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News — Sam Shepard Exhibition & Book

The Writer's Road: Inside the Sam Shepard Archive

Sam Shepard driving, 1997, snapshot by Johnny Dark
Sam driving, 1997, snapshot by Johnny Dark

Texas State's Wittliff Collections celebrate forthcoming series book with their first ever major exhibition from the Sam Shepard Papers

RELEASED June 6, 2013

On Monday, June 3, 2013, the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University in San Marcos opened the new literary exhibition The Writer’s Road: Selections from the Sam Shepard Papers. This is the first time an exhibition has been exclusively drawn from the Wittliff’s major archive of Sam Shepard, which the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Academy Award-nominated actor began donating to the Wittliff Collections in 1992. Shepard’s materials have recently inspired a documentary film and new Wittliff series book, both of which will be celebrated with events this fall. 

Admission to the exhibition is free. The Wittliff Collections are located on the seventh floor of the Alkek Library at Texas State University in San Marcos, mid-way between Austin and San Antonio. Exhibition hours, directions, parking details, and more information about visiting the Wittliff is online. For questions, call 512.245.2313.

The Writer’s Road uses journals, correspondence, photographs, interviews, manuscripts, and published works to map the trajectory of Shepard’s career: from his days as a young, rebellious one-act off-Broadway playwright to his maturation into master of the complex family drama with plays like Curse of the Starving Class, Buried Child, and True West. Shepard reveals his states of mind in handwritten notes and letters along the way, from his spiritual sojourns in England in the early 1970s to his unexpected fame as a major Hollywood star in the 1980s. Other materials show the roles of important people in Shepard’s life, including actress O-Lan Jones, Bob Dylan, and Jessica Lange.

Lending depth and intimacy to the exhibition are numerous artifacts from a significant archive recently acquired by the Wittliff: the Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark Collection. This holding contains nearly 300 letters exchanged over more than four decades between Shepard and his long-time close friend, as well as hundreds of candid photographs and other materials that open a larger window onto Shepard’s personal life.



The Wittliff’s Shepard/Dark Collection has already inspired an award-winning documentary film, as well as the newest book in the Wittliff’s Southwestern Writers Collection Series: Two Prospectors: The Letters of Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark. The book brings to light letters and photographs from the Shepard/Dark holdings to illuminate the decades-long family relationship and close friendship between Sam and Johnny. Edited by Chad Hammett, Two Prospectors will be published in October 2013 by the University of Texas Press.

A book party will be held at the Wittliff Collections in the spring.

Filmmaker Treva Wurmfeld documented the two men’s reflections as they sifted through their years of correspondence in preparation for turning the materials over to the Wittliff for the book. Coproduced by Joanne Woodward, Wurmfeld’s film Shepard and Dark—which screened at Cannes in May—continues to gather accolades as it appears on select screens across Canada and the U.S.

The Wittliff will host a special screening of Shepard and Dark with Treva Wurmfield on Thursday, October 10. Admission is free.

The Writer’s Road was co-curated by Chad Hammett of Texas State’s English department and Steve Davis of the Wittliff Collections. The exhibition runs through February 14, 2014.

Shepard is currently appearing onscreen in the role of Tom Blankenship in the film Mud, and he has several other films in pre- and post-production.


Cover of Two Prospectors: The Letters of Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark



Sam Shepard is arguably America’s finest working dramatist, as well as an accomplished screenwriter, actor, and director. Winner of a Pulitzer Prize, he has written more than forty-five plays, including True West, Fool for Love, and Buried Child, and published six books of prose as well as three screenplays. Shepard has also appeared in more than fifty films, beginning with Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, and he was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as test pilot Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff. Despite the publicity his work and life have attracted, Shepard has said many times he will never write a memoir. But he has written intensively about his inner life and creative work to his former father-in-law and housemate, Johnny Dark, who has been Shepard’s closest friend, surrogate brother (they’re nearly the same age), and even artistic muse for forty-five years and counting.

Two Prospectors: The Letters of Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark gathers nearly forty years of correspondence and transcribed conversations between Shepard and Dark. In these gripping, sometimes gut-wrenching letters, the men open themselves up to each other with startling honesty. Shepard’s letters give us the deepest look we may ever get into his personal philosophy and creative process, while in Dark’s letters we discover insights into Shepard’s character that only an intimate friend could provide. The writers also reflect on the books and authors that stimulate their thinking, their relationships with women (including Shepard’s anguished decision to leave his wife and son—Dark’s stepdaughter and grandson—for actress Jessica Lange), personal struggles, and accumulating years. Illustrated with Dark’s candid, revealing photographs of Shepard and their mutual family across many years, as well as facsimiles of numerous letters, Two Prospectors is a compelling portrait of a complex friendship that has anchored two lives for decades.

Editor Chad Hammett teaches at Texas State University–San Marcos, from which he received a master of fine arts degree in fiction.