John Sanford: His Life and Work

The Life and Work of

John Sanford

(1904 - 2003)

The official John Sanford web site

Sanford photo (young) Sanford photo (middle) Sanford photo (old)

Biographical Overview

John Sanford was born Julian L. Shapiro May 31, 1904. He died March 5, 2003. Sanford is the author of 24 books, including novels, creative interpretations of history, and several volumes of memoir and autobiography. The first volume of his autobiography, The Color of the Air, received a PEN award for best non-fiction. Sanford was also given the Los Angeles Times Lifetime Achievement Award. Sanford was married for over 50 years to screenwriter Marguerite Roberts, who is best known for scripting John Wayne's Oscar-winner, True Grit. Both Sanford and Roberts were blacklisted during the McCarthy era of the 1950s.

Sanford was inspired to write by his childhood acquaintance Nathanael West. William Carlos Williams, Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce were also important early influences on Sanford's themes and style. But Sanford was a true original whose body of work displays a style uniquely his own.

Sanford's titles include The Water Wheel, The Old Man's Place, Seventy Times Seven/Make My Bed in Hell, The People from Heaven, A Man Without Shoes, The Land that Touches Mine, A More Goodly Country, Winters of that Country, The Color of the Air, Maggie: A Love Story, and A Palace of Silver.

During his later years, Sanford was variously described as the "most unjustly neglected major writer in America" and "America's greatest unread writer." Just before Sanford's death, the Los Angeles Times called him "an authentic hero of American letters."

This John Sanford is not the author of the Prey series of mystery novels. Go to John Sandford's official web site.

Web Site Overview

This site contains pages describing John Sanford's life and writing career. Follow the links below to reach these pages.



For a brief biography of Sanford's wife, Marguerite Roberts, and her filmography, follow this link:


German Translation of The People from Heaven

Edition Tiamat has issued The People from Heaven, translated into German by Jochen Stremmel: Die Menschen vom Himmel. This is the first translation of a Sanford book, introducing his work beyond the English-speaking world.

Menschen cover photo

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This translation is reviewed in Neues Deutschland, and portions of the novel are read on the WDR (Westdeutscher Rundfunk) radio program.

A More Goodly Country Reissued

Tough Poets has reissued Sanford's first book of personal interpretations of American History, A More Goodly Country. At its initial 1975 release, A More Goodly Country was hailed by the Los Angeles Times as a "masterpiece." Nearly 50 years later, the book's searing critique of America resonates as profoundly as ever.

more goodly cover photo

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New Audiobooks

Tantor has released two Sanford novels as audiobooks--the first two volumes of the Warrensburg Trilogy, The Old Man's Place and Make My Bed in Hell--both read by Shawn Compton.

John Sanford -- Lost Modernist

John Sanford is profiled as a Lost Modernist in an interview with Jack Mearns that gives a brief overview of Sanford's life and work.

The People from Heaven Reissued

Brash Books has reissued John Sanford's incendiary anti-racist 1943 novel The People from Heaven, which includes a new afterword by Jack Mearns. This final installment in Sanford's Warrensburg trilogy is a stinging indictment of racial prejudice and sexual violence against women in America.

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John Sanford: An Annotated Bibliography Issued in Revised Edition

Cutting Edge Books has issued a revised and updated second edition of Jack Mearns's descriptive analysis of John Sanford's work, John Sanford: An Annotated Bibliography.

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The Land that Touches Mine Reissued

Tough Poets Press has reissued John Sanford's 1953 novel The Land that Touches Mine, which includes a new introduction by Jack Mearns. This is perhaps Sanford's most personal novel, a meditation on identity--both personal and national. With this reissue, John Sanford's first six novels are all available to readers.

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There are essays on Sanford's wrestling with the burden of history in The Land that Touches Mine in The Los Angeles Review of Books and on The Artifa[ctuals] website.

First Two Novels of Warrensburg Trilogy Reissued

Brash Books has reissued the first two novels in Sanford's Warrensburg Trilogy: The Old Man's Place and Make My Bed in Hell (Seventy Times Seven). Both these novels have been out of print for over 60 years! Make My Bed in Hell is available in paperback and hardcover editions. Forthcoming will be an Old Man's Place audio book.

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Order on Amazon: The Old Man's Place.

Order on Amazon: Make My Bed in Hell.

There are pieces on both novels on the Crimereads and Crimetime websites.

See reviews of Make My Bed in Hell at: Publishers Weekly,, and Col's Criminal Library. The Old Man's Place got a rave review on

Speaking in an Empty Room: The Selected Letters of John Sanford

Tough Poets Press has published an edition of John Sanford's selected letters, Speaking in an Empty Room , which was edited by Dan Giancola. It includes an introduction by Giancola, as well as an afterword by Jack Mearns.

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Read a review of Speaking in an Empty Room.

Sanford's First Novel Reissued

Tough Poets Press has reissued in an affordable paperback edition John Sanford's first novel: 1933's The Water Wheel, which includes a new introduction by Jack Mearns. After over 85 years of being out of print, this very scarce book is finally available to the reading public again.

water wheel cover photo

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John Sanford Issued in Bloomsbury Reader/Amazon Kindle

Three of John Sanford's books have been issued in e-reader format by Bloomsbury Publishing in their Bloomsbury Reader line. These are: Maggie: A Love Story, A Man without Shoes and A Palace of Silver.

Maggie cover photo man cover photo palace cover photo

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New Sanford Profile

Noted film historian Joseph McBride has published Two Cheers for Hollywood: Joseph McBride on Movies that includes a long essay on Sanford. In addition, the volume reprints Prof. McBride's article on Marguerite Roberts that is the Afterword in A Palace of Silver.

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John Sanford as Radical Regionalist

In 2013, the University of Oklahoma Press published Regionalists on the Left, a collection of essays about radical regionalists in the western United States. It contains a chapter on Sanford's life and work.

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John Sanford Interviewed

Michael Silverblatt, on KCRW's Bookworm, recorded a two-part interview with John Sanford in 1993. Sanford also reads from his work. Follow these links to listen to Part 1 and Part 2.

John Sanford Reader

Legal Studies Forum devoted its 2010 issue #1 to the work of John Sanford. This issue includes a biographical afterword by Jack Mearns.

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Nathanael West

In 2009, New Directions released a new edition of Miss Lonelyhearts/Day of the Locust with an afterword by Sanford, comprising his personal recollections of West.

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John Sanford figures prominently in an excellent 2010 biography of West, Lonelyhearts by Marion Meade.

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A comprehensive annotated bibliography of the writings of John Sanford is available from Oak Knoll Press.

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Collecting John Sanford

The January 2004 issue of Firsts (PDF), the book collector's magazine, has an article on John Sanford's life and work.

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Sanford Scholarship

John Sanford is featured in Alan Wald's 2007 Trinity of Passion: The Literary Left and the Antifascist Crusade. Prof. Wald also contributed the introduction to the reprint edition of Sanford's The People from Heaven.

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Lisa A. Kirby published "Race among the Radicals: The Complicated Politics of Race and Class in John Sanford's The People from Heaven" in the 2008 A Class of Its Own: Re-Envisioning American Labor Fiction

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Scholarship Opportunities

John Sanford's correspondence, manuscripts, and papers are on deposit in the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center of the Library of Boston University.

Literary Executor

John Sanford's literary executor is Jack Mearns. Click here for contact information.

Text & photos copyright © Jack Mearns, 2003-2023. All rights reserved.

rev. 10/5/23