Melanie Thernstrom (born 1964) is an author and contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine who frequently writes about murders and crime.
Thernstrom attended Harvard University, where she graduated with highest honors in English. Her senior thesis was entitled Mistakes of Metaphor, an account of the mysterious disappearance and murder of her best friend, Bibi Lee, three years earlier, for which Lee’s boyfriend was eventually convicted on the basis of a confession which he recanted. Thernstrom's poetry professor showed the thesis to literary agents, and she soon received an advance of $367,000. The Dead Girl, which was published by Pocket Books in 1990, was praised by literary critics such as Harold Bloom, Harold Brodkey and Helen Vendler as reimagining the true crime genre with its use of literary theory and reflections on memory and metaphor. Harold Brodkey noted "I like this book better than In Cold Blood. It is more honest, more credible, more frightening, and more instructive. The Dead Girl is groundbreaking, new and startling." In The New York Review of Books, Helen Vendler described it as "a coming of age through tragedy... a portrait of the artist as a young woman... a notable model of the female Bildungsroman."
Thernstrom's second book, Halfway Heaven: Diary of a Harvard Murder, was about Sinedu Tadesse, a Harvard junior from Ethiopia who murdered her Vietnamese roommate and then committed suicide while living at Dunster House in 1995. In contrast to The Dead Girl, Halfway Heaven explores murder from the point of view of the murderer. Thernstrom had met Tadesse while teaching an autobiographical writing course at Harvard. After her death, Thernstrom reported on it for The New Yorker, traveling to Ethiopia and obtaining access to Tadesse's diaries which described her struggles against growing mental illness and her failed attempts to get help from the University. Halfway Heaven was praised by Mikal Gilmore as demonstrating "a great, shattering gift for writing about forgotten people: the dead, those who kill them, the secrets and histories that bind the killer and the killed." In the Times Literary Supplement, Elaine Showalter praised it as a "gripping novelistic record... a haunting story of insiders and outsiders."
In 1999, Thernstrom wrote a lengthy Vanity Fair article on murdered college student Matthew Shepard. Her pieces in the New York Times Magazine have included ones on the Lord's Resistance Army in Northern Uganda, narrative medicine, physical pain, high-end matchmakers, divorce, fugitives, and a personal essay on losing an art inheritance. Her work has also appeared in New York magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, Elle, and other publications. Her food essays have appeared in Best American Food Writing 2001 and 2004.
Thernstrom received an MFA in creative writing at Cornell and taught creative writing at Cornell, Harvard, and in the MFA program at the University of California, Irvine. She lives with her husband and two children in Palo Alto, California.
- New York Times wedding announcement, 2008-01-21. Retrieved on 2008-06-04.
- Vendler, Helen. "Breath of Art", The New York Review of Books, 1991-03-28. Retrieved on 2008-06-04.
- Thernstrom, Melanie. "Diary of a Murder", The New Yorker, 1996-06-03.
- Showalter, Elaine. The Times Literary Supplement, 1998-12-18.
- Thernstrom, Melanie. "The Crucifixion of Matthew Shepard", Vanity Fair, March 1999.
- Thernstrom, Melanie. "Charlotte, Grace, Janet and Caroline Come Home", The New York Times Magazine, 2005-05-08. Retrieved on 2006-06-04.
- Thernstrom, Melanie. "The Writing Cure", The New York Times Magazine, 2004-04-18. Retrieved on 2006-06-04.
- Thernstrom, Melanie. "My Pain, My Brain", The New York Times Magazine, 2006-05-14. Retrieved on 2008-06-04.
- Thernstrom, Melanie. "Pain, the Disease", The New York Times Magazine, 2001-12-16. Retrieved on 2006-06-04.
- Thernstrom, Melanie. "The New Arranged Marriage", The New York Times Magazine, 2005-02-13. Retrieved on 2006-06-04.
- Thernstrom, Melanie. "Untying the Knot", The New York Times Magazine, 2003-08-24. Retrieved on 2008-07-20.
- Thernstrom, Melanie. "The Silence of the Lam", The New York Times Magazine, 2000-12-03. Retrieved on 2006-06-04.
- Thernstrom, Melanie. "The Inheritance that Got Away", The New York Times Magazine, 2002-06-09. Retrieved on 2006-06-04.
- Thernstrom, Melanie. "Spending Sickness", New York, 2002-07-08. Retrieved on 2008-06-04.
- Thernstrom, Melanie. "Shattered Sugar", Food & Wine, December 2004. Retrieved on 2006-06-04.
- Thernstrom, Melanie. "My Best Friend's Wedding Cake", Food & Wine, June 2001. Retrieved on 2008-06-04.
- Thernstrom, Melanie. "About Melanie Thernstrom". Retrieved 9 March 2013.
- Melanie Thernstrom's Halfway Heaven Exclusive interview, print excerpt and author reading; plus an essay: "English Only".