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!
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • 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.