By Valerie Smith
When Sarah Gerard returned to The New School to speak with Susan Shapiro’s Writing for New York City class, she was nothing like the whimsical photo found on the back of her books. Rather, the MFA in Creative Writing alumni was a strong-willed, unabashedly forthright author. The confidence she projects when she reads is powerfully conveyed in her first collection of essays, Sunshine State (HarperPerennial), a hybrid of writing that moves easily between poetry, journalism and memoir.
A native of Clearwater, Florida, the 32-year-old petite and bespectacled Gerard moved north to pursue her MFA in Creative Writing at The New School with a focus in fiction and graduated in 2012. She studied with New School faculty Dale Peck, Ann Hood, Helen Schulman, Shelley Jackson, Jonathan Dee, and John Reed. While taking a course with Shapiro, she published the powerful essay “For Hunger” in the New York Times. Parts of that essay made its way into her debut novel Binary Star (Two Dollar Radio, 2015), which she published two years after receiving her degree. The book was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Award for First Fiction. Acclaimed as “rhythmic, hallucinatory, yet vivid as crystal” by National Public Radio, Binary Star is a passionate, autobiographical novel about a young couple on a cross-country road trip struggling in a relationship infected by alcoholism and anorexia.
This spring Gerard returned to Shapiro’s class with Sunshine State, her second book and a uniquely arranged stark portrait of life in her hometown area of Tampa, to offer encouraging words for aspiring writing students. She reflected on her desires to be a singer, high school teacher, social worker and photographer, echoing characters from all those professions in Sunshine State. On the merits of the collection’s first essay, “BFF,” Dwight Garner of the New York Times heralded it as “a knockout, a lurid red heart wrapped in barbed wire.”
Gerard currently lives in Brooklyn where she creates exquisite collages and writes two monthly columns for the Penguin Random House online journal Hazlitt.net. She teaches writing workshops at PlatteForm, Brooklyn Poets, LitReactor, and Catapult. Formerly a bookseller for McNally Jackson Books in SoHo, Gerard recently returned to the bookstore to read passages from Sunshine State to a packed audience. She’ll be appearing on a book-publishing panel on June 9 at The New School with Shapiro and former classmates Kassi Underwood and Janet Lombardi. For more information on Gerard’s upcoming events, please click here.
Valerie Smith is a curator, teacher and writer, who lives in New York and Berlin.