Five Questions for Sam Shepard: A Life author John Winters

Five Questions for Sam Shepard: A Life author John Winters

1. What inspired you to write this biography?

Sam Shepard has triumphed in so many areas – Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Oscar-nominated actor, great prose stylist, screenwriter of the now-classic film, Paris Texas, accomplished drummer, and he’s a hell of horseman. Add to this that he’s accomplished all this on his own terms. I felt it was time to update his life story. There hadn’t been a new bio in more than a quarter century, plus there were new letters and archival material available.

2. What are you reading right now?

The new Richard Russo collection of short stories, Trajectory, that I’m scheduled to review. Plus a cultural history of the 20th century that I can’t recall the name of. For walking the dogs I have The Brothers Karamazov on audio, read by an eccentric British man who I suspect might be drunk.

3. What’s the one book that you recommend to people, over and over?

Crime and Punishment. It’s one of those classics that so many people are afraid to tackle, and I tell them it’s not that difficult. Once you understand that each character can be known by a few different names and you get those down, you’re good to go. As for the controversial epilogue, I’m glad Dostoyevsky included it – it makes me weep like a baby every time.

4. Who are some of your writer mentors? Do you find that’s changed over time as you evolve as a writer or do they remain the same?

Michael Lennon was Norman Mailer’s archivist, and he wrote the great biography of Mailer, A Double Life. After I reviewed it, he contacted me and said he lived just up the road a bit, suggesting we should get a beer some time. We met and I adopted him as a mentor. He’s encouraged me all along, fielded my questions and provided wise counsel in my hours of need – which were not infrequent.

5. What is your most prized book possession? A first edition? A gift? Please describe.

A few years ago, the owner of a bookstand near Central Park recognized a middle-aged man perusing the stacks. The owner realized it was Sam Shepard. He approached him with the only copy of a Shepard book he had on hand. Sam signed it for him. Last year, I bought it from the owner. It’s titled Angel City and Other Plays.