Remembering Sam Shepard: A Reading List
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Avant-garde, non-conformist, musical and a resolute outsider, playwright, screenwriter, songwriter and actor Sam Shepard died this week at the age of 73.
One of the US’ most celebrated and prolific contemporary playwrights, he wrote almost 50 plays, often using his nomadic childhood and dysfunctional family as material for his work. He started out in New York with a series of one-act plays, which quickly gained recognition from the public and critics alike. In 1967 he wrote his first full-length play; an allegory on the Vietnam War. He played drums and guitar in a rock band, continued to write plays, struck out in screenwriting and became an actor; he is probably best-known for his role in Terrence Malick’s 1978 Days of Heaven. The list of talented artists he worked with is innumerable—Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Michelangelo Antonioni, Robert Altman, Wim Wenders—Shepard alternated between cinema and theatre, his writing becoming more political with the times, reflecting complexity and darkness. Most recently he took on a role in the Netflix series Bloodline, and published a book last February called The One Inside.
Patti Smith, with whom Shepard had a relationship and long friendship, wrote a lovely tribute to Shepard in The New Yorker. Shepard would sometimes call her, out of the blue, late at night:
I’d happily awake, stir up some Nescafé and we’d talk about anything. About the emeralds of Cortez, or the white crosses in Flanders Fields, about our kids, or the history of the Kentucky Derby. But mostly we talked about writers and their books. Latin writers. Rudy Wurlitzer. Nabokov. Bruno Schulz.
“Gogol was Ukrainian,” he once said, seemingly out of nowhere. Only not just any nowhere, but a sliver of a many-faceted nowhere that, when lifted in a certain light, became a somewhere. I’d pick up the thread, and we’d improvise into dawn, like two beat-up tenor saxophones, exchanging riffs.
All photographs courtesy http://www.sam-shepard.com