(originally published Fall 2005)
Editor’s note: This article has been slightly updated to reflect that Sam Shepard passed away at the end of July of this year.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Academy Award®-nominated actor Sam Shepard was not normally thought of as a “Southwesterner,” yet an extraordinary collection of his archives is held in the Wittliff Collections.
“Sam is of the Southwest and embodies a southwestern spirit,” says [former Wittliff Collections director] Connie Todd. “Many of the themes associated with him can be considered southwestern, and some of his most significant work has been done here in the Southwest. We’re very comfortable having his papers, and we’re lucky to be able to have the latitude to collect an artist of his stature.”
The Shepard Papers represent one of the most significant acquisitions ever received by the Southwestern Writers Collection, and the story of how the materials came into the archives is an important reminder of the influence of the collection’s founding donors, Bill and Sally Wittliff.
Shepard had already received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for his play Buried Child when he met Bill Wittliff on the set of Resurrection, which was one of Shepard’s first major film roles. Wittliff played a bit part in the movie as a favor to a producer friend of his, and he and Shepard quickly struck up a friendship. When work began a few months later on Wittliff’s own movie, Raggedy Man, Wittliff cast Shepard in the title role, and the two men’s friendship deepened. Later they would work together on Country, which also starred Shepard’s long-time partner, actress Jessica Lange.
After establishing the Southwestern Writers Collection, Wittliff began talking to Shepard about donating his literary papers. As Wittliff recalls, Shepard was very amenable to the idea, and he began sending his material to Texas State in 1992. (Some of Shepard’s previous work is
held at Boston University and the University of Virginia – and there is a subsequent collection at The University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center.)
Shepard’s literary papers at the Wittliff are substantial, consisting of twenty-four document cases plus oversize material. Included are drafts of Shepard’s plays, novels, short stories, films, and copies of critical reviews of his work. Shepard’s heavily annotated manuscript drafts, identified with date and place, allow for scholars to trace the arc of his creative process. Also in the Shepard collection are journals, correspondence, clippings, awards, interviews, photographs, and other material, such as posters and programs from foreign productions of his plays.
The Shepard collection promises to be of intense interest among scholars. Shepard is already one of America’s most-studied playwrights, and his impact on modern theater can be gauged by the numerous scholarly books and articles devoted to his work, as well as the hundreds of productions of his plays, both in the U.S. and abroad. The Shepard Papers are open for research and you can browse the finding aid online at: http://www.thewittliffcollections.txstate.edu/research/a-z/shepard.html