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Since Cheryl Pearl Sucher married a New Zealander in 1999, she has been living between two worlds: the Greater New York City area and the Hawkes Bay of New Zealand, two places that are about as far apart on the planet as one can travel. Though she has often felt torn between her very different lives, she has also felt that her life experience and artistic vision has been enhanced by living as both an insider and an outsider in such different but extraordinary places. This interview series is born out of her experience between these worlds, and as a published fiction writer, bookseller, journalist, memoirist and avocational musical traveler.
In this edition, Cheryl talks to Jeff Sharlet, author of This Brilliant Darkness: A Book of Strangers.
Known for immersion journalism that is more immersed than most people are willing to go, and for a prose style that is somehow both fierce and soulful, Jeff Sharlet dives deep into the darkness around us and awaiting us.
This work began when his father had a heart attack; two years later, Jeff, still in his forties, had a heart attack of his own. In the grip of writerly self-doubt, Jeff turned to images, taking snapshots and posting them on Instagram, writing short, true stories that bloomed into documentary. During those two years, he spent a lot of time on the road: meeting strangers working night shifts as he drove through the mountains to see his father; exploring the life and death of Charley Keunang, a once-aspiring actor shot by the police on LA’s Skid Row; documenting gay pride amidst the violent homophobia of Putin’s Russia; passing time with homeless teen addicts in Dublin; and accompanying a lonely woman, whose only friend was a houseplant, on shopping trips.
Early readers have called this book “incantatory,” the voice “prophetic,” in “James Agee’s tradition of looking at the reality of American lives.” Defined by insomnia and late-night driving and the companionship of other darkness-dwellers―night bakers and last-call drinkers, frightened people and frightening people, the homeless, the lost (or merely disoriented), and other people on the margins―This Brilliant Darkness erases the boundaries between author, subject, and reader to ask: how do people live with suffering?
Jeff Sharlet is associate professor of English and creative writing at Dartmouth, and the best-selling author of The Family (made into a Netflix documentary series), This Brilliant Darkness, C Street, and Sweet Heaven When I Die. His work has earned numerous awards, including the National Magazine Award and the Outspoken Award.
Cheryl Pearl Sucher is an award winning novelist, journalist and interviewer as well as one of McNally Jackson’s original gangsters. She is a trained alto who lives between New Jersey and New Zealand and is the curator for our Between Two Worlds author conversation series, where she has interviewed Min Jin Lee, Sigrid Nuñez, Susan Choi and Julie Orringer, among others.