Capuzzo, Michael 1957-
CAPUZZO, Michael 1957-
PERSONAL: Born May 1, 1957, in Boston, MA; son of William John (a book salesman) and Elizabeth (Lambert) Capuzzo; married second wife, Teresa Banik (a writer) May, 1997; children: (first marriage) Grace, Julia. Education: Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, B.A., 1979. Hobbies and other interests: Basketball.
ADDRESSES: Home—Shady Oak Farm, 981 Boundary Rd., Wenonah, NJ 08090.
CAREER: Miami Herald, Miami, FL, staff writer and features writer, 1979-86; Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA, features writer, 1986-94; freelance writer, 1994—. Former syndicated columnist, "Wild Things." Frequent commentator on television and radio shows, including Today, The O'Reilly Factor, CBS Evening News, and National Public Radio.
AWARDS, HONORS: Four Pulitzer Prize nominations by Philadelphia Inquirer for feature writing; National Headliner Award, National Association of Black Journalists second place citation, and Sunday Magazine Editors Association first prize, all for feature in Philadelphia Inquirer; National Association of Black Journalists first-place prize for magazines over one million circulation, 1993, for "outstanding coverage of the black condition," for piece in Sports Illustrated; American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals president's award for communication, 1994; American Humane Association media excellence award, 1996; Humane Society of the United States media achievement award, 1997; Top Ten Books of the Year citation from People magazine, 2001, for Close to Shore: A True Story of Terror in an Age of Innocence.
Wild Things, Fawcett Columbine (New York, NY), 1995.
(With Brian Kilcommons) Mutts: America's Dogs, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1996.
(With wife, Teresa Banik Capuzzo) Cat Caught MyHeart: Stories of Wisdom, Hope, and Purrfect Love, Bantam (New York, NY), 1998.
(With Teresa Banik Capuzzo) Our Best Friends: Wagging Tales to Warm the Heart, Bantam (New York, NY), 1998.
Close to Shore: A True Story of Terror in an Age ofInnocence (also see below), Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916 (young adult adaptation), Crown (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to Sharks: Stories of Life and Death from the World's Most Dangerous Waters, Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 2002. Contributor to national magazines, including Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Reader's Digest, TV Guide, Wall Street Journal, and Philadelphia Magazine.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A nonfiction book, tentatively titled The Third Angels, for Gotham.
SIDELIGHTS: Michael Capuzzo honed his writing skills as a reporter for the Miami Herald and the Philadelphia Inquirer before embarking on a career as a book author in 1994. His work between hard covers retains much of the art of the journalist, from extensive research to the ability to craft nonfiction that contains the tension and human interest of a novel. Capuzzo is best known for his 2001 best-seller, Close to Shore: A True Story of Terror in an Age of Innocence, the tale of a shark attack that occurred on the New Jersey shore in 1916. The story rose naturally out of Capuzzo's interest in human-animal interaction, from the genteel relationship between pet owners and their pets to the more problematic encounters between humanity and "wild things."
Born and raised in the Boston area, Capuzzo knew that he was interested in writing from an early age. By the time he was a teenager he was contributing articles to city newspapers. He graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in 1979 and immediately landed a job at the Miami Herald, a prestigious posting for a novice reporter. He began as a bureau reporter and moved into feature writing, covering topics as diverse as crime, ecology, and politics. His talent for human interest stories came to the fore when he moved to the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize four times in eight years.
While still at the Philadelphia Inquirer Capuzzo began writing about pets and other non-domestic animals in a column titled "Wild Things." The column was eventually syndicated and appeared in more than forty newspapers across America, opening a new career niche for the author. One fan of Capuzzo's animal columns was Roger Caras, who observed in his book The Bond: People and Their Animals that Capuzzo "writes like an angel and loves with a gentle intensity that is awesome." A compilation of Capuzzo's "Wild Things" columns was published in 1995.
The following year Capuzzo teamed with national dog-training expert Brian Kilcommons to release Mutts: America's Dogs. This lighthearted title encourages dog lovers to see the benefits of owning mixed-breed dogs. It includes anecdotes about working and companion mutts, as well as advice on which mixed breeds to search for as substitutes for less healthy purebreds.
Close to Shore contains its own tidbit of information about dogs: it is best not to swim in the ocean with them. A tense narrative that is part shark horror story and part reflection on the long-gone Edwardian era, Close to Shore relates the true story of four people who were killed by a rogue white shark along the beaches and in an inland waterway in New Jersey. The dramatic attacks were the first confirmed reports of fatal shark bites in human history, and they wrought a stark change in the way swimmers have viewed the ocean ever since. During the summer of 1916, a white shark was drawn north by the Gulf Stream until it found itself along the Jersey Shore. As Capuzzo's story unfolds, alternate chapters describe the events from the point of view of the people involved in the attacks and the shark itself, revealing the not-so-subtle biological imperatives that drove the killer beast.
Close to Shore made the best-seller lists in the summer of 2001, an irony not lost on its reviewers. Christian Science Monitor contributor Lane Hartill noted that, while perusing the book on a beach, "Every sprig of passing seaweed was a reef shark. A floating chunk of Styrofoam was the belly of a great white." Hartill concluded that a reader might be best served to read Close to Shore "in the safety of your backyard hammock." Toronto Sun correspondent Jerry Gladman likewise wrote: "Close to Shore brings to life a small chunk of American history as if it was happening now. Capuzzo puts the reader into the water with the victims, and you can almost taste their terror as he captures a real event with . . . intense drama. . . . This book may not scare you away from the ocean, but after reading it, one thing is certain: What happened that summer on the Jersey Shore in 1916 will surely not be far from your mind. Be careful."
Most reviewers responded positively to Capuzzo's pastiche of history, biology, and terror in Close to Shore. Will Hepfer in Library Journal described the book as "truly chilling without being sensational," adding that Capuzzo "crafts . . . colorful characters, suspense, and excitement into his story." Cleveland Plain Dealer reviewer John Freeman found the work "riveting" and contended that the author "vividly captures the Edwardian era." A Boston Herald contributor observed: "Capuzzo's description of one of the early shark attacks is a pulse-pounding collage of details." A New Yorker reviewer felt that the book displays "an artistry reminiscent of Stephen Crane's." And Brian Bethune in Maclean's maintained that Capuzzo "takes the latest research into sharks and combines it with social history to offer a superb recreation of a particular moment in life."
A denizen of New Jersey himself, Capuzzo nevertheless achieved a certain understanding of the white shark about which he wrote—an understanding that he conveys to the reader of Close to Shore. "Sharks are with us," he told the Boston Herald. "They may be with us any time we're swimming within their profiling range."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Caras, Roger, The Bond: People and Their Animals, photographs by Shel Secunda, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.
Booklist, March 1, 1998, Mary Carroll, reviews of CatCaught My Heart: Stories of Wisdom, Hope, and Purrfect Love and Our Best Friends: Wagging Tales to Warm the Heart, p. 1078; May 15, 2003, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916, p. 1654.
Boston Herald, July 20, 2001, "Something to Sink Your Teeth Into," p. 44.
Christian Science Monitor, June 21, 2001, Lane Hartill, "My, What Nice Teeth You Have," p. 16.
Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 17, 2001, John Freeman, "Real Life 'Jaws' Makes a Killer of a Beach Story," p. 9I.
Library Journal, June 1, 2001, Will Hepfer, review of Close to Shore: A True Story of Terror in an Age of Innocence, p. 183.
Maclean's, July 16, 2001, Brian Bethune, "Summer of the Shark," p. 48.
New Yorker, July 9, 2001, "Briefly Noted," p. 87.
New York Post, May 6, 2001, Michael Giltz, "The Bite Stuff."
Palm Beach Post, August 12, 2001, Paul Lomartire, "Close to Shore Not Just the Usual Shark Story," p. 3J.
Philadelphia Magazine, August, 2001, Richard Rys, "Philly Grill," p. 29.
Publishers Weekly, April 30, 2001, review of Close toShore, p. 71.
Record (Bergen County, NJ), May 2, 2001, Laurence Chollet, "Thinking Like a Shark," p. F6.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 17, 2001, Roger K. Miller, "Jaws for Real," p. F8.
Toronto Sun, August 12, 2001, Jerry Gladman, "Killer Shark Saga a Book with Bite," p. S26.
TW Bookmark,http://www.twbookmark.com/ (July 14, 2003), description of Mutts: America's Dogs.