Yid Lit: Matthew Sharpe

Betsy Seder

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

Published March 28, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Matthew Sharpe is the author of a story collection and four novels. His most recent is “You Were Wrong,” published last summer by Bloomsbury USA. He spoke to Allison Yarrow about writing of a suburban house, his Jewish sensibility and Kafka’s inexplicit religious authority.

Listen to the podcast below and subscribe to Forward podcasts on iTunes:

Allison Yarrow: Your most recent novel, “You Were Wrong,” is dedicated to the year 2008 and takes place amid suburban excess. Why did you choose to set a novel at this time?

Matthew Sharpe: Even though I haven’t lived in a suburban house in over 20 years, the floor plan [of one] is in my unconscious and expresses itself in my dreams and my writing. [Houses] are the stage set on which we act out the drama of our lives. They are very resonant places. As for the year 2008, it’s the year that the sense of home, which is hugely important to the sense of self, began to disintegrate.

Do you think of yourself as a Jewish writer, or did you have a particularly Jewish upbringing that influences your writing?

I have this goyishe last name, an assimilated last name. Jewishness, but not Judaism, is an important part of my sensibility, my personality, my upbringing, yet I don’t feel compelled to write about Jewish themes. Non-Jews can also be darkly comic, but a certain kind of dark comedy — as, for example, with Mr. Kafka — I associate with Jewishness.

I think the tent is big when it comes to the canon of Jewish literature. It’s important that we include anybody who is addressing Jewishness at all, or anyone who is just Jewish.

Kafka is a perfect example. You don’t see a lot of explicit Jewishness in his writing. In “The Trial,” Joseph K. goes into a Cathedral, so his encounter with religious authority is with Christian religious authority, and yet being a Jew in this Czech nation, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, had a profound influence on his sensibility and the way that he wrote. He was interested in the Yiddish theater and his Jewish forbears, but it doesn’t express itself all that explicitly in his writing.

The New York Times Paper Cuts blog allows authors to put together musical playlists. A song on your playlist is “Smells Like Bootylicious,” which is a mash-up of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious.” That song and your novel “Jamestown” (which retells the founding myths of America and the Jamestown colony) occupy similar space in my brain.

I’m drawn to the mash-up and the cover. I come from a musical family, and very much think of writing in musical terms. When I was writing Jamestown I was thinking of it as a cover of the Jamestown story. Nature meant for these two songs to be together as one.

The Yid Lit podcast was edited by Meredith Ganzman and produced by Allison Yarrow.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.