Sam Shepard’s True West
The playwright’s drifters and dreamers do battle with destiny on a Shakespearean level. Ethan Mordden reviews “Sam Shepard” by John J. Winters.

Tributes and appreciations about Sam featuring or written by John: Press Play/KCRW, WBUR/The ARTery, Boston Globe, London Guardian, The Sun Chronicle and Salon/The Conversation.

NEW: The never-produced play Sam wrote during his short college career finally received its premiere. Thanks to the Guardian for letting me share some thoughts about it. READ 

“Winters has produced an engrossing examination of the enigmatic Sam Shepard in this first major (and unauthorized) biography. Drawing on widely scattered archival sources and dozens of interviews with Shepard’s friends, colleagues and others, he has deftly sorted out the authentic ore of fact from the farrago of legends, rumors and canards surrounding one of the greatest playwrights and actors of our time. Along the way Winters has shrewdly delineated Shepard’s relations with Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Wim Wenders, and Jessica Lange, the love of his life.” - J. Michael Lennon, author of Norman Mailer: A Double Life

The Bridge, a London-based magazine for Bob Dylan fans, features a lengthy interview with John in its latest issue. Shepard and Dylan interacted many times over the decades, on the Rolling Thunder Revue and the writing of the song "Brownsville Girl." Vincent Farinaccio did his homework, and produced an intriguing feature.

"Impeccably researched and beautifully written, author John Winters gives us an unflinching, deep dive into the psyche, imagination and soul of Sam Shepard. Packed with exclusive new details of Shepard's amazing and intriguing life, it's essential reading for fans of this enigmatic playwright, minstrel and actor." ― Dave Wedge, co-author of Boston Strong: A City's Triumph Over Tragedy and Challenge: The Story of Pete Frates and the Ice Bucket Challenge.

“[A] new, thoroughly researched biography. Winters does indeed capture a personality more anxious and self-doubting than previous biographers have grasped.” — The Washington Post

"[A] literary fact-finding mission..."— Playbill

American Theatre magazine just reviewed Sam Shepard: A Life. Here's some of what they had to say: “Comprehensive and zealously researched.”

“As the first Shepard biographer with access to important archives, letters, and play drafts, Winters is able to dismantle the Shepard creation myth of a genius sprung from the womb.”

 “His relationship with Jessica Lange (is) described in detail for the first time in Winters’s book.” - Michael Bloom, American Theatre magazine. (
Full review)

By Ethan Mordden
May 5, 2017 2:08 p.m. ET

The lights come up on a blindfolded cowboy in jeans and a T-shirt strapped into an electric chair. He speaks of a pickup truck he intends to buy and of horse breeding. He falls silent for a full minute, then starts up again with “Dude says he can give me a deal on that blue truck.” After more of this, the lights fade and, as they go to black, the chair lights up, the cowboy is dead and the play is over.

Or consider the saga of an outstandingly dysfunctional family, one that takes in adultery, incest and the murder of a baby. Half the time no one knows who anyone is, though most of the characters are closely related. You could die in the living room and no one would notice. Continue...

"[An] excellent biography... Mr. Winters has an interesting story to tell, and he recounts it ably, bringing us close to a figure who, he admits, avoids intimacy." —​ Wall Street Journal

"First-time biographer Winters, a journalist and critic, meticulously presents the facts of Shepard’s complex life along with incisive descriptions and analyses of diverse productions of Shepard’s demanding and innovative plays... Ultimately, Winters portrays Shepard as a magnetic, enigmatic, and multitalented artist drawing on a deep well of loneliness and self-questioning, keen attunement to the zeitgeist, and penetrating insight into human nature." ― Starred Review, Booklist

"Thanks to this fine biography, I feel I 'knew' Shepard well, as an amazing artist who blended his ceaseless creative drive with personal integrity that rarely wavered... John J. Winters gives us an engrossing view of a quirkily remarkable guy... Winters displays his expertise as a longtime Shepard scholar, yet never forgets to tell a good story, as well... Hand in hand with the sobering news of his passing, this excellent book should inspire readers to revisit the Sam Shepard canon, both in print and on celluloid. This singular man’s legacy deserves no less. — TheaterJones

"Highly recommended to theater and movie lovers." — Library Journal

"John Winters offers a master class in literary sleuthing, untangling the many lives and unearthing the origin story of America’s foremost Renaissance man of letters, Sam Shepard. One part literary detective story, one part un-put-downable page-turner, Sam Shepard: A Life will serve as the definitive account of one of the 20th century’s most enigmatic, beguiling and beloved figures of the stage, screen and page." ― Kelly Horan, WBUR radio and co-author of Devotion and Defiance: My Journey in Love, Faith and Politics.

"Using his unsurpassed knowledge of the various Shepard archives and the contents of his interviews of those involved in Shepard’s life and career, Winters shows us connections between the playwright’s life and works and provides details about his various relationships with women—including the rise and fall and mild rise again of his involvement with actress Jessica Lange." ― Kirkus

Sam Shepard: A Life was selected by amazon editorial as a "Best Book of April" in Biographies & Memoirs

Sam Shepard: A Life is now available in paperback (including a new epilogue).

JohN J. Winters



"I Bought Sam Shepard's Clothes off the Internet"