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Russell G. (R. G.) Vliet Papers

Identifier: SWWC-034

Scope and Contents

Consisting of notes, outlines, drafts, typescripts, correspondence, subject files, photographs, newsclippings, artifacts, a scrapbook, legal, medical, and financial records, this material was created and maintained by R.G. Vliet, with the exception of some material maintained by his widow, Ann Vliet, after Mr. Vliet’s death. Dates range from 1900-1990 (bulk 1960-1984).

This material documents the author’s writing process and career, covering the various genres in which he worked, and demonstrating the creative overlap between these genres (plays, poems, and short stories worked into novels, for example). For each major work, extensive background notes, outlines, sketches, drafts, handwritten copies, and typescripts exist, showing details of the author’s creative method. Of special interest are the research files, drafts, and correspondence relating to the author’s final, and posthumously published, novel, Scorpio Rising.

Personal items include photographs, a large scrapbook, newsclippings, notebooks, medical, legal, and financial records, and several artifacts, such as clothing and eyeglasses. This material offers a perspective on the personal lives of R.G. and Ann Vliet.


  • 1900 - 1986
  • Majority of material found within 1960 - 1984


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research

Conditions Governing Use

Materials from the Wittliff Collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. The user assumes responsibility for determining copyright status, obtaining permission to publish, and abiding by U.S. copyright laws.

Biographical Note

Poet, novelist, playwright, and short story writer Russell G. Vliet was born in Chicago, on November 4, 1929. His father was a Naval medical officer, and the family lived in many parts of the U.S., largely in the south, and in American Samoa. R.G. Vliet attended Central High School (Class of 1948) in Texas City, Texas, just south of Houston, and attended Southwest Texas State University beginning in the Fall of 1948, where he wrote and acted in his own plays. While at the university, he met Vida Ann Rutherford, of New Braunfels, a fellow Speech and Drama major. The couple married on March 1, 1951, and had a daughter, Brooke, in 1957. The Vliets received their B.S. degrees in Education in 1952, and R.G. Vliet went on to complete his Master’s at SWT with the thesis, “Experiment in lyric and dramatic verse”, in 1953. Vliet then taught English for one year at Brown’s School in Austin, and one year at Rock Springs High School in the Texas Hill Country. Even though many of Vliet’s novels, plays, and poems would be set in Texas and would win awards from Texan literary institutions, Vliet would not live in Texas again, except for a six-month period near the end of his life, in 1983.

In 1955, Vliet went from teaching English to attending Yale University School of Drama, where he studied playwrighting with Robert Penn Warren and others for one and a half years. He left Yale to start his own writing career, which began with a string of award winning plays. In 1957, his play, “The Arid Spell”, won the Wisconsin Award. In 1959, his play, “The Regions of Noon”, was named Southeastern Theatre Conference New Play of the Year. In 1960, while working as a Ford Foundation Fellow, his play, “Rockspring”, won the University of Nebraska Award. This play would later be worked into Vliet’s first novel, of the same name. During this time, Vliet and his family lived in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Morelos, Mexico, traveling and relocating as his wife’s college English teaching career, the family’s financial mainstay, required.

In 1966, at the age of 37, Vliet published his first book of poetry, Events and Celebrations. It contained the poem “Clem Maverick : The Life and Death of a Country Music Singer”, which would later be individually published by Shearer Publishing, accompanied by woodcut illustrations by Barbara Whitehead. His second book of poetry, The Man with the Black Mouth, was published in 1970. Each of these books of poetry won the Voertman Poetry Award from the Texas Institute of Letters.

From 1971 to 1982, Vliet wrote, and worked a small farm in Stamford, Vermont. He published his first novel, Rockspring, in 1974, at age 44, which sold only a few thousand copies. Despite the novel’s relatively low sales, Rockspring earned Vliet $25,000 from the sale of movie rights to the work, the most money he would receive for any of his literary efforts. His 1977 novel, Solitudes, (later reprinted under the name Soledad ) won the Texas Institute of Letters Jesse Jones Award. At a time when large publishing houses rarely took on poetry, Random House published his next book of poetry, Water & Stone (1980). In 1983, he won a literary fellowship which allowed him to spend six months writing at the late J. Frank Dobie’s ranch, Paisano. This brief period was essentially the only time Vliet spent in Texas after his schooldays and early teaching days. While there, he began writing what would be his last novel, Scorpio Rising.

Vliet was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1972, and after a brief illness, the disease went into remission. In 1982, Vliet learned that the lymphoma had come out of remission, and had taken a strong grip on his health. The following year, he was recognized with a Distinguished Alumni Award from his alma mater, Southwest Texas State University. Despite serious illness from chemotherapy as well as from the symptoms of the disease itself, Vliet continued work on his last novel, Scorpio Rising, completing it just days before his death. This novel, set in both Massachusetts and Texas, is widely considered to be his best. Russell Gordon Vliet died of lymphoma in North Adams, Massachusetts, in May, 1984.

Since his death, Vliet’s novel Solitudes was reprinted by Texas Christian University Press as Soledad, (1986), and cited in James Ward Lee’s Classics of Texas Fiction, in 1987. Rockspring was reprinted by Southern Methodist University (1992), the play “Regions of Noon” was published in William Martin’s Texas Plays, (Southern Methodist University Press,1990), and Vliet’s poetry will be featured in a forthcoming anthology edited by Dave Oliphant. Malcolm Cowley, who served as editor for Vliet and many other award-winning authors at Random House, describes Vliet’s prose as “a joy and a continual surprise. There is nobody else with talent for evoking Texas as it was in the 1880s, nobody else who gives us the same sharp feeling for landscape, animals, birds, changing skies, and above all for people, as they lived out their solitary, violent lives full of kindness, resentments, and hardships accepted without complaint. Vliet’s writing is close to becoming a national treasure.”


22 Linear Feet

45 boxes

Language of Materials


Metadata Rights Declarations

  • The descriptive data created for this finding aid is licensed under the CC0 Creative Commons license and is free for use without restriction.


This collection consists of notes, outlines, drafts, typescripts, correspondence, subject files, photographs, newsclippings, artifacts, a scrapbook, legal, medical, and financial records.

Physical Location

Materials may be stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use:

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, 1993

Guide to the Russell G. (R. G.) Vliet Papers
Amanda Oates
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2011: Finding aid revised by Alan Schaefer as part of the Wittliff's Collection Numbering Project
  • 2021: Revised for ArchivesSpace by Katie Salzmann

Repository Details

Part of the The Wittliff Collections Repository

601 University Drive
San Marcos Texas 78666 USA