Matthew Sharpe is the author of four novels and a short story collection. His book The Sleeping Father has been translated into nine languages, selected for the Today Show's book club. The Washington Post called his novel, Jamestown, "an absurd hybrid of Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Walt Disney's ‘Pocahontas.'" His most recent novel is, You Were Wrong.
Sharpe currently lives in New York City and teaches in the MFA program at Columbia. He is a graduate of Columbia University's MFA program, and attended Oberlin College in the ‘80's, where he studied literature and creative writing with many well respected Oberlin faculty members, including professor emeritus David Young and emerita Phyllis Gorfain. He also studied with Diane Vreuls and Roger Copeland, among others.
Time spent on less academic pursuits while at Oberlin also proved integral to Sharpe's development as a writer. "When I was listening to Hendrix," Sharpe recalls, "I developed the desire to make my writing sound like his guitar."
Beyond this extensive study of "Jimi Hendrixology," Sharpe also drew inspiration from classmates and the decidedly unglamorous trappings of northern Ohio. Sharpe speaks of late-night rambles with friends through Lorain County. More than just getting an education, Sharpe remembers his undergraduate years as a time when he was "trying to figure out how to be a grown-up, or even just a person, trying to figure out how to feel bearably."
‘Feeling bearably' is not often in the realm of daily experience for fledgling writers, and Sharpe sums up his post-Oberlin, pre-literary big shot years in six words: "Penury, haphazard dental work, ecstasy, doubt." And while Sharpe eventually moved on to greener pastures, he insists that seeking out "beauty and understanding" remains more important to him than the search for personal happiness.
To this end, Sharpe is known for his writerly derring-do, which is evident both in the uncompromising demands he puts on the English language, and in the disparate, at times controversial events and characters that populate his books.
In Nothing is Terrible, for instance, Sharpe's narrator is a young inter-sexed girl, while in Jamestown he transposes the story of England's first American colony to a post-911, post-apocalyptic world, writing from the perspectives of both white settlers and Algonquian Indians.
Asked about the dangers of assuming underprivileged identities in fiction, Sharpe has this to say: "It's dicey, pretending to be someone else or speak for someone else. It is especially dicey in this day and age to be a man and write in the fictive voice of a woman, or to be white and write in the fictive voice of a person of color. I am/do both. But it also seems deeply worthwhile. One of the best things I think I can do as a fiction writer is try to imagine what it feels like to be another person."
Whatever and whoever Matthew Sharpe imagines in the future, he readily acknowledges that, once upon a time, the Oberlin College creative writing program contributed "immeasurably" to his growth as a writer.
-- Geordie Flantz