Mitchell, Sharon 1962–
Sharon Mitchell 1962–
Author, psychologist, educator
Author Sharon Mitchell told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB), “I tend to write about a range of issues confronted by African-American women in particular.” Her topics include life experiences, such as the friendships that develop between women, the challenges that women face in their careers, and the conflicts that can occur in families. Like many other contemporary African-American women writers, such as Terry McMillan, her sister, Rosalyn McMillan, and Kimberla Lawson Roby, Mitchell has found a comfortable niche writing about the experiences of black women, which often center around familiar aspects of women’s lives: relationships, careers, and families.
Sharon Mitchell, the daughter of Bertha and Curtis Mitchell, was born in Fort Deposit, Alabama, on October 27, 1962. Mitchell and three other siblings—Annie, Marita, and Curtis Jr.—were raised in Cleveland, Ohio, where she attended Cleveland public schools, including Daniel E. Morgan and John W. Raper elementary schools and Lulu Diehl Jr. High School. When it came time to enter high school, Mitchell had the opportunity to attend Laurel School, a private girl’s school, after being awarded the “A Better Chance Scholarship (ABC).” The Laurel School has prided itself on teaching students to be effective leaders and independent thinkers who are willing to be challenged to attempt new goals, and this description accurately predicted Mitchell’s professional and literary success.
After graduation from high school, Mitchell attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, studying psychology and earning a bachelor of arts degree in 1984. She continued her education at Ohio State University, earning a master’s degree in 1987 and a Ph.D. in 1990. With her new doctorate in counseling psychology in hand, Mitchell took a position at Boston University as a psychologist and instructor. She then accepted a position at the University of Delaware in 1994. Mitchell is now a professor at the University of Delaware and the assistant director of the university’s Center for Counseling and Student Development.
Mitchell might well be labeled an “accidental novelist.” Her first novel, Nothing But the Rent, began as a short story that was part of an effort to learn the basics of a new word processing program. Mitchell told BookRemarks.com that this short story “turned out to be over 300 pages before it occurred to me that it might be publishable as a book.” Although Mitchell was not writing an autobiography, she incorporated settings and circumstances from her own life into her books. For instance, her first novel is set in a small college in Minnesota, and coincidentally, Mitchell attended a small college in Minnesota. Beyond the obvious similarities of setting, though, the novel is about the friendship between four women as it grows and changes over time.
Mitchell has used her background in psychology in her depictions of her characters. Mitchell told CBB that she “can’t separate being a psychologist from being a writer.” Since she has always been someone “who was interested in what makes someone tick,” Mitchell’s experience as a psychologist adds a dimension to her character development that might otherwise be missing.
Born October 27, 1962 in Fort Deposit, Alabama, daughter of Curtis and Bertha Mitchell. Education: Carleton College, B.A., 1984; Ohio State University, M.A., 1987, Ph.D., 1990.
Career: Boston University, psychologist and instructor, 1987-94; University of Delaware’s Center for Counseling and Student Development, assistant director, 1994—.
Memberships: Editorial Board, Journal of College Student Development; American Psychology Association; NAACP; American Counseling Association.
Addresses: Office —Center for Counseling and Student Development, University of Delaware, 261 Perkins Student Center, Newark, DE 19716. Email —[email protected]
One of Mitchell’s stated goals has been to help the reader examine her own ideas and life. Mitchell stated in her interview with CBB that “the back story or psychological history” of her characters is important to her. This emphasis on interpreting her characters’ message was also found in an earlier discussion that Mitchell held with students at the University of Delaware Center for Black Culture. At a reading and discussion of her third book, Near Perfect, Mitchell told her listeners that as they listen to her read from her most recent book, they should “listen for where these characters may be setting themselves up for problems, based on the way they view themselves and the way they view the person they are involved with.” Although Mitchell may not have set out on a career path that included being a best-selling author, she has been able to successfully blend both careers—writer and psychologist—into her books.
Her second book, Sheer Necessity, is also about relationships. Its protagonist, Toni Carleton, borrows her name from Mitchell’s undergraduate college, and the novel’s setting, Newark, Delaware, reflects the author’s own location. Mitchell told CBB that her three siblings “always scour my books to see if they’ll find a little bit of themselves or my relationship with them in there.” Mitchell has borrowed from what is familiar to create authentic and recognizable settings. In an interview with BookRemarks.com, Mitchell explained that for her third book, Near Perfect, she included information about football taken from her own knowledge, but for more detail she consulted with friends “who are even bigger sports fans than myself … some of whom actually played football in college.” Although she has not written an autobiography, Mitchell has written about what is familiar to both herself and her readers, which may also account for the success of her books.
While at Carleton College, Mitchell took only one English class—an African-American literature course, and since completing her formal education, she has taken other creative writing courses. However, Mitchell told CBB that she gives the most credit for her development as a novelist to a fiction writers’ group that she belonged to for several years, and which was the experience that turned out to be “the most influential in helping me find a writing voice.” On her website Mitchell has listed some of her own favorite authors, including Toni Morrison, Amy Tan, and Alice Walker. Mitchell has not compared her own talent and success to that of other writers. Instead, she has worked hard to develop her own style. Mitchell explained that she has become a better writer with the completion of each of her novels. She has moved from writing with no plot in mind in her first novel to sketching out most of the plot for her third book before she actually began to write the book.
Mitchell has dealt with criticism in a pragmatic manner. She has learned to listen to feedback from her readers. She has tried to increase her character development, responding to reader critiques. Mitchell has also noted that writing builds her own character, and her practical approach to criticism reflects the role that writing plays in her own life, as well as her desire to please her readers.
Mitchell told CBB that she intends to write more books, and to continue with her career as a psychologist. Being a successful writer does not mean the end of her career at the University of Delaware. Mitchell told CBB that she while she enjoys writing, “my passion is helping people feel empowered to move beyond the current pain or distress they have when they come for therapy.” Mitchell intends to continue teaching as well. She told BookRemarks.com that she has “discovered a creative part of myself that I never knew existed.”
Nothing But the Rent, Dutton, 1998.
Sheer Necessity, Dutton, 1999.
Near Perfect, Dutton, 2001.
Review, University of Delaware Weekly Magazine, November 13, 2001.
Book Remarks, http://www.book-remarks.com/Sharon_Mitchell.htm
Sharon Mitchell website, http://www.sharonmitchell.net
Additional information for this profile was obtained through a personal interview with Contemporary Black Biography on June 26, 2002.
—Sheri Elaine Metzger
"Mitchell, Sharon 1962–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 18, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mitchell-sharon-1962
"Mitchell, Sharon 1962–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved March 18, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mitchell-sharon-1962
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