Remembering Catapult instructor Jade Sharma
Jade Sharma died on July 24, 2019. She was 39 years old.
She was a self-described military brat, an autodidact who bounced around schools and got her GED while she was living abroad with her family. She earned an MFA in creative writing from The New School and completed advanced coursework towards a master’s degree in English Literature at Hunter College. She also taught writing and performed stand-up comedy.
We met at the New School where we were both enrolled in the MFA program. She was always late to class—when she even attended—but she finished the program and I didn’t. We took Dale Peck’s seminar together and one night he wore an uncharacteristically and memorably patterned button-down to class. We kept waiting for him to wear it again and I asked her about it after I dropped out. She told me she would take a picture. She called the shirt her “white whale.”
this is real.
Problems —can only do so much.
Great, now I will have to watch these things die.”
This is the person I am spending the rest of my life with.”
Jade, are you actually dead? It’s insane and it isn't. Like the kind of joke you would’ve told me. Like how “the cops are worse than the rape” and other things I can’t say. The world is less dark without you in it and I don’t mean better. I hope wherever you are you’re not bored. I'll always remember working on your erotica book A Million Blows with you and laughing. And I’ll think of you when I’m editing sentences that go on and on because you didn’t get why there wasn’t a period there, like, just get to it already.
- Micaela Durand
I met Jade before I had read any of her writing. It was at Catapult's write-in weekend in 2017 where she was trying to make some progress on her second novel and I was trying to find an agent. We bonded over drugs and depression and sex work and movies and occasionally writing. We started hanging out pretty regularly in her neighborhood in the LES. It was on my bike ride home from work and I'd stop to see her and we'd end up talking for hours. She was profoundly funny, incredibly blunt, and very giving. You'd think, with her dark humor and unsentimental prose that she wouldn't be so kind, but she was. She read my book and tried to help it find a home and encouraged me to keep going. She made me print copies and give them to her so she could give them to every agent she knew. I tried to return the favor the best I could. I tried to support her in her struggles with mental illness and addiction and gave her free legal advice on every manner of problem that came up. She was probably part of the reason I quit my job and starting working as a legal services attorney, and why I tend to feel the need to help clients with mental health problems.
We would wander around Grand Street talking about Rick and Morty while she walked her dog, a tiny ball of fur that would pee on or hump everything in sight. She didn't like to keep him on a leash, choosing to let him live his own life, to the annoyance of most pedestrians, other dogs, and flower beds. There's a small corner of New York where Grand Street intersects with Henry Street, that will always remind me of her, for better and worse.
She was in a lot of pain and struggled a lot. She had trouble with her success and felt overwhelmed by the outpouring of e-mails and messages she got from fans of her book who related to the character and sought advice and guidance. I don't know if I did all I could to help. Maybe I could have done more. Or maybe I did all that was safe for me to do. At times she would disappear from my life for weeks or months then come back through a long e-mail or the longest texts I'd ever received. She disappeared again sometime at the end of last year, and then, out of the blue, texted me at the beginning of the summer to hang out. I was worried that it had been so long and I was really excited to see her and see how she was doing. We were supposed to meet outside OST, like we always did, but she was a no show. I waited around for an hour, texted her, got dinner at Patacon Pisao, and eventually, gave up and went home. I tried to reschedule but I never heard from her again. This was at the end of June. She died less than a month later, and I didn't find out until yesterday.
Jade, I hope you find some peace. You were a great writer and a great friend.
- Stu Sherman
Jade had Beckett on her bookshelves and French movie posters on her walls. Her clothes were frequently tattered and torn, yet she was beautiful, truly, and always quick to laugh, usually at her own expense. Whenever someone said something nice about me or my writing, she would email me to let me know. Being her friend was like that. She was kind. Her emails were epic, digressive, and Bernhard-ian. I’m not sure how Jade would feel about being compared to a dead Austrian man, but I think she’d probably appreciate it. She told me good writing has to come from an authentic place or else it’s shit. Jade did not tolerate boring shit. I first met Jade in 2017, but I was fan of her work long before that. I want everyone to read her book Problems, a raw, subversive, and relentlessly funny work of art. Long after all of the mediocre shit falls away, Problems will endure. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime reading experience. We fell out of touch after I moved to Florida in 2018. I kept telling myself I would email her soon, then soon became impossible. Jade, I’m so sorry. I miss you already.
- Patty Yumi Cottrell
My first impulse in writing these lines about Jade is to stick them in an email to her. Jade, look, I want to say. Everyone’s saying nice things about you. Don’t be awkward about it. Own it. Because you’re so fucking special. I can *guess* how she would have replied—with a piercingly citric joke about death, her sincerity and generosity being reserved for others—but I *don’t* know how she would have replied because she is not here to tell me, and nobody can ever say what only Jade could have said, in her indomitably hilarious and uncompromising way.
I met Jade virtually through a writing workshop, and we eventually became friends. We were several time zones apart, but 4am for me always felt like the secret best corner of a loud evening party because her comments—which were always in caps lock, alarmingly incisive, and kind when I least expected them to be—kept me snorting with laughter over my keyboard. I loved her writing and her line edits but I also loved her: her impatience with literary pandering, her darkly outrageous but indisputable insights, her compassion for the freaks and weirdos of this world, her inability to conform to the tropes plaguing “POC writing,” the fact that she saw no hierarchies in writing lives. How clearly she saw and translated loneliness. Her gallows humor. Jade taught me a lot about writing—of course she did, she was a great editor. Don’t sit on it for too long, she said. I have. So did she. So I think I will email her. I think I will add: “fucking miss you, yes already. Talk soon.”
- Sharanya M.
By the time Jade Sharma became my student in the New School’s MFA program, she’d used up whatever fucks she might have ever had to give. We lived about ten blocks from each other, and when she found this out she decided we were going to walk home every night after class. On the first night she told me she was having an affair with one of my colleagues. I did my best to remind Jade that I was her teacher and duty-bound to report what she told me to the powers that be. She seemed unfazed by this, and on our next walk told me that she used heroin, “but only a little.” More sputtering from me, which had as little effect as the first time. Jade didn’t care what people thought about her. It was far more important that she be able to speak the truth about herself than to be liked, let alone be considered socially acceptable.
This was evident in the early pages of the manuscript that would become Problems, about a young Indian writer who was having an affair with one of her teachers and was also a chipper. As a teacher I was disturbed (because who wouldn’t be?) but I was also enthralled, because the novel was brilliant. Inescapable, whether you knew it was autobiographical or not. Self-deprecating and self-serving and self-aware and self-destructive, and written in blunt yet burnished sentences that you wanted to read forever. Jade wrote scathingly about the torment she received as an Indian girl in the American south who wasn’t white enough for the white kids or black enough for the black kids, and had vitiligo to boot, and followed that up with an oddly tender, even forgiving account of “dating” American servicemen in Japan, where Jade lived as a teenager, even as she made it clear that she knew—and the servicemen knew—that they were raping her.
Like all genuine artists who are also junkies, she screamed out for protection and indulgence in equal measure. As recompense for the fact that she was never going to get her act together, she offered up brilliant writing in exchange. Did it work? I feel shitty for even asking the question, but I also think it’s a question Jade wanted asked, mostly because she told me about a dozen times. And the sad, wonderful, unbearable truth is that Problems is a triumph. A triumph, and utterly heartbreaking. I’m not talking about the book's autobiographical content, or lack thereof. By the time it was finished Jade and I saw each other rarely, and for all I know the material she wrote after she left the writing program (which comprised the bulk of the book) was entirely fictional. It’s about the narrative’s need (by which I mean the writer’s need, not the protagonist’s) to push against any boundary she encounters, and then cross it. This is a book about someone who only feels comfortable when she’s in a little bit of pain. But the problem with pain, like the problem with drugs, is that you get used to it fast, and then you need more. And while it's easy to pathologize this as some kind of mental illness, the truth is it’s as human as the need for love or for a home (two other things Jade wrote about with terrifying precision). Jade was simply less fearful than most people, and more honest to boot. I have no idea what to do with any of that information save to say that I wish she could have learned these lessons some other way.
- Dale Peck
There are those of us who pride ourselves on not caring what anyone thinks, but Jade would not have cared about that at all. She was a true individual or, I guess, marginally socialized. I met Jade at work at a purgatorial bookstore. Often it felt as if the store wouldn’t close until you laid bare some common streak of human futility, and it gradually became obvious that Jade and I were among the doomed. Night shifts began at five and Jade would call around six-thirty, apologize, and make the twenty-minute walk from her apartment in just under two hours. Some people thought her rude because she insulted people to their face. But we were drawn to her. Hers was a drowsy charisma that took its time reaching you in an ebbing, mumbling wave. One might say she was a natural bad leader.
Jade was a special person who reminded me that notwithstanding our deepest convictions none of us are, really—why do we say that? In fact, she was extremely intelligent, and once she showed me a scrap of writing it was clear that she was really talented. She was also totally impossible. Her bolder opinions were the worst. “I don’t know, Jade, she won the Booker, maybe she doesn’t ‘huff paint?’” I was never sure we properly got along. Though, the better I knew Jade, the more I was convinced that we don’t—and we don’t have to—understand one another. Despite ourselves, we make friends, which means, I think, you give part of the terror you feel for life to someone for safekeeping and then forget you left it with them.
Drugs and sadness are too seldom spoken of openly; Jade was at her absolute best in ignoring this dumb politesse. If we keep our problems to ourselves then we won’t have to feel responsible to one another, as if there were any more pressing matter than to keep your friends close, and to love and honor their bullshit in light of the implausible reality that they, like you, exist, and all of a sudden will not. The last time I saw her we talked about her next book and what I should name a baby. That was probably two years ago and so it goes without saying—Goodbye, Jade.
- Mike Mah
Ruth Curry edited Jade Sharma's debut novel Problems in her role as co-publisher at Emily Books. She is a writer and editor in New York.
Micaela Durand is an artist and filmmaker in NY.
Stu Sherman is a legal aid attorney and writer.
Patty Yumi Cottrell is the author of Sorry To Disrupt The Peace.
Sharanya M. is a writer and teacher. She received a PhD in Drama from Exeter in 2016.
Dale Peck is the editor of the Evergreen Review and the author of many books of fiction and criticism. He teaches creative writing.
Mike Mah is a writer likened to a crushed bird in Jade's novel, Problems.
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