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Someone had to write Sam Shepard’s biography, so he did it

John J. Winters started studying Sam Shepard’s work about five years ago with the idea of writing a book.Karen Callan

Diehard Bob Dylan fan John J. Winters of Raynham became fascinated with actor/playwright Sam Shepard when he heard that Shepard co-wrote “Brownsville Girl” with Dylan on the musician’s 1986 album “Knocked Out Loaded.”

“The album wasn’t very good, but the song is considered a mid-career classic of Dylan’s,” said Winters, an adjunct faculty member and director of news and digital content at Bridgewater State University. “I remembered reading he’d co-written it with this Sam Shepard guy. I wanted to know more.”

Jacket of "Sam Shepard: A Life."handout

That fascination eventually led to Winters writing a biography, “Sam Shepard: A Life,” which was released in early April. He wrote the book with no input from Shepard, though he did seek out the reclusive actor.


“I didn’t expect him to cooperate, as he doesn’t typically like to do these sorts of things,” Winters said. “Luckily, I had some recent interviews, plus a plethora of new and previously unknown information about his life and work from the notebooks and journals I found in his archives.”

Winters started studying Shepard’s work about five years ago with the idea of writing a book. There hadn’t been a Shepard biography in nearly 30 years, Winters said, adding, “I found the need was too great to go unfulfilled, and if no one else was doing it, I may as well.”

Winters interviewed people who know Shepard, whose career includes a Pulitzer Prize for his 1979 play, “Buried Child,” and an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Chuck Yeager in the 1983 film “The Right Stuff.”

“I feel I was able to uncover much that is new about his life and work,” Winters said.

Winters, who also writes play reviews as a freelancer, said of the 73-year-old’s work, “There’s something ineffable at the center, some mystery that’s eating away at the main characters.”


As to what he hopes his biography of Shepard will accomplish, he said, “I hope fans of his writing and acting will find a compelling portrait, while future generations who wonder what all the fuss was about will be able to pluck this book off the shelf and find out.”

Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at