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Reynolds, Sheri 1967-

Reynolds, Sheri 1967-

PERSONAL:

Born August 29, 1967, in Conway, SC; daughter of Larry E. (a cricket farmer and fishing business owner) and Patricia C. (a manager of a radiology clinic) Reynolds. Education: Davidson College, A.B., 1989; Virginia Commonwealth University, M.F.A., 1992. Hobbies and other interests: Saints' lives, medieval visionaries, Star Trek.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Cape Charles, VA. Office—Department of English, Virginia Commonwealth University, 900 Park Ave., Hibbs Bldg. 306, P.O. Box 842005, Richmond, VA 23284-2005. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected]

CAREER:

Writer, novelist, playwright, and educator. Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, adjunct instructor of English, 1992—; Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, associate professor of English and Ruth and Perry Morgan Chair of Southern Literature, 1997—. Former staff member at The College of William and Mary and Davidson College.

MEMBER:

Authors Guild.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Outstanding Faculty Award, State Council for Higher Education of Virginia, 2002, and 2003 (with "Rising Star" distinction); Virginia Commission for the Arts, playwriting grant, 2005; Women Playwrights' Initiative playwriting competition winner, 2005, for Orabelle's Wheelbarrow.

WRITINGS:

NOVELS

Bitterroot Landing, Putnam (New York, NY), 1994.

The Rapture of Canaan, G.K. Hall (Thorndike, ME), 1997.

A Gracious Plenty, Harmony (New York, NY), 1997.

Firefly Cloak, Shaye Areheart Books (New York, NY), 2006.

OTHER

Also author of play, Orabelle's Wheelbarrow.

SIDELIGHTS:

Novelist and educator Sheri Reynolds, an associate professor of English at Old Dominion University, imparts her fiction with a sense of spiritual growth and personal redemption. In her first novel, Bitterroot Landing, Reynolds tells the story of a "‘white trash’ teenager's harrowing adventures in a wonderfully compelling, powerful, moving, and complex coming-of-age story," commented Booklist reviewer Whitney Scott. Jael is a young woman who helps her mother run a seedy bar and pool room, where customers are just as likely to make passes at her as they are to pass out on the front porch. Whenever Jael is overwhelmed by her circumstances, however, she finds comfort in the Earth Mother spiritualism that she finds in fortuitous places all around her, from the deep calm of the nearby forests to the strong elemental power of a huge uprooted oak on an island where she is seduced and abandoned. As she struggled with her life and with her tendency toward self-mutilation, Jael learns to accept the strength conveyed to her by the nurturing Madonna spirit of her surroundings.

Reynolds's career and reputation as a novelist received a tremendous boost with her second novel, The Rapture of Canaan, which was a featured selection of Oprah Winfrey's television book club. Protagonist Ninah Huff is a fourteen-year-old girl seeking to find her own future and identity, within and without the strict Pentecostal community of the Church of Fire and Brimstone and God's Almighty Baptizing Wind. Quick to dole out punishments and brightened by few pleasures, the religious community that Ninah lives in is quickly becoming intolerable for her. As the granddaughter of the church's founder and leader, Ninah is expected to be docile and accept the will of the church. As she grows older and more independent, however, she begins to question the teaching of the church, doubt her grandfather's righteousness, and reconsider her own approach to religion. A brief dalliance with her prayer partner, James, results in Ninah's pregnancy, which soon bitterly divides the community and places her on a solitary road to her own future and reconciliation with her faith. In this work, Reynolds "once again showcases a compelling narrative voice that's simultaneously harsh and lyrical," observed a Publishers Weekly critic. The novel is a "devastating portrayal of organized religion as illogical, intolerant, and cruel," even as it remains ultimately powerless to "extinguish the spark of the human spirit," commented Booklist reviewer Michele Leber. Reynolds's "poetic gifts are uncommonly powerful," observed Zofia Smardz in the New York Times Book Review, and in this novel "she tells a truly rapturous love story and presents two unforgettable characters."

Finch Nobles, the protagonist of A Gracious Plenty, is a lonely woman shunned by others in her community because of her disfiguring burn scars. To cope, Finch works as the caretaker of a small-town Southern cemetery. There, she can find peace among the graves. Finch's closest neighbors, however, are not content to merely rest in the ground; the dead spirits she associates with are a "sensual, kinetic bunch" who have power over the weather and other natural phenomena and who spend their afterlives attempting to reconnect with, and make peace with, their pasts, noted Megan Harlan in Entertainment Weekly. In addition to her ghostly friends, Finch is also acquainted with another supernatural being, the Mediator, who helps the newly dead accept their state and find some direction within the ghostly realm. As Finch interacts with the dead, she helps them resolve a number of tragedies and deal with unfinished business. In the process, she learns more than expected about life and begins to break free of the shell of her oppressive loneliness and isolation. In the book, "character, story and metaphor are skillfully intertwined" as Reynolds "again creates a courageous young heroine who triumphs over grueling odds," remarked a Publishers Weekly contributor. "Reynolds has a warm-and-sweet-as-pudding storytelling voice, and her down-home characters are endearing," commented Donna Seaman in a Booklist review.

Firefly Cloak, Reynolds's fourth novel, finds eight-year-old Tessa Lee and her toddler brother Travis abandoned at an Alabama campground by their unstable, alcoholic and addict mother, Sheila. All she leaves behind is the children's grandparents' phone number, inked in magic marker on Travis's small back, and a tattered bathrobe decorated with multicolored fireflies. For Tessa Lee, the firefly cloak left by her mother becomes an object of comfort and the one tenuous connection she has left to her previous life. Seven years later, Tessa Lee leaves her grandparents' house to find and confront her mother, spotted working as a mermaid on a seaside boardwalk in Massachusetts. Their reunion is bittersweet and short-lived, as Tessa Lee struggles to accept the reality of her mother in comparison to the idealized image she had held of her for years. In addition, she must deal with the death of Travis two years earlier while trying to reconcile with her mother. "Reynolds is in top form with these beautifully drawn, flawed characters," observed Kim Dare in the School Library Journal. "Stories spun around maternal abandonment and reconciliation are plentiful, but Reynolds gives this one a satisfying literary heft," remarked Booklist reviewer Jennifer Mattson.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, December 1, 1994, Whitney Scott, review of Bitterroot Landing, p. 655; January 1, 1996, Michele Leber, review of The Rapture of Canaan, p. 791; June 1, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of A Gracious Plenty, p. 1620; February 15, 2006, Jennifer Mattson, review of Firefly Cloak, p. 46.

Entertainment Weekly, September 5, 1997, Megan Harlan, review of A Gracious Plenty, p. 71.

New York Times Book Review, March 31, 1996, Zofia Smardz, review of The Rapture of Canaan, p. 18; October 5, 1997, Jack Sullivan, review of A Gracious Plenty, p. 23.

Publishers Weekly, November 6, 1995, review of The Rapture of Canaan, p. 82; July 7, 1997, review of A Gracious Plenty, p. 46; September 22, 1997, Mallay Charters, "Sheri Reynolds: Rebirth of a Novelist," interview with Sheri Reynolds, p. 54; February 13, 2006, review of Firefly Cloak, p. 62.

School Library Journal, April, 2006, Kim Dare, review of Firefly Cloak, p. 168.

ONLINE

Old Dominion University Web site,http://www.odu.edu/ (April 15, 2007), "Sheri Reynolds Wins Prestigious SCHEV Award."

RebeccasReads.com,http://www.rebeccasreads.com/ (April 15, 2007), Colletta Ollerer, review of Firefly Cloak.

Sheri Reynolds Home Page,http://www.sherireynolds.com (April 15, 2007).

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