Interview with Michele Sharpe


What is a current project you are working on?

I’m working on my second memoir, which is about reuniting with my blood family.

What is the piece of writing advice, good or even bad, that you have received that has impacted you the most?

Claire Keyes, my professor in a poetry writing class I took in the 1980’s at Salem State University, cautioned me against encoded language and imagery in my poems. We all have certain words, phrase, or images that have personal meaning for us – but readers aren’t privy to the insides of our brains. Claire taught me to look at my work from an audience’s point of view, not just from my own entrenched personal mythology.

What are some of the greatest influences upon your writing, whether other writers or outside influences?

Reading the same texts over and over again has-hard wired my brain in many ways, some of which I’m probably not yet aware of. For example, I’m a slave to the iamb, even sometimes in prose writing. Reading Wuthering Heights dozens of times has inclined me toward frame narratives. Re-reading dramatic monologues and other persona poems, like those of Browning and Ai, inspired me to write from the points of view of others and, in writing from my own perspective, to acknowledge that my self is a series of selves and voices.

In “A Short History of Fraud” it seems like you found a part of yourself when you found out you were adopted, as opposed to any loss of identity. Could you expand on this?

I didn’t feel a loss of identity, but a tremendous sense of possibility. A vast unknown opened up, and although I still knew who I was, it felt like in the future, I could be anyone. And because I’d lived under the weight of so many lies, hearing the truth was liberating and exhilarating. Truth really will set you free.

Do you have a favorite place to write, or are there any habits, rituals, inspirations, etc. that help you write best?

I’m a bed-writer for the most part, whether it’s pen and paper or a laptop. That’s an old habit, partly because I spent a lot of time sick in bed reading as a kid. Now, a chronic pain condition and a little dog who likes lounging around as much as I do make bed-writing the best option for me. 

Can you recommend one book that you think everyone should read and tell us why?

Understanding history is critical to a healthy present and a sustainable future, whether it’s an adoptee’s personal history or a wider cultural history. Unfortunately, a lot of what’s taught in schools as history has morphed into propaganda supporting those in power. Ibram Kendi’s history of racist ideas, Stamped from the Beginning, is a well-researched and well-written antidote to that.