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A Guide to the Sam Shepard Papers, 1972-1999 (Bulk: 1980-1999)

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Shepard, Sam, 1943-
Title: Sam Shepard Papers
Dates: 1972-1999 (Bulk: 1980-1999)
Abstract: Materials relating to Shepard's career as a writer and actor.
Identification: Collection 054
Extent: 26 boxes (12.75 linear feet)
Language: Materials are written in English.
Repository: Southwestern Writers Collection, Special Collections, Alkek Library, Texas State University-San Marcos

Biographical Note

Widely considered one of America’s greatest living playwrights, Sam Shepard is also an accomplished actor, director, screenwriter, and musician. Born Samuel Shepard Rogers IV on November 5, 1943 in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, Shepard is the oldest of three children. His family traveled extensively before settling in Duarte, California, outside of Pasadena, where his childhood experiences informed themes that mark much of his later playwriting. Shepard described Duarte as a “weird accumulation of things, a strange kind of melting pot – Spanish, Okie, Black, Midwestern elements all jumbled together. People on the move who couldn’t move anymore, who wound up in trailer parks.” (Rolling Stone, 1986). Shepard told biographer Don Shewey that his alcoholic father “had a real short fuse,” and that he was often the target of his father’s anger. In high school he began acting and writing poetry. He also worked as a stable hand at a horse ranch in Chino, California from 1958-1960. Thinking of becoming a veterinarian, Shepard studied agriculture at Mount Antonio Junior College for a year; but when a traveling theater group, The Bishop’s Company Repertory Players, came through town, Shepard joined them and left home. After touring with them from 1962-1963, he moved to New York City and worked as a bus boy at the Village Gate in Greenwich Village.

In New York, Shepard spent much of his time reading the works of playwrights and writing short “rock and roll” plays which frequently focused “on a single event, the characters often talking past one another or breaking into long monologues. However puzzling the action, these plays already ring out with Shepard’s deft rhythms,” (Contemporary Dramatists 1999). Shepard disavowed the narrative convention that required consistent character motivations, preferring instead to see his characters as capable of a wide variety of roles and actions. Shepard once told an interviewer that, “I preferred a character that was constantly unidentifiable, shifting through the actor, so that the actor could play almost anything, and the audience was never expected to identify with the characters,” (Shewey, Sam Shepard, 1997, p. 51). Shepard reconsidered this initial approach to his writing as a result of the influence of New York director and acting teacher Joseph Chaiken. As Shepard said, Chaiken helped him understand that there’s, “…no room for self indulgence in theater; you have to be thinking about the audience.” (Kevin Berger, salon.com, January 2, 2001) Chaiken also convinced Shepard to begin re-writing his plays in order to discover the essence of the experience. Prior to that, Shepard said, his “tendency was to jam, like it was jazz or something.” (Berger, salon.com, January 2, 2001)

Shepard’s playwriting debut took place at Theater Genesis on October 16, 1964, with a double bill of Cowboys and Rock Garden. In 1966, he received a grant from the University of Minnesota, the first of several he would receive in the coming years. Also in 1966, he won an unprecedented trio of Obie awards for Chicago, Icarus’ Mother, and Red Cross. The awards, presented by off-off Broadway champion The Village Voice, helped Shepard’s career gain momentum at a time when critics remained wary of his works.

In 1967, Shepard wrote La Turista, his first full-length play, which won an Obie the same year. More Obies for his early works followed, including Melodrama Play and Cowboys #2 in 1968. Shepard also received grants from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1967 and the Guggenheim Foundation in 1968. Also in 1968, Shepard joined a rock band, the Holy Modal Rounders, playing drums and guitar. Although he played with the band for three years, he continued to write and received a second Guggenheim Foundation grant in 1971.

Shepard married O-Lan Jones Dark, an actress, on November 9, 1969, with whom he had one son, Jesse Mojo Shepard. Shepard and Dark divorced in 1984. In 1971, Shepard had a much-publicized relationship with rock singer Patti Smith. Together they wrote Cowboy Mouth, acting the parts on stage in the first night’s performance.

In 1971, Shepard and family traveled to England, where four more plays premiered (The Tooth of Crime, Blue Bitch, Geography of a Horse Dreamer, and Little Ocean). Tooth of Crime was later presented in the U.S., winning an Obie in 1973. The next year, Shepard returned to the United States and served as the playwright in residence for The Magic Theater in San Francisco, a post he held for the next ten years. It was during this time that Shepard made his mark on mainstream American drama, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for his play Buried Child and producing his best-known plays, among them, True West in 1980.

In 1975, he took part in Bob Dylan’s “Rolling Thunder Review,” a nationwide touring group that included Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs. Shepard eventually published an account of the experience in 1987, titled Rolling Thunder Logbook. In 1978, Shepard began his film career, appearing in Bob Dylan’s Renaldo and Clara and later that year in Days of Heaven, directed by Terence Mallick. Also in 1978, Shepard began his collaboration with Joseph Chaiken, with the theater piece, Tongues. Chaiken and Shepard would also collaborate on Savage/Love (1979), and The War in Heaven, which was presented on WBAI radio in 1985.

In the 1980s, his works continued to win awards. He won his eleventh Obie for Fool for Love (1984.) A Lie of the Mind won the New York Drama Critics Award in 1986. Also during the 1980s, Shepard’s screenwriting and acting career began to grow. Screenplays included Me and My Brother, Zabriskie Point, and Fool for Love. His most popular and critically acclaimed film, Paris, Texas, won a Golden Palm Awards at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984. This screenplay was commissioned by German director Wim Wenders, and was based loosely on Shepard’s Motel Chronicles. His acting roles included Resurrection (1980), Raggedy Man (1981), Frances (1982), The Right Stuff (1983), for which he received an Academy Award nomination, Country (1984), Fool for Love (1985), Crimes of the Heart (1986), and Steel Magnolias (1989). He wrote and directed Far North (1988), which starred Jessica Lange.

Shepard continued to write new plays in the 1990s, though his output has slowed from the dizzying pace of the 1960s-1970s. States of Shock premiered in 1991, and in 1992 a revised version of True West was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Drama. Simpatico opened in 1994, and his revision of Buried Child opened on Broadway in 1996 and received a Tony Award nomination. Another collaboration with Joseph Chaiken, When the World Was Green (A Chef’s Fable) also premiered in 1996. Shepard’s collection of stories, Cruising Paradise, was published by Knopf in 1996. Curse of the Starving Class opened in 1997 and Eyes for Consuela (based on an Octavio Paz short story) was produced in 1998. In 2001, Shepard returned to San Francisco’s The Magic Theater for the premier of his new play The Late Henry Moss.

Shepard’s acting career also flourished through the 1990s and 2000s, with appearances in Defenseless (1991), Thunderheart (1992), The Pelican Brief (1993), and The Good Old Boys (1995), among others. Shepard wrote and directed the feature film Silent Tongue (1992). Some of his additional film appearances include All the Pretty Horses (2000), based on the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, Blackhawk Down (2001), Swordfish (2001), The Notebook (2004), Stealth (2005), Walker (2005), and Bandidas (2006).

Shepard was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letter in 1986. In 1992, he received the Gold Medal for Drama from the Academy and in 1994 he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame. He is currently in a committed relationship with actress Jessica Lange, with whom he has lived since the early 1980s. The couple has two children, Hannah Jane Shepard and Samuel Walker Shepard.

Shepard’s impact on modern theater can be gauged by the numerous scholarly books and articles devoted to his work, as well as the hundreds of productions of his plays, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Scope and Content Note

Series I: Plays (1982-1999) Boxes 1-9

The series for Plays is the largest of Shepard’s works and includes notes, annotated typescripts, playbills, programs, correspondence, sound recordings, rehearsal schedules, reviews, and publicity. This series is notable in that Shepard meticulously identified each annotated draft with the date and place (by city and state) of each revision, and there tend to be multiple drafts of each work represented.

Series II: Novels (1991, n.d.) Boxes 9-10

Two unpublished annotated typescripts of novels comprise this series. Their titles are Stray Hand (1991) and Slow Dawning of a Sudden Loss (n.d.).

Series III: Short Stories (1989-1998) Boxes 10-14

Many of the short stories represented in this series were published in short story compilations Motel Chronicles (1982) and Cruising Paradise (1996). The series has been arranged by those compilation titles. Volador was a working title for Cruising Paradise; those files immediately precede the files labeled Cruising Paradise. The files for Volador / Cruising Paradise include multiple drafts of stories, correspondence, while files for Motel Chronicles include annotated typescripts and production information, but no multiple drafts.

Series IV: Films (1982-1998) Boxes 14-18

This series is divided into two subseries. The first, films for which Shepard wrote the screenplay, includes: notes, annotated drafts, dialogue rewrites, publicity, correspondence, contracts, music notes, production notes and schedules. Of the films in this subseries, Silent Tongue includes the most information (1 linear foot), followed by Far North, (.25 linear feet.), Onibaba (.25 linear feet), Paris, TX ( 4 folders), and Plain Fate, an unfinished work (1 folder).

The second subseries of films is for those which Shepard did not write the screenplay but in which he appears as an actor, Bright Angel (1989-90) and Voyager (1990-91) both include screenplay typescripts with Shepard’s annotations. Thunderheart (1991) includes storyboards and color photographs, Dash and Lily (1998) includes an advertisement.

Series V. Literary Criticism (1984) Box 18

This series is comprised of a review by Shepard of Peter Handke’s novel The Weight of the World, including a letter from Handke’s editor, Shepard’s draft, and a copy of the essay as published in Vanity Fair, Sept. 1984.

Series VI. Notebooks (1981-1995) Boxes 19-20

The Notebooks series includes handwritten notes, dialogue ideas, small drawings, and journal entries, usually in spiral bound notebooks. Some entries are personal and many were or were intended to be developed into longer works.

Series VII. Correspondence (1982-1998) Boxes 20-21

Topics include the publication of Shepard’s works in magazines and Journals as excerpts, as well as in their entirety; correspondence with agent Lois Berman. This series also includes correspondence from Shepard’s son, Jesse, as noted. Aside from general correspondence, this series also includes correspondence from specific individuals and is organized as follows:

A. Chaikin, Joseph (1984-1987) The majority of these letters from Joseph Chaikin to Shepard relate to plays the two collaborated on. Because they date from after Chaikin’s strokes, many of the letters include fragments of sentences and ideas.

B. Daniels, Barry (1984-1989) This series includes correspondence regarding the volume Daniels edited entitled Joseph Chaikin and Sam Shepard : Letters and Texts, 1972-1984. Also included is an advance proof, articles on Shepard and Chaikin, and a photograph of Chaikin by Ray Maichen.

C. Dark, Johnny (1973-1998, bulk 1983-1998) Johnny Dark is Shepard’s former father-in-law and close friend. This series includes correspondence with Dark regarding writing and literature (Kerouac and Proust), his close friendship with Shepard, their families, Shepard’s son Jesse who lived with the Darks, and photographs of Jesse Shepard, Sam Shepard (including one dated 1973), the Darks, and others. Also includes 1988 story by Dark about his girlfriend, Magic, and undated letter with typed photocopy entitled “Notebooks October-May 1988”, reflections on Dark’s life.

Series VIII. Clippings (1983-1998) Box 22

This series includes news clippings regarding Shepard and his work. A file of undated clippings also includes photocopied fragments of others’ work, annotated by Shepard.

Series IX. Awards (1988-1998) Box 22

This series includes award certificates, correspondence, presentation programs, and clippings for awards Shepard received from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, among other institutions.

Series X. Interviews (1980-1997) Box 22

This series is comprised of a conversation between Bob Dylan and Shepard, ca. mid 1980s to early 1990s. No transcript currently exists for these 3 audiocassettes, but the tapes have been transferred to CD as listening copies. Also included are the typescript and galleys for an interview of Shepard by Paris Review, regarding Shepard’s writing process, 1997, and an interview with Shepard on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air”, August 1996.

Series XI. Readings (1991-94) Box 22

This series is comprised of Shepard’s notes, correspondence and annotated photocopies of excerpts of his work read at various events. Arranged in chronological order by the event’s date.

Series XII. Published compilations (1984-1993) Box 23

Cover art proposals and galleys for compilations of Shepard’s work published by Vintage and Bantam comprise this series.

Series XIII. Works by Others (1984-1998) Boxes 23-25

Arranged by genre (articles, books, sound recordings, screenplays, short stories and teleplays), most of the works in this series are based on or inspired by Shepard’s works. Authors mailed the works to Shepard for his comments, and many items include typescripts annotated by Shepard and correspondence.

Series XIV. Framed Posters

Includes 4 posters that were removed from the collection and framed for exhibit. Additional unframed posters can be found listed within the collection.


Access Restrictions

Open for research.

Index Terms

Dramatists, American -- 20th century -- Sources.
Motion picture film collections.
Motion picture actors and actresses -- United States – Sources.
Authors, American--20th century--Sources.
Dylan, Bob, 1941- Interviews.
Chaikin, Joseph, 1935- Correspondence.
Dark, Johnny--Correspondence.
Shepard, Sam, 1943- donor

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Name of Collection, Southwestern Writers Collection/Texas State University-San Marcos.

Acquisition Information

Gifts donated by Sam Shepard, 1992-2000. Contact the SWWC for information about additional materials from this writer that have not yet been fully processed.

Processing Information

Processed by Amanda York, 2000. Inventory revised by Amy Ruthrauff, 2005.

Detailed Description of the Collection


The inventory for this collection is currently unavailable. Please contact the Southwestern Writers Collection, Special Collections, Alkek Library, Texas State University-San Marcos for more information regarding this collection.