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Wittliff Collections presents first-ever Sam Shepard Papers exhibition

Posted by Jayme Blaschke
University News Service
June 6, 2013

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

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

The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University has 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.

The exhibition runs through Feb. 14. Admission is free and open to the public.

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 by the University of Texas Press. A book launch will be held at the Wittliff Collections in November.

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 last month—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 in October.

The Writer’s Road was co-curated by Chad Hammett of Texas State’s English department and Steve Davis of the Wittliff Collections.

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 at For more information, call (512) 245-2313.