Creative Writing MFA alumni spotlight: Joseph Earl Thomas ('19)

Author: Paul Cunningham

Joseph Earl Thomas, '19 MFA
Joseph Earl Thomas, '19 MFA

"Stranded within a family’s desperate, but volatile attempts to love and demeaned daily for his perceived weakness, Joseph Earl Thomas felt like he was under constant threat. Roaches fell, indifferently, from ceiling to cereal bowl as if taunting him for complaining about the fact that he was hungry. In a series of exacting and fierce vignettes, Thomas explores how a cycle of hostility permeated his environment, while illuminating the vital reprieve into geek culture. From the depths of isolation Thomas carves out unexpected moments of joy, from the broad freedom taken in long summers to the first hints of community on his road to become a Pokémon master. In these arresting scenes, Sink follows Thomas’ coming-of-age toward an understanding of what it means to lose the desire to fit in—with immediate peers, family, or the world —and how good it feels to build community, love, and the work of salvation on your own terms."

Joseph Earl Thomas' debut book—Sink: A Memoir—is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing in February 2023. The Creative Writing Program at the University of Notre Dame will host a reading by the 2019 MFA alumnus on April 19th, 2023. In October, Sink: A Memoir was featured in the Heartland Fall Forum, the Midwest's premier conference for independent booksellers. Kiese Laymon (author of Heavy) calls Thomas' debut a "new kind of memoir, remixing the best parts of the genre." Steven Dunn (author of Potted Meat) writes, “I want this book for my younger self, to see the ideas and embodiments of Blackness and masculinity extended in these wonderful ways that allow space for nerdiness, nature, softness, and imagination with a rich interior life. This memoir has the power to keep shifting cultures and conversations into other worlds that are at first imagined, then made real. Sink is a visionary memoir.” Publishers Weekly calls the memoir a "wrenching debut" that delivers an "emotional gut punch". Hilary Plum (author of Hole Studies) notes its "tenderness, fury, and wisdom" while Carmen Maria Machado (author of In the Dream House) remarks on the book's "near-unbearable beauty". 

Joseph Earl Thomas is a writer from Frankford whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in VQR, N+1, Gulf Coast, The Offing, and The Kenyon Review. He has an MFA in prose from the University of Notre Dame and is a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Pennsylvania. An excerpt of his memoir, Sink, won the 2020 Chautauqua Janus Prize and he has received fellowships from Fulbright, VONA, Tin House, Kimbilio, & Breadloaf, though he is now the Anisfield-Wolf Fellow at the CSU Poetry Center. He’s writing the novel God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer, and a collection of stories: Leviathan Beach, among other oddities. He is also an associate faculty member at The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, as well as Director of Programs at Blue Stoop, a literary hub for Philly writers.

Originally published by Paul Cunningham at on November 09, 2022.