Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press


by Michelle Dean

From celebrated literary critic Michelle Dean, a powerful portrait of ten women writers who managed to make their voices heard amid a culture of sexism

  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 384
  • Publication Date April 10, 2018
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2509-5
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $26.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Publication Date April 10, 2018
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6571-8
  • US List Price $26.00

About the Book

The ten brilliant women who are the focus of Sharp came from different backgrounds and had vastly divergent political and artistic opinions. But they all made a significant contribution to the cultural and intellectual history of America and ultimately changed the course of the twentieth century, in spite of the men who often undervalued or dismissed their work.

These ten women—Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm—are united by what Dean calls “sharpness,” the ability to cut to the quick with precision of thought and wit. Sharp is a vibrant depiction of the intellectual beau monde of twentieth-century New York, where gossip-filled parties at night gave out to literary slugging-matches in the pages of the Partisan Review or the New York Review of Books. It is also a passionate portrayal of how these women asserted themselves through their writing in a climate where women were treated with extreme condescension by the male-dominated cultural establishment.

Mixing biography, literary criticism, and cultural history, Sharp is a celebration of this group of extraordinary women, an engaging introduction to their works, and a testament to how anyone who feels powerless can claim the mantle of writer, and, perhaps, change the world.

Praise for Sharp

Named One of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2018 (So Far) by Esquire

Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2018 by VogueEsquireGuardianWashington PostHuffington PostThe RumpusElleBustleEntertainment WeeklyThe MillionsSouthern LivingVol. 1 BrooklynBoston GlobePublishers Weekly, and Book Riot

“[Sharp is] designed to stir up discussion and dissension in its readers . . . There’s so much more to savor, ruminate on, learn from and, certainly, argue with in this splendid book. Sharp embodies the work of its subjects and manages the difficult intellectual and narrative feat of linking a bunch of disparate women writers, not via their topical interests, but by their sensibility: that of writers, with one foot in the mainstream of the American intellectual culture that men made, and one foot outside, sometimes by their own decision, and sometimes not. And each one of them, in this wonderful telling, is very much an intellectual and a writer to be heard.”—Maureen Corrigan, Wall Street Journal

Sharp is a dinner party you want to be at . . . Dean’s literary bash is as stimulating and insightful as its roster of guests. She not only encapsulates their biographies and achievements with remarkable concision, but also connects the dots between them . . . Sharp is a wonderful celebration of some truly gutsy, brilliant women.”—Heller McAlpin, NPR

“[A] timely new book . . . a group biography of sorts, tracing a dozen female writers—from Dorothy Parker to Janet Malcolm—whose reviews, essays and other works compose a rough history of American thought from the 1920s to the ’80s . . . Dean deftly and often elegantly traces these women’s arguments about race, politics and gender . . . The book is consistently entertaining and often truly provocative—especially for anyone who makes or loves art or literature . . . Urgent in its own right.”—Kate Tuttle, Los Angeles Times

“[Sharp] is, of course, a compliment with an edge . . . A virtue of [Dean’s] book is that it shows how each woman, by wielding a pen as if it were a scalpel or a scimitar, confounded the gender norms of niceness and placed her analytical prowess front and center . . . As a missionary championing her subjects’ ‘oppositional spirit,’ Dean artfully shepherds the reader through the professional and personal ups and downs of each life . . . Dean traverses the intellectual landscape of the 20th century at an easy gallop—the boozy cocktail parties; the plotting of editors in their offices; the literary and political trench wars, aggressive essays thrown across the breach like grenades. She is frank, giving us the skinny.”—Laura Jacobs, New York Times

“In a happy case of it takes one to know one, Michelle Dean has delivered a penetrating book about penetrating American writers . . . Drawing on close readings of their works and other sources, Dean succinctly charts how these women broke into public discourse and how they were viewed and received . . . Dean serves one incisive sentence after another.”—Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“A sagacious, stylish survey of 10 female essayists, critics, scholars and memoirists . . . Not just a tribute to 10 remarkable women but to virtues that all writers—male and female alike—can aspire to: toughness, tenacity and clear-headed thinking.”—Peter Tonguette, Columbus Dispatch

“Michelle Dean’s Sharp is partly an effort to constellate the stars whose influence bears on the present generation of essaying American women . . . Dean is perceptive and revealing about the paths by which women were able to establish themselves as critics and essayists in the decades after the war . . . A timely and acute book.”—Brian Dillon, 4Columns

“Award-winning literary critic Michelle Dean has written a fascinating cultural history of 10 American women writers, including Dorothy Parker, Susan Sontag, and Pauline Kael. The (male-dominated) literary establishment of their time branded these women as too political, too lightweight, and too opinionated, but they persevered. The eye-opener: how vicious literary feuds could be and how critical many of these women were of other women writers.”—Christian Science Monitor

“Sharp is a good quality in knives. It’s a better quality in people . . . Dean manages to fit together the story of 10 lives in a compact, readable book. How very sharp of her.”—Refinery29

“[Sharp] is a recalibration of the center of gravity of 20th-century intellectual history, of women writing in defiance of social hierarchy . . . Some chapters don’t so much end as hang, with an invisible narrator’s cocked eyebrow that suggests treasure ahead and an immediate turning of the page.”—Globe and Mail (UK)

“In Sharp, Dean, a journalist and literary critic, recenters the New York intellectual world around its women . . . An insightful book that works well to introduce its subjects to newcomers while containing enough of Dean’s analysis to be interesting to readers already familiar with them.”—B.D. McClay, Weekly Standard

“I have to recommend Michelle Dean’s Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion, a delicious cultural history that comes out in April. It brings together some of the most influential social critics of the 20th century, including Dorothy Parker, Mary McCarthy, Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag and Joan Didion, and shows how these glamorous iconoclasts forged their singular careers. Dean makes the convincing argument that women’s voices—if not necessarily feminist ones—did far more to define the last century’s intellectual life than we realize.”—Michelle Goldberg, New York Times

“Few readers could fail to be impressed by both the research behind and readability of this first book by Dean . . . [A] stunning and highly accessible introduction to a group of important writers.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[H]owever different these women may have been from each other, the author ably explains the ways in which their lives intersected, the conversations they had, and the goals they shared . . . engaging portraits of brilliant minds.”—Kirkus Reviews

“This is such a great idea for a book, and Michelle Dean carries it off, showing us the complexities of her fascinating, extraordinary subjects, in print and out in the world. Dean writes with vigor, depth, knowledge and absorption, and as a result Sharp is a real achievement.”—Meg Wolitzer, New York Times-bestselling author of The Interestings and The Female Persuasion

“Michelle Dean has delivered an exquisite examination—both rigorous and compassionate—of what it has meant to be a woman with a public voice and the power to use it critically. This book is ferociously good.”—Rebecca Traister, New York Times-bestselling author of All the Single Ladies

“There can’t be enough cultural histories which make the point that a woman intellectual must represent her own mind, and not the collective mind of all her ‘sisters.’ Sharp is a brisk, entertaining, well-researched reminder that it’s impossible to write—or think—without making life very messy for oneself, but to do so is an achievement well worth the pains.”—Sheila Heti, author of How Should A Person Be?

“An elegant, incisive, and richly detailed account of the lives of ten extraordinary women. I didn’t realize how badly I wanted a book on exactly this subject until I started reading it. Sharp is not simply a collection of distinct biographical essays, but a vital composite portrait of the intellectual life of twentieth-century America. It’s also a lot more fun to read than a deeply researched study of a group of intellectuals has any business being. A necessary book by a wonderful writer.”—Mark O’Connell, author of To Be a Machine

“An insightful look at some of the wisest and most influential women writers . . . engaging, empowering, and insightful.”—Apartment Therapy


Named One of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2018 (So Far) by Esquire
Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2018 by VogueEsquire, Guardian, Washington Post, Huffington PostThe RumpusElle, Bustle, Entertainment Weekly, The MillionsSouthern LivingVol. 1 BrooklynBoston GlobePublishers Weekly, and Book Riot