What Came Before

by Matthew Schultz


This quirky book of essays explores subjects as diverse as the death of Moses, the special relationship between gay men and cats, and the afterlife, with a light and understanding touch.

A gorgeous hybrid combining and blurring the genres of essay and poetry, Matthew Schultz’s debut collection is a wonder, tackling religion and sexuality with careful understanding. Fans of both genres will appreciate Schultz’s clear writing style that says without saying. “Even in a small city there is no end to the hidden places,” Schultz tells us of Tel Aviv. This collection is the same: small yet full of deep meaning.

Schultz infuses light into complex subjects such as Judaism, love, God, the Torah, heaven, and sex. His careful insights are at once both deeply personal and profoundly relatable, meant to be devoured and considered within the privacy of one’s own mind. It is here that we learn, “All projections of desire onto a cat are…as futile as trying to decipher the desires of God.”

Praised as “a breath of fresh air, surprising and delightful,” What Came Before is just the beginning―of a promising career, and of our own consideration of the diverse subjects Schultz explores. “Deities, being articles of faith, are a private matter and best left confined to one’s home,” Schultz tells us. Discover “the semiotic language of gesture” and the power of language with this spiritual, yet grounded, debut collection.


Format: Paperback

Published: September 2020

ISBN: 978-1-946482-37-2 Category:

“Matthew Schultz’s What Came Before somehow infuses light and lightness into a philosophical and Midrashic quest to understand such agonizing things as oneself, love, God, the Torah, angels, heaven, sex….a vast, quirky book of essays in which we could again believe our own knowledges, wisdoms, and certainties.”

— Sarah Vap

“A breath of fresh air, surprising and delightful.” —Aram Saroyan

Matthew Schultz is a writer of fiction and nonfiction.  His work has been anthologized in Best American Nonrequired Reading, and has been featured in Ecotone Magazine, Fourth Genre, The Common, The Columbia Journal of Arts and Literature, and elsewhere.  Raised in Massachusetts, Schultz graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 2010 and currently lives in Tel Aviv. What Came Before is his first published collection.

Additional information

Weight 0.25 lbs


A fact: Mau is my cat.

An article of faith: Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior of the world.


Mau and Jesus have this in common: they both embody unconditional love for the whole world.

Caveat: Mau’s world is much smaller than the one in which Jesus lived, and consists only of several surfaces to lie on, a plant to eat, a mix of wet and dry food, and me.


In the beginning was the Word and then the Word became flesh.

The Word was “Mau.”


Mau can sit upright and stare into space for hours.

He is enlightened.

Alternatively: He is stupid.


Sometimes Mau stares out the window. He dreams of the outside world, of a breeze on his face, of sunlight and freedom.

Alternatively: the semiotic language of gesture is fundamentally different for cats than it is for humans, for whom window gazing almost universally implies a melancholic longing. All projections of desire onto a cat are thus as futile as trying to decipher the desires of God.


A fact: I exist.

An article of faith: Mau exists.

An article of faith: God exists.

Alternatively: It is a fact that God and Mau exist, and an article of faith that I do.


The ancient Egyptians regarded their cats as deities.

When asked why I don’t let Mau outside, I answer that it’s for his own good.

Alternatively: Deities, being articles of faith, are a private matter and best left confined to one’s home.