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Mary Donnarumma Sharnick
From Flesh and Breath to Canvas — Mary Donnarumma Sharnick has been writing ever since the day she printed her long name on her first library card. A native of Connecticut, she graduated from Fairfield University with a degree in English and earned a master’s degree from Trinity College, Hartford. She has been awarded a scholarship from the Wesleyan Writers Conference (2008), two Nigel Taplin Innovative Teaching grants (2008, 2011), and a fellowship from the Hartford Council for the Arts Beatrice Fox Auerbach Foundation (2010). A student of novelists Rachel Basch and Louis Bayard, Mary has participated in the 2014 Yale Writers’ Conference historical fiction workshop and has presented at the Auburn Writers Conference (2012), the Association for Writers and Writing Programs conference in Boston (2013), the Italian American Historical Association’s conference in Toronto (2014), and annually at the Mark Twain Writers Conference in Hartford, as well as at the University of Connecticut’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Her research has taken her to Venice, Italy, the Deep South, and monastic communities in Italy, Vermont, and Connecticut.
Mary’s first two novels, Thirst (2012) and Plagued (2014), are set in the Venetian lagoon during the seventeenth and fifteenth centuries, respectively. Thirst is being adapted for the operatic stage by composer Gerard Chiusano and librettists Mary Chiusano and Robert Cutrofello.
Mary reviews books for the New York Journal of Books, Southern Humanities Review, America, and other journals. Excerpts of her memoir in progress have appeared in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias, Voices in Italian Americana, and Healing Ministry, among others. Her short story, “The Rule,” appeared in Voices in Italian Americana. As the chair of the English Department and a writing instructor at Chase Collegiate School, Waterbury, Connecticut, Mary leads her writing students on slow travel tours of Italy, the country she considers her second home.
The Contessa’s Easel
The acclaimed Orla Paints Quartet continues! “I know you never knew your grandfather, but now you can touch what his hands touched and create beauty…. Be like him, dearest Orla; recognize, make, and be beauty in an often ugly world.” These words were to have a profound effect upon Orla. Orla Castleberry returns to her New Orleans home after a year as artist-in-residence at Manhattan’s New York University. Her topical exhibit “Portraits of AIDS” has earned world-wide praise and notoriety for its realistic representations.
Orla prepares for her next exhibit, to be held in Fiesole, Italy, in celebration of the forty-fifth anniversary of the town’s liberation from Nazi occupiers. The portraits she paints will also be featured at a premier book launch for The Orphans of Fiesole, written by her friend, immigration attorney and historian Tad Charbonneau. The book is based on letters and photographs composed by Orla’s own grandfather, so the project becomes intensely personal. Orla takes to heart the words of William Faulker: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” as tragedy, loss, and surprises transform the lives of her friends and family, even before she boards the plane for Italy.
It isn’t only Orla’s understanding of the past that changes, however. Her future, too, will change remarkably. For years, Orla has sidelined her longings in order to be and do what others needed from her. Now, her love for the truth of art is leading her to discoveries of love.
Second place winner in NFPW’s 2019 National Communications Contest.
The sequel to prize-winning Orla’s Canvas, Orla, now twenty-four, has been studying and painting in New York City. It is 1975. Saigon has fallen to the Communists, and Vietnamese refugees have been invited to settle in New Orleans by Archbishop Hannan, a former paratrooper and military chaplain in WW II. Orla’s childhood friend and forever confidant, Tad Charbonneau, is practicing immigration law in New Orleans, where he mitigates challenging adoption cases involving children, many of them bi-racial, recently airlifted from Saigon and in need of new families. On her way back home for Katie Cowles’ wedding and a summer painting in misspelled St. Suplice, Orla reconnects with Tad and contemplates her future. While she anticipates marriage and family with her undisputed soul mate, she discovers upsetting news about Tad’s sexuality and learns that her forty-three-year-old mother is pregnant. Adding to her troubling personal revelations, Orla becomes involved in the devastating costs of war for former GI and Katie’s brother Denny Cowles and Mercy Cleveland, a Vietnamese orphan who eventually becomes as essential to Orla as her art. Orla once again calls upon her art to make sense of loss and gain. Through her craft she reimagines how Love and Home might look, finally charting a future for herself she had not previously considered possible.
“Painting Mercy unfolds with an artist’s eye and process. Mary Sharnick’s characters are a testament to the deep and necessary silences creativity requires and how art communicates in unforeseen ways” — Elizabeth Cutrofello, American Theorem Painter
“Painting Mercy is emotionally resonant and a beautifully drawn portrait of complex, all too human characters grappling with the very notions of family, love, and home.” — Tom Santopietro, author of Why To Kill a Mockingbird Matters
Winner of the Connecticut Press Club 2016 Communications Award for Best Novel for Adults, and third place award for the 2016 National Federation of Press Women’s in adult fiction.
Narrated by eleven-year-old Orla Gwen Gleason, Orla’s Canvas opens on Easter Sunday, in St. Suplice, Louisiana, a “misspelled town” north of New Orleans, and traces Orla’s dawning realization that all is not as it seems in her personal life or in the life of her community. The death of St. Suplice’s doyenne, Mrs. Bellefleur Dubois Castleberry, for whom Orla’s mother keeps house, reveals Orla’s true paternity, shatters her trust in her beloved mother, and exposes her to the harsh realities of class and race in the Civil Rights-era South. When the Klan learns of Mrs. Castleberry’s collaboration with the local Negro minister and Archbishop Rummel to integrate the parochial school, violence fractures St. Suplice’s vulnerable stability. The brutality Orla witnesses at summer’s end awakens her to life’s tenuous fragility. Like the South in which she lives, she suffers the turbulence of changing times. Smart, resilient, and fiercely determined to make sense of her pain, Orla paints chaos into beauty, documenting both horror and grace, discovering herself at last through her art.
“In Orla’s Canvas, Mary Donnarumma Sharnick paints a luminous portrait of a small Louisiana town struggling with the need to change. Young Orla views the world with the sensitivity and sensibility of the painter that she is, looking long and hard at the people she often loves but does not understand. Sharnick writes unstintingly about race and class and the violence we perpetuate in both large and small ways every day. Ultimately, though, this story, Orla’s story, is about the great power of love and art. Read this book and be prepared to have your heart and soul expanded.” — Rachel Basch, author of The Listener
“Orla’s Canvas is the vibrant, engrossing story of a young artist coming of age during the violent upheaval of the civil rights era in the Deep South. With understated intensity and elegant lyricism, Donnarumma Sharnick brings her characters to life as authentic human beings, with flaws and virtues alike. The young narrator’s journey in search of the redemptive power of art is resonant and compelling.” — Joan Lownds, author of Man Overboard
“Taking as her canvas the Civil Rights era in Louisiana, Mary Donnarumma Sharnick tells the affecting story of Orla, a remarkable young heroine with the soul of an artist. The novel is both a gripping look into a historic moment in American culture and a poignant coming-of-age story readers won’t forget.” — Chantel Acevedo, author of The Distant Marvels
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