Sharratt, Mary 1964-
Sharratt, Mary 1964-
Born November 13, 1964, in Minneapolis, MN; daughter of Elwood (a heavy-equipment operator) and Adelene (in quality control) Sharratt; married Jos Van Loo (an engineer), June 3, 1989. Education: Attended University of Freiburg, 1986-87; University of Minnesota, B.A., 1988. Hobbies and other interests: World music, classical music, folk music of the British Isles, hiking, folklore, mythology, horse riding, and history.
Writer, novelist, and educator. American-Austrian Fulbright Commission, Innsbruck, Austria, teacher of American studies and English language, 1988-89; freelance language teacher in Munich, Germany, 1989-97; freelance writer, 1995—. Munich Writers' Workshop, founder, coordinator, and teacher of creative writing, 1994-2006; Loft Literary Center, instructor and workshop presenter, 2006—; Historical Novels Society, reviews editor, 2006—.
Authors Guild, Historical Novel Society, Commonword.
Pushcart Prize nomination, 1998; resident fellow, Hawthornden Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland, 2000; Willa Literary Award for Contemporary Fiction, 2005.
Summit Avenue, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2000.
The Real Minerva, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.
The Vanishing Point, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2006.
(Editor, with Maya Chowdhry) Bitch Lit, Crocus Books (Manchester, England), 2006.
Contributor to anthologies, including The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: 13th Annual Edition, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000; Hula Hoops and Slinkies: New Women's Writing, R.I.S.E. UK, 2002; and Twin Cities Noir, Akashic Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including American Writing, Puerto del Sol, and Blithe House Quarterly.
Another Country (a literary journal), publisher, 1998—.
American novelist and educator Mary Sharratt, who lives in England, was a resident of Munich, Germany for twelve years, according to a biographer on the Mary Sharratt Home Page. While in Germany, Sharratt was a coordinator for the Munich Writers Workshop and served as publisher of the literary journal Another Country. An active member of the Manchester, England writing community, Sharratt often travels back to her hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota to conduct workshops at The Loft Literary Center.
Sharratt's first novel, Summit Avenue, blends fairy tale and realistic storytelling to explore the physical, mental, and sexual maturity of protagonist Kathrin. The Real Minerva, presents "a paean to the bond between mothers and daughters, actual and otherwise," observed Michele Leber in Booklist. In the Minnesota of the 1920s, fifteen-year-old Penny Niebeck is the daughter of Barbara Niebeck, who keeps house for the well-to-do Hamilton family. Penny resents being taken out of school to help with these chores, and she is infuriated by her mother's affair with Mr. Hamilton, whose wife has been in a coma for four years. Though Penny does not know it, her mother's behavior is underscored by the fact that Penny is the child of an incestuous relationship with Penny's grandfather, and that the man tried to drown her when she was an infant. After a conflict with her mother, Penny runs away to become a hired hand for local outcast Cora Viney, a single woman who dresses like a man and runs her farm alone. Penny arrives to find Cora hemorrhaging after childbirth. Acting quickly, Penny summons medical help and saves the baby. She discovers that Cora was once a socialite who has been forced to flee an abusive husband. Under Cora's influence, Penny studies to become a nurse and learns to be self-sufficient, whether that means cooking for herself or handling a gun. When Cora's husband shows up, Penny steps in as protector. Back at the Hamilton farm, Barbara has been injured by Mr. Hamilton's mentally ill daughter, who has shot her father. Intent on survival, the three female characters face their tragedies and move on. Sharratt's protagonists "emerge as convincingly ambivalent, yearning and sympathetic, and their emotionally satisfying, old-fashioned happy ending should be a crowd pleaser," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. A Kirkus Reviews critic noted that Sharratt "celebrates female grit as her three spirited protagonists challenge with courage—and a little firepower—the men and the society that wronged them." Disgraced by her promiscuity in morally rigid seventeenth-century England, beautiful May is sent to America to marry an unknown distant cousin in The Vanishing Point. May's sister, Hannah, fiercely intelligent but physically plain, fears she will never see her beloved sister again, and vows to follow her someday. In England, Hannah cares for the sisters' father, a physician, while he secretly passes his medical knowledge on to her. May and Hannah stay in touch by letter, but May rarely mentions her new husband, Gabriel. When her father dies, Hannah decides to travel to America to find her sister, the only family she has left. When she arrives, she discovers that May has disappeared, but almost against her will, she finds herself falling in love with Gabriel. Despite the new couple's attempts to forge a new life together, Hannah eventually realizes that she cannot ignore the possibility that Gabriel was involved in, or perhaps wholly responsible for, May's disappearance. "This extremely compelling, well-researched, and intensely written tale … is packed with fascinating historical information," commented Wendy Bethel in Library Journal. Margaret Flanagan, writing in Booklist, called the book "an authentically detailed period piece with elements of gothic suspense thrown in for good measure."
Mary Sharratt told CA: "I didn't choose writing. It chose me. I have always had a story playing somewhere at the back of my head.
"I started writing fiction seriously while living in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1988. I had gone over to teach English at a Catholic girls' boarding school as part of the American-Austrian Fulbright Program. I didn't have a television and soon ran out of books to read. To fill the empty hours, I started writing a story that had been lingering in my mind for quite some time. This was the first draft of what would become my first novel.
"My novel-writing habit began as a luxury, an escape, a secret indulgence. In Austria, I was living in a rented room where the heating didn't work properly. There was mildew on the walls. I wrote longhand in a spiral notebook while sitting in bed with the down comforter drawn up against the cold. On the other side of the thin wall, my neighbor's television blared. Writing was my sanctuary. I experienced the act of writing as a very real enchantment that I could step into at will, in which my outer life and mundane problems fell away.
"I started writing in complete isolation from other English-language writers. I had no teacher, no writer's group in the beginning. The only thing I had to draw on was my experience in another culture. In many ways, my first novel Summit Avenue, which tells the story of a German immigrant in early twentieth-century Minnesota, is a reflection of my own struggles as a foreigner. As the old chestnut goes, you write what you know. Being foreign is what I know. I have lived half my life abroad: in Austria, Belgium, Germany, and now England. Once you are a foreigner, you're always a foreigner, as I discovered when I moved briefly to California in 2001 after thirteen years in Germany. I felt more alien there than I had in Europe.
"Being an outsider forces you to look at your own country with fresh eyes. It forces you to question every single assumption and expectation you've held dear. This is why I'm so fond of putting my fictional characters through the displacement mill. Conflict and crisis are inevitable and they will emerge completely transformed. In Summit Avenue, a young immigrant discovers fairy tales as mirror of her own awakening. In The Real Minerva, three strong-willed women feel like outsiders in their small Midwestern town as they fight against the grain to re-invent themselves. In The Vanishing Point, two very different sisters leave their native England to forge new lives in Colonial Maryland.
"I believe that my life abroad also explains why setting is so important in my books. I'm always asking myself: what makes this place different from any other place I've ever been?
"The complex interweaving of landscape, history, and myth is something I seek to capture in my fiction. While living in Germany, I was hugely influenced by German fairy tales. Here in England, I find myself drawn to the legends surrounding Pendle Hill and the wild Pennine moorland outside my door. The late Ted Hughes and Kathleen Raine, who were as much shamans and visionaries as they were poets, are a profound inspiration to me. I adore the work of Alan Garner, whose stories seem to rise directly out of the land itself. He presents history as a fluid thing that, together with folklore and myth, continually shapes the present. Myths are timeless, undying stories and their function is to tell the truth. As contemporary storyteller Hugh Lupton has said, if you go deep enough into the old tales and can present them in an evocative and meaningful way to a modern audience, you become the living voice in an ancient tradition. This is what I aspire to.
"I also hope, in writing historical fiction, to give voice to the people who were written out of history. The late, great Mary Lee Settle wrote, ‘Recorded history is wrong. It's wrong because the voiceless have no voice in it.’ Our view of women's history tends to be sadly distorted and full of lazy stereotypes that women in the past were always completely helpless and disempowered. But if you actually do the research, you learn about movers and shakers, such as Anne Hutchinson, the religious dissenter who helped found the colony of Rhode Island, and the Manchester-born Mother Ann Lee, who founded the Shakers. How many other women were there like these whose lives and deeds were simply never recorded?
"I hope my books will transport readers to a different time and place, and make the story of history come alive for them."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 2004, Michelle Leber, review of The Real Minerva, p. 64; July 1, 2006, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Vanishing Point, p. 33.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2004, review of The Real Minerva, p. 774.
Library Journal, June 15, 2006, Wendy Bethel, review of The Vanishing Point, p. 59.
Publishers Weekly, September 6, 2004, review of The Real Minerva, p. 47.
Mary Sharratt Home Page,http://www.marysharratt.com (January 10, 2007).