Natchitoches Times Logo
Infinite Menus, Copyright 2006, OpenCube Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Author, playwright Sam Shepard examined in new book by NSU faculty member
Nov 28, 2012 | 378 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dr. James A. Crank, has published a book on the actor, writer and director Sam Shepard. Understanding Sam Shepard was released from the University of South Carolina Press on Oct. 31. Crank is associate professor of English and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Language and Communication at Northwestern State University. He is book review editor for Southern Studies, an interdisciplinary peer-reviewed journal published quarterly. Understanding Sam Shepard is Crank’s first single authored book as a scholar.

“The book is part of a series called Understanding Contemporary American Literature, published by the University of South Carolina University Press, that provides insight on American authors that are notoriously difficult to understand, especially for students,” said Crank, who has written on artists as diverse as James Agee, Sherman Alexie and Eudora Welty. “There has been work done on every other major playwright of Shepard’s generation.”

Shepard, born in 1943, is a playwright, actor and television and film director. He is the author of several books of short stories, essays and memoirs and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for the play Buried Child. Shepard was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of pilot Chuck Yeager in the 1983 film The Right Stuff. Shepard received the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award as a master American dramatist in 2009. Locally, he is perhaps best recognized for his role as Spud Jones, the husband of Dolly Parton’s character, Truvy, in Natchitoches-filmed Steel Magnolias.

Crank was so enthusiastic about the project, he finished the book in seven months, a year ahead of his deadline.

“The first chapter is a biography that provides the context of his life,” Crank said. “He is such an autobiographical writer. If you don’t have some knowledge of his childhood and adolescence, you miss key parts of his plays.”

The chapters that follow examine Shepard’s early and late work with an exploration of Shepard’s Family Trilogy, a series that includes Curse of the Starving Class, Buried Child and True West, including production histories, notable performances and reviews.

“As an undergraduate, I was a double major in English and performing arts and acted in Buried Child. I was very taken with Shepard’s work and he is one of my favorite authors ever,” Crank said. “Those plays put him on the map, so my book moves from a biographical profile into an analysis of his plays.”

Shepard’s work is fraught with “themes of family dynamic and masculinity that take apart facets of American identity, like the West, rock and roll and suburbia,” Crank said. “I like the minimalism and experimentation that he does. Every time you see one of his plays, they defy expectations. His characters do illogical, spontaneous things.”

Crank thanked Watson Library Interlibrary Loan Assistant Jacqueline Hawkins and the support of Dr. Lisa Abney for their assistance in seeing the book to completion.

For more information or to order Understanding Sam Shepard, visit

Comments-icon Post a Comment
No Comments Yet
Postings are not edited and are the responsibility of the author. You agree not to post comments that are abusive, threatening or obscene. Postings may be removed at the discretion of Natchitoches Times.