Author, screenwriter, director, editor, actor: It is the rare individual who can truthfully claim to have mastered even one of these crafts, and yet John Sayles has managed to conquer them all. Sayles embodies the true spirit of American independent cinema, remaining an iconoclast who refuses to compromise the integrity of his artistic vision in the face of an increasingly conglomerated Hollywood film industry.

Sayles began to exhibit a passion for the written word at a very early age, when he began writing short stories based upon the plots of his favorite television shows. Following the publication of his first two critically acclaimed novels, Pride of the Bimbos (1975) and Union Dues (1977), he decided to try his hand at screenwriting. Return of the Secaucus 7 (1979) launched Sayles’ career as a director. Made at an estimated budget of $60,000, the movie was a critical success, making Sayles part of what curator and film critic Gavin Smith calls “the second wave of American independent filmmakers.”

A writer first and foremost, John Sayles has sustained his artistic autonomy by working within the Hollywood system to fund nuanced and thought-provoking character studies that address a wide range of social, political, and racial issues without the inevitable box office pressure that comes with studio funding.

In the nearly three and a half decades since his directorial debut, Sayles’ prodigious body of work – 4 novels, 2 short-story collections and 18 films – has earned him numerous awards and nominations, including an O. Henry Award for his short story, “I-80 Nebraska, M.490 – M.205”, a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, and two Academy Award nominations for Best Screenplay for his films Passion Fish (1992) and Lone Star (1996). Recently he was awarded the 2013 Lifetime Achievement PROGIE Award from The Progressive along with Robert Reford. 

This is but a brief profile of the auteur & the original independent John Sayles, summarized from the comprehensive exhibit Sayles Pitch, put together by the University of Michigan Department of Screen Arts & Cultures. You can visit this wonderfully researched exhibit now, in the run up to the John Sayles Symposium being held on June 4th. John Sayles will be gracing the occasion, along with a few of his key collaborators including producer & life partner, Maggie Renzi as well as actor, David Straithairn.