Masters, Alexander

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Masters, Alexander

(Rachel Swift, a joint pseudonym)

PERSONAL: Born in NY; son of Dexter Masters (a novelist) and Joan Brady (a novelist). Education: King's College, degree in physics; Cambridge University, M.S.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Fourth Estate, HarperCollins, 77-85 Fulham Palace Rd., London W6 8JB, England.

CAREER: Writer. Worker at Wintercomfort Day Centre for the homeless, Cambridge, England. Chair, Free the Cambridge Two Campaign.

AWARDS, HONORS: Arts Council Writers Award, 2002; Guardian First Book Award, and short-listed for Whithread biography prize, 2005, for Stuart: A Life Backwards; Hawthornden Prize, 2006; short-listed for the National Book Award, 2006.

WRITINGS:

Stuart: A Life Backwards (biography), Fourth Estate (London, England), 2005, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Also author, with Dido Davies under the joint pseudonym Rachel Swift, of Women's Pleasure, Satisfaction Guaranteed, and Fabulous Figures.

SIDELIGHTS: Alexander Masters's work with the homeless eventually led to his award-winning biography Stuart: A Life Backwards. Masters met the book's subject, Stuart Shorter, while researching a newspaper article on the homeless. Shorter was crouched in a doorway and announced that he wanted to kill himself, but in such a way that it would look like murder, because he wanted to spare his mother the pain of knowing he had committed suicide. He did not take his own life at that time. Masters came to know Shorter as a man who could be sensitive, gentle, and articulate, but who was also deeply scarred by his life experiences. Shorter had been abandoned by his father. Suffering from muscular dystrophy, he was a target for bullying and sexual abuse from various people in his life. He fell into alcoholism, addiction, and crime. Writing about such a man presented several challenges, as Masters told Aida Edemariam in the Guardian. He did not want strike a condescending tone, nor to romanticize his character. Although there are many tragic elements to his story, the author tried to bring out the humor inherent in it as well. He explained to Edemariam: "Stuart often found himself in ludicrous situations, or we would find ourselves in uncomfortable situations, upsetting situations, where there was no way of release, no way of making sense of it except to be ridiculous about it."

Shorter and Masters became friends at the homeless shelter, Wintercomfort Day Centre. Though allegedly discouraged, the directors of the facility were arrested and jailed for the drug dealing that allegedly occured there. Masters organized the Save the Cambridge Two Campaign to vindicate the directors, and Shorter helped with this cause. According to Guardian reviewer Matthew Collin, "While the story of the campaign gives the narrative the urgency of outrage, it's the constant sparring between the exasperated author and his belligerent subject that illuminates this bitterly funny book." Edemariam found Stuart "respectful and invigorating," and Jennie Erdal, a reviewer for the Spectator, called it "a strange and remarkable book." Stuart did not live to see the book's acclaim, taking his own life before the biography was published.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Guardian, April 2, 2005, Matthew Collin, review of Stuart: A Life Backwards; December 9, 2005, Aida Edemariam, interview with Alexander Masters.

Spectator, April 9, 2005, Jennie Erdal, review of Stuart, p. 34.

ONLINE

Alexander Masters Home Page, http://www.alexandermasters.net (July 7, 2006).

Free the Cambridge Two Campaign Web site, http://www.cambridgetwo.com/ (March 13, 2006), information about Alexander Masters.