Wilfrid Sheed About the Participants
January 13-16, 2000

WILFRID SHEED was born in London on December 27, 1930, into a publishing family, and raised trans-Atlantically. While he can and occasionally does, write passable dialogue in both English and American, no one can tell for absolute sure where he comes from. (Maybe someplace in the Azores.) After graduating from Oxford in the early Fifties, he complicated matters still further by spending a year in his father's homeland of Australia, where he mastered the aboriginal trick of writing fiction furtively in desk drawers while pretending to work on something else for a living.

Thus equipped, he returned to his own homeland, which he takes to be a narrow strip of land, stretching from northeastern New Jersey, to the furthest end of Long Island (and in recent times down to Key West as well). He promptly sold his first (and only) short story to the New Yorker, and some more or less humorous pieces to the NY Times Sunday Magazine, and in no time found himself being asked to review various things, most notably movies for Esquire, books for the New York Review of Books and many other publications, and the one he seems to have done best, theater for Commonwealth, Esquire and the old Life magazine.

But meanwhile, his novels had made it out of the desk drawer and into print, so that he could henceforth commute regularly between essays and fiction, depending on which well had the most water in it today. His nine novels would go on to include such titles as Office Politics, Max Jamison and People Will Always Be Kind, all of which were nominated for National Book Award, while his essays have been stacked up in The Morning After, The Good Word and Essays in Disguise, which was also nominated for something by somebody or other. An essay concerning his first hand account of the last days of the judge system at the Book of the Month Club in the Yale Review recently won that magazine's 1999 award for Best Essay.

Recently he has found himself drifting more and more into a form that might loosely be called the "impersonal memoir," in which the author provides the eyes, ears and voice while the subject does most of the talking. His books in this mode include Clare Boothe Luce, Frank & Maisie: a Memoir with Parent, and In Love with Daylight, which is a firsthand account of the only three illnesses he has ever had, namely polio, booze-and-pill addictions and cancer of the tongue, and of what it feels like to recover from, or make your peace with, all three of these.

On the private side, Sheed and his wife, Miriam Ungerer, the esteemed food-writer, have bought and renovated a house in the Old Town section of Key West in which they seem to spend a little more time every winter and which they hope some day to hand on to whichever of their combined six children (three apiece from previous marriages) puts his or hand up first. In the interest of full disclosure: Sheed has also done some sports writing, a practice he can defend quite ingeniously, but would rather not.

  • A Middle-Class Education
  • The Hack
  • Square's Progress
  • Office Politics
  • The Blacking Factory and Pennsylvania Gothic
  • Max Jamison
  • People Will Always be Kind
  • Transatlantic Blues
  • The Boys of Winter
  • The Good Word
  • The Morning After
  • Clare Boothe Luce
  • Frank and Maisie: A Memoir with Parents
  • Muhammad Ali
  • Essays in Disguise
  • My Life as a Fan
  • Baseball and Lesser Sports
  • In Love with Daylight
  • Sixteen Short Novels
  • G. K. Chesterton's Essays and Poems