JohN J. Winters

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.

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...

"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

"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 journalist who has devoted years to Shepard’s life and works debuts with a comprehensive account of the life of the prolific playwright, poet, fiction writer, musician, and more. ― Kirkus

Boston Globe, May 7, 2017; Interview with John

“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

John J. Winters has been a fan of playwright and actor Sam Shepard’s since the 1980s. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that Winters, who teaches English at Bridgewater State University, decided to tackle a project bigger than any of his past work as a teacher, journalist, and critic. Continue...

Portrait of Sam Shepard, dark, shy, complex yet familiar, human.

"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.