Ivy Leaf - Fall 2004

Cooking Up a Pullitzer Prize


It's a good thing for Penn State Altoona that cooking didn't work out for Steve Sherrill. During what he described as a "rocky educational experience," Sherrill dropped out of high school and tried many things, including cooking and a creative writing class at a community college.

He is now part of the distinguished Penn State Altoona faculty, where he was recently nominated for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in fiction writing for his novel, Visits from the Drowned Girl, published by Random House Publishers in June.

According to Sherrill, "[The novel] is an exploration of the power of secrecy to destroy." In the first chapter, the narrator witnesses a suicide, and the following chapters examine how that event affects him. The actual writing of Visits from a Drowned Girl took Sherrill about nine to ten months, while the preparation and research took him about a year.

Sherrill says that this novel is "structurally, formally, and tonally different" than his first novel, The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break. He wanted to challenge himself with his second novel, so he began with specific goals in mind—goals such as writing a novel that was both plot-driven and dark. The resulting work was so successful that Sherrill is now a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize.

Visits from the Drowned Girl is his second novel published, in addition to thirty to forty individual poems. In response to being asked to describe himself, Sherrill quips, "If people want to know more about me and how I think and act, they should read the books. Then they'll understand something about me."

Sherrill is now in his fifth year at Penn State Altoona as an assistant professor of English.