Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she left the Midwest in search of an authentic life experience beginning with four years at Smith College. (Technically, one of those years was spent studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain.). After graduating from Smith, with a B.A. in comparative education and Spanish, Tharps spent two years working on Madison Avenue at one of New York City’s top-ten public relations agencies. While there she worked tirelessly writing press releases and organizing press events for a certain candy company, powdered soup distributor and a well-known maker of dry toast. After realizing she’d never succeed as a PR executive, Tharps entered Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and has been writing her way through the world ever since.
After graduation from Columbia, Tharps was a staff reporter at Vibe magazine and then a correspondent for Entertainment Weekly. She has written for Ms., Glamour, Suede, Vogue Black, Caribbean Life, Grid Philadelphia, xoJane.com and Essence magazines. She has also written for The Columbia Journalism Review, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, The Root.com and Ebony.com. Her work can also be read in the anthologies, Young Wives Tales: Stories of Love and Partnership (Seal Press), Naked: Black Women Bare All About their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips and Other Parts (Perigee), Bitchfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine (FSG) and Women: Images & Realities. A Multicultural Anthology (Avalon). Tharps is the author of two works of nonfiction – Hair Story:Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America (St. Martin’s Press) and Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain (Atria) – and the novel, Substitute Me (Atria).
Currently Tharps lives in Philadelphia with her husband and three children and she is working on a new book exploring the role of skin color politics in American families. Tharps doesn’t have a dog, but if she did, his name would be Otis. She has traveled extensively throughout the United States, Europe and the Caribbean. Tharps is (almost) fluent in Spanish and can say I love you in seven languages.