Sharpe, Matthew 1962–
Sharpe, Matthew 1962–
ADDRESSES: Office—Wesleyan University, Wesleyan Station, Middletown, CT 06459.
CAREER: Writer, novelist, short-story writer, educator, and journalist. Bard College, Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts, instructor and faculty member; Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, instructor, 2004–. New College of Florida, instructor; Gotham Writers' Workshop, New York, NY, teacher of fiction writing; creative writing teacher of Teachers & Writers OnLine; taught in public school in New York; cofounder of DRAMA PM. Worked variously as a bicycle messenger, car washer, receptionist, door-to-door seafood salesman, and in magazine production. Bronx Academy of Letters, writer-in-residence.
Stories from the Tube (short stories), Villard (New York, NY), 1998.
Nothing Is Terrible (novel), Villard (New York, NY), 1999.
The Sleeping Father (novel), Soft Skull Press (Brooklyn, NY), 2003.
Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including Harper's, Zoetrope, Southwest Review, Minnesota Review, American Letters & Commentary, Mississippi Mud, Fiction, and Witness.
Contributor of essays and nonfiction to Elle, Details, Outside, Conde Nast Traveler, New York Newsday, Feed, Word, and Goodbye: The Journal of Contemporary Obituaries.
SIDELIGHTS: Fiction writer Matthew Sharpe wrote his first short story when he was only ten. As he shared with Teachers & Writers OnLine, the author remembers deciding that he would grow up to become a writer "so long as it got a lot easier." Since it did not, Sharpe stopped writing for a lengthy period. One night, however, while reading Sam Shepard's play La Turista in London, he became inspired. "A lotus blossom burst open in my head," he told Teachers & Writers OnLine, "and I decided to write no matter how hard it was." Since then he has published short stories and articles in several magazines. His first collection, Stories from the Tube, brought Sharpe significant critical attention.
In Stories from the Tube, Sharpe offers tales based on images and themes from television commercials. Many critics enjoyed the witty and imaginative juxtapositions. Mark Rozzo, for example, wrote in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that Sharpe's stories are "wildly effective—and often touching—collisions of the banal and the surreal." Library Journal reviewer Joanna M. Burkhardt expressed similar enthusiasm for Sharpe's writing, which she deemed "masterly in [its] invention, manipulation, description, and dialog, ranging from comedy to tragedy."
Nothing Is Terrible, Sharpe's debut novel, tells the story of narrator Mary White, an androgynous, hermaphroditic young girl as she traverses the difficult adolescent years from ages eleven to eighteen. When Mary's parents die in a car crash, she and her brother Paul are taken in by their irascible uncle and non-communicative aunt. Mary's life takes a bizarre turn when she accidentally causes Paul's death by stirring up a swarm of bees. When her sixth-grade teacher, the independently wealthy Miss Skip Hartman, becomes infatuated with Mary, she is unexpectedly whisked away from her aunt and uncle and taken to live with Miss Hartman in New York City. There, Mary learns lessons in life, love, and academics from the charming Miss Hartman, but also learns important, if bitter, lessons from the eccentric characters that orbit her new big-city world. "The novel, sometimes strange, often shocking, delivers a rollicking good time," remarked Kristine Huntley in Booklist. In a novel "grotesquely comic and resolutely strange," Sharpe "proves that he can write affectingly," stated a Publishers Weekly critic. Library Journal contributor David A. Berona commented that Sharpe's "novel of exaggerations encourages social criticism and is a clever and unpredictable tale of absurdities."
The Sleeping Father is an "acidly funny portrait" of a family dealing with the aftermath of the father's accidental, medication-induced stroke, noted a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. Divorced father Bernard Schwartz takes Prozac for his depression, but inadvertent mixture with another antidepressant sends him into a coma. His ex-wife, living on the West Coast, does not seem to care, but his adolescent children, Chris and Cathy, become deeply enmeshed in Bernard's treatment and lengthy recovery. Seventeen-year-old Chris, possessed of an acidly dark sense of humor, becomes a primary caregiver during Bernard's rehabilitation. He is emotionally wrecked by his father's predicament but still finds a perverse pleasure in the peculiarities of the power-shift and role-reversal inherent in his new station in the family. Younger sister Cathy, spiritual and sincere, makes her way through the turmoil as best she can. "Bernard's slow recovery provides an excuse for everyone to indulge in their eccentricities," observed Noah Robischon in Entertainment Weekly. Ed Park, writing in Village Voice, called the book "two novels in one—an imploding-family masterpiece" and a "stylistically thrilling inquiry into the weight of words." Park enthusiastically stated: "It's the best thing I hope to read all year—and if it isn't, this will be a very good year indeed." The Publishers Weekly reviewer remarked favorably on Sharpe's "clearly drawn characters and his thoughtful, if withering, examination of the contemporary hierarchies of family and authority." Park concluded that The Sleeping Father is "genuine sui generis genius comic family novel writing."
Sharpe, who has written nonfiction for such publications as Elle, Details, Conde Nast Traveler, and New York Newsday and who has published short stories in such journals as Zoetrope, Harper's, and Southwest Review, studied fiction writing at Columbia University, where he received a master's degree. Since graduation, he has worked with writing students in various organizations, and has taught adults through the Gotham Writers' Workshop. He has served as writer-in-residence for Teachers & Writers OnLine. With Daniel Judah Sklar he cofounded DRAMA PM, a playwriting and performance workshop for high school students. He observed in a statement for Teachers & Writers OnLine that "creative writing is good for people like me who are shy and often become tongue-tied in conversation. It's good for anyone who urgently needs to express a thought or feeling and it's good for people who like to play around. It's a responsible way of being irresponsible, and vice versa."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 1, 2000, Kristine Huntley, review of Nothing Is Terrible, p. 1008.
Entertainment Weekly, November 28, 2003, Noah Robischon, review of The Sleeping Father, p. 131.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1998, review of Stories from the Tube, p. 1321.
Library Journal, October 15, 1998, Joanna M. Burkhardt, review of Stories from the Tube, p. 103; January, 2000, David A. Berona, review of Nothing Is Terrible, p. 163.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 26, 1998, Mark Rozzo, review of Stories from the Tube.
Publishers Weekly, August 24, 1998, review of Stories from the Tube, p. 44; January 31, 2000, review of Nothing Is Terrible, p. 82; November 3, 2003, review of The Sleeping Father, p. 55.
Teachers & Writers OnLine, http://www.twc.org/ (September 23, 2006), "Matthew Sharpe."
Village Voice Online, http://www.villagevoice.com/ (March 3, 2004), Ed Park, "Aphasic Instinct: Everything Is Illuminated—and Often Repeated—in Matthew Sharpe's Heart-Piercing Novel," review of The Sleeping Father.