. Photo by Bill Wittliff.


Legendary Texas journalist Billy Porterfield, award-winning author of several books, has donated his major archive to the Wittliff Collections at the Alkek Library at Texas State.

During a 50-year career that included stints with the Houston Chronicle, the Dallas Times Herald and the Austin American-Statesman, Porterfield became a major voice in Texas with 5.4 million words in print and broadcast.

Porterfield’s archives consist of approximately 35 boxes that include clippings, correspondence, manuscripts for all of his major books, numerous photographs, and other memorabilia.

“To have my scraps and memories included with the papers of so many writers I admire and so many friends I’ve grown up with — or grown old with — is a great honor,” Porterfield said. “Hart Stillwell, Elithe Kirkland, A.C. Greene … these were dear friends who had a profound influence on my life and work. Somewhere down the road, a young writer may stumble in and find his muse tucked away in one of these old boxes of words that we have left behind. But ask him to be gentle with her when he finds her. She has served us well.”

Born in 1932 in East Texas, Porterfield grew up the son of an itinerant oilfield worker and attended dozens of schools before graduating from Woodsboro High School in 1950. His nomadic childhood informed his work, much of which takes place on the road, as well as his approach to gathering ideas for newspaper columns. Curiosity, a notepad, a map, and a full tank of gas were the tools of his trade.

Porterfield won the Ernie Pyle Memorial Award as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in the early 1960s. After stops at the Detroit Free Press and the Chicago Daily News, Porterfield returned to Texas in 1967 as the first writer selected for the prestigious Dobie-Paisano Fellowship, a writer’s retreat at the former ranch of J. Frank Dobie southwest of Austin. In 1969, Porterfield joined Jim Lehrer at KERA-TV in Dallas as a commentator on Lehrer’s nightly news program, later taking over for Lehrer as executive producer. He also produced and narrated several prize-winning documentaries for public television.

Porterfield became a columnist for the Dallas Times Herald in 1978, then became a columnist for the Austin American-Statesman in 1985. His writings have appeared in a number of publications large and small, including The Saturday Evening Post, Texas Monthly, The New Braunfels Zeitung, the Malakoff News, and The Chautauquan. He also taught creative writing at Southern Methodist University.

His published books include LBJ Country (1965), A Loose Herd of Texans (1978), Texas Rhapsody: Memories of a Native Son (1981), The Greatest Honky-Tonks in Texas (1983), and Diddy Waw Diddy: The Passage of an American Son (1994).

Porterfield described the decision to turn over his archives to the Wittliff Collections as a homecoming of sorts, noting that he and his brother Bobby came to San Marcos in 1952 to attend what was then Southwest Texas Teachers College. Porterfield’s first job in journalism was as a staff writer at the College Star. Porterfield said he was greatly encouraged by professors such as Joe B. Vogel and Brice Rucker. For more than 20 years, Porterfield and his wife Diane have lived in Wimberley, where he continued to work daily in his writing shack, the House of Fables.

“Billy Porterfield has long been an important Texas writer,” said Joan Heath, Assistant Vice-President of Texas State’s University Library. “He’s been a staunch supporter of the Wittliff Collections for years and has participated in our public programming. For him to take this next step by making this significant gift to the university is something that speaks to the generous spirit on full display in his writing.”

Porterfield’s literary papers will join a rich collection of materials that includes the major archives of such noted authors as Cormac McCarthy, Sam Shepard, and John Graves, as well as the production archives of Texas Monthly magazine, Fox’s animated series King of the Hill, and the CBS miniseries Lonesome Dove.

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