A Guide to the Russell G. (R.G) Vliet Papers, 1900 - 1986 (Bulk: 1960-1984)
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 and 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.”
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.
Series 1. Works:
Subseries A: Novels (ca.1971-1984) This subseries very clearly shows Vliet’s process of writing from preliminary research through final product. It includes extensive background research files including files by subject containing clippings from newspapers and magazines, library call slips, color and black and white photographs, and handwritten notes. Following these research files are drafts of chapters handwritten in pencil, annotated typescripts, clean typescripts, and (minimal) correspondence. Perhaps most meticulously documented is the process of writing Scorpio Rising, Vliet’s last novel, despite the fact that he was violently ill when writing it and died only one week after completing it. The author’s widow, Ann Vliet, saw this novel through to publication.
Subseries B : Plays (1953-1980, n.d.) Drafts of plays (mostly handwritten in pencil and annotated) and typescripts (mostly mimeographs or photocopies with annotations) are arranged in this subseries in alphabetical order. For reviews and further information regarding the author’s plays, see Series 2 : Personal, Subseries D : Newsclippings.
Subseries C : Poetry (n.d.) Individual handwritten and typed poems, and hand-bound books of poetry, comprise this subseries. Many of the individual poems are accompanied by drafts, some are single copies. Individual poems are arranged alphabetically, followed by books of poetry, also arranged alphabetically. See also Series 2 : Personal, Subseries C: Scrapbook, for early drafts of poetry.
Subseries D : Stories (n.d.) This subseries includes short stories such as “The Morning of the First Day”, and “The Morning and the Evening of the First Day”. Many are complete stories, some are fragments or are in draft form. Portions of these examples of Vliet’s early prose would later be worked into the author’s novels.
Subseries E : Articles and Essays (1960, n.d.) Articles and essays in this subseries relate to Vliet’s own writing process and influences. All are in typescript form and most have handwritten annotations.
Subseries F : Speeches (1978-1983, n.d.) This subseries includes drafts and typescripts of four speeches which address Vliet’s writing process and influences. Also included here is the author’s acceptance speech for the 1978 Texas Institute of Letters Award received for his novel, Solitudes.
Subseries G : Subject Files (n.d.) Handwritten and typed notes, clippings, and photocopies, arranged in alphabetical order by the author’s subject categories, comprise the majority of this subseries. Also included are several folders of topographical and road maps of various Texas counties and other locations.
Series 2 : Personal
Subseries A : Correspondence (1955-1985) This subseries is broken into two parts; Business Correspondence (1955-1984) and Personal Correspondence (1958-1985). Business correspondence relates to Vliet’s writing career, and covers such subjects as writing submissions, editing of works to be published, royalties for published works. Correspondents include various poetry and literary journals, Texas Institute of Letters, the Ford Foundation, and Vliet’s agent, Lucy Kroll, of the Lucy Kroll Agency.
Two non-correspondence files were filed by the author with this business correspondence, and are located at the beginning of this group of correspondence. The first of these, “Market List”, is a list of journals and publishers to contact; the second file, “Notes on copyright”, includes lists of Vliet’s works and their copyright status (transfer of copyright, renewal dates for copyright, etc.) and notes regarding royalties.
Personal correspondence in this subseries includes letters to Vliet from long-time friends such as Ruth Bloom, Harry Clauss, Alan Distler, John Haag, Ralph Houston, and David Lyttle. Several letters from Vliet to Ralph Houston are also included here, presumably sent to Ann Vliet after R.G. Vliet’s death. These letters are of special interest in that they discuss Vliet’s writing and his health. Correspondence from Vliet’s family include genealogical information, and a letter from Vliet’s father, R.G. Vliet, Sr., regarding the use of the name “R.G. Vliet” in published materials.
Subseries B : Photographs (ca. 1950-1980) Photographs in this subseries are divided into the following groups: photographs of R.G. Vliet alone, Vliet and his immediate family, Vliet and extended family, Mexico snapshots, friends, workspaces, and pets. Most are color snapshots from Vliet’s personal life, most are not labeled with identifying information. See also Subseries C : Scrapbook, for additional photographs, especially from Vliet’s youth.
Subseries C : Scrapbook (ca. 1929-1950) This scrapbook serves as Vliet’s baby book, and documents his activities as a Boy Scout and Eagle Scout, his high school days (including his diploma), and college days at Southwest Texas State University, as well as some examples of his early poetry and sketches. Formats include photographs, drawings, newsclippings, pressed flowers, awards and badges, membership cards, letters, drafts of poetry.
Subseries D : Clippings (1960-1985) Clippings in this subseries cover subjects ranging from Vliet’s early play productions to the posthumous publication of his last novel, Scorpio Rising. These clippings were maintained by the author and filed along with play programs for several plays. This original order has been maintained, so that clippings regarding specific plays are filed here along with the play programs.
Subseries E : Notebook (1955) This subseries is comprised of Vliet’s handwritten notes for a class taken at Yale School of Drama, “History of the Theater”, in 1955.
Subseries F : Medical Records (1982-1989) Records in this subseries include correspondence, photocopied clippings, and doctors’ reports regarding R. G. Vliet’s fight against lymphoma from 1982 until his death in 1984. Also included are records relating to Ann Vliet’s health from to 1987-1989.
Subseries G : Legal Records (1983-1986) R.G. Vliet’s Last Will and Testament (1983) is included in this subseries, along with documents relating to a 1983 purchase of land in Kyle, Texas, and Ann Vliet’s 1985-86 retirement and move to Kyle.
Subseries H : Financial Records (1964-1990) Check registers, bank statements, tax receipts and notes comprise one-half of this subseries. The second half includes financial notes and notebooks maintained by R. G. Vliet, which document expenditures relating to research and writing and may have been tax deductible.
Subseries I : Computer disks (n.d.) Eighty-six 5 1/4” floppy computer disks (with no print-outs) are included in this subseries. Many are untitled or have fragments of labels.
Subseries J : Artifacts (1982, n.d.) One award (from Southwest Texas State University) and several items of clothing, as well as Vliet’s eyeglasses and case, are included in this subseries. The embroidered white cotton shirt worn by Vliet at his daughter’s wedding (see Series 2 : Personal, Subseries B : Photographs) can also be found here.
Open for research.
Russell G. (R.G) Vliet Papers, Southwestern Writers Collection/Texas State University-San Marcos.
Purchased from Ann Vliet, 1993.
Processed by Amanda Oates, 1999.
Detailed Description of the Collection