Jim Shepard (1956-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
(Scott Eller, a joint pseudonym, James R. Shepard)
Born 1956, in Bridgeport, CT; Education: Trinity College (Hartford, CT), B.A., 1978; Brown University, A.M., 1980.
Office—Department of English, Williams College, Williamstown, MA 01267.
Educator and novelist. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, lecturer in creative writing, 1980–83; Williams College, Williamstown, MA, assistant professor, 1983–90, associate professor of English, beginning, 1990, currently J. Leland Miller Professor of English.
Phi Beta Kappa.
Transatlantic Review Award, Henfield Foundation, 1979, for "Eustace"; Massachusetts Cultural Council artists' grant in fiction, 2002; Library of Congress/Massachusetts Book Award for Fiction, and Alex Award for Fiction, Young-Adult Library Science Services Association, both 2004, both for Project X; John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Award, 2004.
NOVELS; FOR YOUNG ADULTS AND ADULTS
Flights, Knopf (New York, NY), 1983.
Paper Doll, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.
Lights out in the Reptile House, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1990.
Kiss of the Wolf, Harcourt (Boston, MA), 1994.
Nosferatu, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.
Project X, Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
YOUNG ADULT NOVELS; WITH WILLIAM HOLINGER UNDER JOINT PSEUDONYM SCOTT ELLER
Short Season, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1985.
Twenty-first Century Fox, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1989.
"JOHNSON BOYS" SERIES; FOR YOUNG ADULTS; WITH WILLIAM HOLINGER UNDER JOINT PSEUDONYM SCOTT ELLER
The Football Wars, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1992.
First Base, First Place, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.
That Soccer Season, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.
Jump Shot, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.
(Editor with Ron Hansen) You've Got to Read This: Contemporary American Writers Introduce Stories That Held Them in Awe, HarperPerennial (New York, NY), 1994.
((Editor with Amy Hempel) Unleashed: Poems by Writer's Dogs, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 1995.
Batting against Castro (short stories), Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.
(Editor) Writers at the Movies: Twenty-six Contemporary Authors Celebrate Twenty-six Memorable Movies, Perennial (New York, NY), 2000.
Love and Hydrogen: New and Selected Stories, Vintage (New York, NY), 2004.
Editor of Spellbound: Contemporary American Writers Introduce Stories That Held Them in Awe. Also author of Battling against Castro, Random House. Contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, Tin House, McSweeney's, Gentleman's Quarterly, Playboy, Esquire, Harper's, New Yorker, and Redbook.
A professor at Williams College, novelist Jim Shepard is the author of several teen sports stories co-written with William Holinger under the joint pseudonym Scott Eller. However, he is better known to readers as the author of young-adult novels such as Flights, Lights out in the Reptile House, and Project X, as well as several adult novels and edited collections of poetry, essays, and short fiction.
Flights, Shepard's first published work, is the story of down-on-his-luck teen Biddy Siebert, whose life is lonely and unpleasant. He has no lasting relationships with any fellow students in his Connecticut school, and the few friendships he does maintain are undone when families move away. Biddy's home life is hardly more fulfilling; Judy, Biddy's mother, is weak and submissive to her husband, the domineering Walt. Biddy's father ultimately becomes the catalyst for Biddy's great adventure when Walt encourages his son's interest in airplanes. Learning the rudiments of piloting a plane from books, Biddy joins his father on a ride on a friend's small plan, then determines to steal the plane and fly it himself. Flights was praised as a distinguished debut, Washington Post Book World critic Tom Paulin describing Shepard's work as "subtle, brilliant, beautifully wrought fiction." Frederick Busch described the novel in the New York Times Book Review as "well-made, well-written and splendidly imagined."
Since he began writing in the early 1980s, Shepard has been alternating between his solo ventures and the Scott Eller-penned sport stories, which he writes because of an interest in athletics that is shared with his coauthor. The sports novels, which feature teens facing typical coming-of-age problems in plots generously peppered with play-by-play game action, are written with a more breezy approach that appeals to teen audiences looking for a light read. The novels Shepard writes under his own name, however, are, like Flights, much more intense and provocative in their plot and focus.
Lights out in the Reptile House is a novel about a youth's experiences in a country increasingly dominated by fascism. The novel's central protagonist, fifteen-year-old Karel Roeder, finds that his school work is becoming more and more devoted to subjects extolling the virtues of fascism and the fascist state. The meek, socially withdrawn Karel, who works at a zoo's reptile house, is in love with the rebellious Leda, a young woman who defies the state government in its institutionalization and the impending execution of her dyslexic brother. While Leda's family is subjected to scrutiny by unsympathetic local authorities, Karel finds that his own home life—he lives with a shiftless father—is also disrupted by the state government's presence. After Karel's father disappears, a soldier moves into his family's house, assigned to remain there in case the man returns. This menacing figure, Kehr, soon becomes Karel's personal tormentor, whereupon the hapless teen decides to flee rather than stand up to the bullying. Meanwhile, as fear and suspicion spread throughout the community, so too does the presence of the fearful Civil Guard. It is this group, which counts the cruel Kehr among its members, that brings about the novel's key episode, the torching of a local reptile house.
Kiss of the Wolf mixes the terror and intrigue of the thriller novel with psychological drama in its portrait of a strained relationship between a boy and his mother. Eleven-year-old Todd and his mother, Joanie, are deeply upset when Todd's father, Gary, abandons the family and moves out west. Trying to fill the emptiness in her life, Joanie begins to date Bruno, a used-car salesman and a suspicious character who appears to have connections with some pretty shady customers. The family's real trouble begins, however, on the night of Todd's confirmation party. Speeding along a dark parkway after attending the festivities, Joanie does not see a pedestrian in time and hits the person with her car. Horrified by what she has done, Joanie panics and drives away without reporting the incident to the police. Feeling guilty but unwilling to confess her crime, the woman tries to convince her son to be quiet about what he has seen, leaving the teen conflicted between his loyalty to his mother and his desire to be truthful. "Altar boy Todd is deeply shocked by his mom's behavior and subsequent coverup," related a Kirkus Reviews contributor, noting that the subsequent "rift is the heart" of Shepard's story. The tragedy is not the end of the family's troubles, however; the dead man was an associate of Bruno's, and he was supposed to be carrying a large sum of money. When the money winds up missing Bruno begins to suspect Joanie, and his ruthless, criminal tendencies suddenly surface. Richard Bausch contended in the New York Times Book Review that Kiss of the Wolf succeeds not only as a thriller, but on other levels as well: "We go through all the stages of Joanie's guilt, we are privy to all the nuances of feeling between her and the boy as their understanding of what has happened changes them, and we come to see the story as a parable of responsibility and absolution."
One of several novels that was released following the tragic 1999 student shooting at Columbine High School, Project X focuses, like Flights, on an unhappy teen misfit. In Project X eighth-grader Edwin Hanratty can't find much to like about his life in an upscale New England town, and the fact that he used as a punching bag by some bullying schoolmates doesn't make the picture any rosier. A well-meaning but powerless teen, Edwin manages to muster a wry humor at times, referring to himself as "the kid you think about when you want to make yourself feel better." Edwin's only friend, Flake, combines a similar pessimism with serious psychological problems, and Flake's violent tendencies turn the teens' angst into something incendiary. When the two plot the ultimate revenge against their uncaring fellow students, the result is what a Kirkus Reviews contributor described as "a swift, stunning chaos."
Project X was widely praised by reviewers. A Publishers Weekly critic, noting the novel's timeliness in the wake of the Columbine tragedy, cited Shepard's "unusually subtle and affecting treatment" of adolescent violence, adding that the "sullen disgruntlement" of his young protagonist is portrayed "with a pitch-perfect feel for the flat, sardonic … language of disaffected teens." The author "treats his main characters with compassion," School Library Journal contributor Susanne Bardelson maintained, adding that Project X serves as a "heartbreaking and wrenching novel [that] will leave teens with plenty of questions and, hopefully, some answers."
In addition to his books for young adults, Shepard has published adult novels such as Nosferatu, a quasibiography of German silent-film director Werner Murnau, and the short-fiction collection Love and Hydrogen. Praising Shepard's shorter works, which includes stories ranging from a scientist's relentless pursuit of a prehistoric shark and the explosion of the dirigible Hindenburg to the rigid attitudes of embattled U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, Kyle Minor noted in the Antioch Review that Shepard, "one of the best of an emerging group of virtuosic writers" that includes Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem, produces literary work that "blurs the line between literary fiction and genre fiction" The best of these stories, Minor added, brings vividly to life "the kinds of characters and settings that set childhood imaginations ablaze."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 36, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986, pp. 405-407.
America, December 3, 1983, p. 360.
Antioch Review, summer, 2004, Kyle Minor, review of Love and Hydrogen: New and Selected Stories, p. 580.
Booklist, August, 1985, p. 1663; June 1, 1995, Ray Olson, review of Unleashed: Poems by Writers' Dogs, p. 1721; March 1, 1998, Ray Olson, review of Nosferatu, p. 1096; January 1, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of Project X and Love and Hydrogen, p. 828.
Choice, February, 1986, p. 868.
Detroit News, February 1, 1987.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1993, review of Kiss of the Wolf, p. 1419; November 15, 2003, review of Project X, p. 1337; November 15, 2003, review of Love and Hydrogen, p. 1337.
Kliatt, November, 1992, p. 6.
Library Journal, July, 1985, p. 93; December, 1993, p. 177; April 15, 1998, Susan Gene Clifford, review of Nosferatu, p. 116; January, 2004, Mark Andre Singer, review of Project X, p. 160.
Newsday, February 18, 1990.
New York Times Book Review, October 9, 1983, Frederick Busch, review of Flights, pp. 15, 33; October 20, 1985; February 25, 1990, p. 27; February 20, 1994, p. 34; December 4, 1994, p. 71; February 12, 1995, Richard Bausch, "Death in the Headlights," p. 36.
Publishers Weekly, May 17, 1985, p. 98; November 15, 1993, p. 69; January 26, 1998, review of Nosferatu, p. 67; October 23, 2000, review of Writers at the Movies, p. 69; November 24, 2003, review of Project X, p. 41.
School Library Journal, October, 1985, p. 171; March, 1989, p. 198; August, 1994, p. 184; December, 1996, Karen Sokol, review of Battling against Castro, p. 152; May, 2004, Suzanne Bardelson, review of Project X, p. 175.
Sewanee Review, fall, 1986.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1989, p. 100; October, 1990, p. 257; June, 2004, Jonatha Masters, review of Project X, p. 135.
Washington Post Book World, September 25, 1983, Tom Paulin, review of Flights, p. 4; February 11, 1990, p. 4.
IdentityTheory.com, http://www.identitytheory.com/ (May 14, 2004), Robert Brinbaum, interview with Shepard.
Williams College Web site, http://www.otis.cc.williams.edu/ (February 24, 2004), "Jim Shepard."
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