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!
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • 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.