Born Samuel Shepard Rogers (nicknamed "Steve") on November 5, 1943, in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, Sam Shepard would later change his name--reportedly because "Steve Rogers was the name of the original Captain America." He would work as a stable hand, herdsman, orange picker, sheep shearer, bus boy, waiter and musician before beginning his career as a playwright in New York in 1964 with the Theatre Genesis production of two one-act plays, Cowboys and The Rock Garden, at St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery. A product of the 1960s counterculture, Shepard combines wild humor, grotesque satire, myth, and a sparse, haunting language to create a subversive pop art vision of America. His characters are typically loners and drifters caught between a mythical past and the mechanized present. In Cowboys, two buddies play what seems to be a game of cowboys and indians, re-enacting key episodes from Western mythology--episodes which lead to decay, stasis, and the apparent death of one of the characters.
His first full-length play, La Turista, was performed at the American Place Theatre and won an Obie in 1967. The Tooth of Crime (1972), a rock-drama written during the four years he lived in London, tells the story of two rock-stars of different generations who battle for territorial domination of an empire. Their duel to the death is not a gun battle, but a rap session in which each musician uses verbal incantations in order to pierce the mask and shatter the confidence of his opponent. The play was staged in its American premiere at Princeton University in 1972. Curse of the Starving Class followed in 1978, marking a new direction in Shepard's approach. The plays written from this point on feature a somewhat more realistic style, although they retain devices of disturbing and imaginative surrealism such as the absent-but-present father who is able to confer with the son and daughter who have conjured him up in Fool for Love (1982).
Mr. Shepard spent several successful seasons with off-off-Broadway groups such as La Mama and Caffe Cino and was playwright-in-residence at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco for a number of years. In 1979 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Buried Child, and in 1984 he gained an Oscar nomination for his part as Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff.
Other plays by Sam Shepard include Mad Dog Blues (1971), True West (1980), A Lie of the Mind (1985), Simpatico (1993) and Eyes for Consuela (1998). His screenplay for Paris, Texas won the Golden Palm Award at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival. In 1986 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 1992 he received the Gold Medal for Drama from the Academy. In 1994 he was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame.