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Arts & Entertainment
04/24/05, G-0

By JACK RIGHTMYER, Staff Writer
Schwarzschild and Tinti to read at Writers Institute


For the past twenty years the New York State Writers Institute has built its reputation on bringing to Albany the world's most prestigious writers. What has often gone undetected though are all the programs and opportunities the Writers Institute has created to support beginning writers.

One of those programs is the New Voices Series which brings to Albany some of the top new writers in the United States. The series begins on Tuesday with a public reading by Ben Jones and Lucia Nevai and concludes Thursday with fiction writers Edward Schwarzschild and Hannah Tinti, who will be giving a seminar at 4:15 p.m. at Assembly Hall in the Campus Center at the University at Albany's uptown campus. At 8 p.m. both writers will give a reading in the same location as the seminar. All talks are free and open to the public.

For Schwarzschild, speaking at the Writers Institute is a dream come true. "For the past few years I've taught in the English department at the University at Albany, and I've also worked for the Writers Institute," said Schwarzschild in a recent interview. "I've done many of the author introductions, and when I've gone up on the stage I've always hoped that one day I'd read from my work. It will also be great to see a lot of friendly faces in the crowd. I can't wait for that night."

Schwarzschild will be reading from his first novel "Responsible Men" (329 pages, $23.95, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill). It is the story of 41 year old Max Wolinsky, a salesman who comes from a family of salesmen, and his attempts to live an ethical life despite a not-so-honorable business transaction which could net him a lot of money. Max wants to do the right thing and care for his aging father, his invalid uncle, and his son, who he hasn't seen in a year since his messy divorce, and if he pulls off this deal he'll have enough money to provide for them.

"There's been a tradition of salesman stories throughout literature," said Schwarzschild, "that had greatly influence me from Arthur Miller to David Mamet, but because my dad had been a salesman I felt insulated from the danger of writing those salesman clichés. I felt I knew that salesman world, and I knew I could make that world and those characters real."

What drew him to the characters were some of the conflicts he has always enjoyed when reading Graham Greene novels. "Greene knew how to create characters that always had a moral complexity," said Schwarzschild. "He worked in that middle world where criminals were often good. These people in the middle have always been the most interesting characters for me to write about."

He dedicated the book to his dad, but wouldn't let his father read the book till it actually came out in book form. "My dad was thrilled to read it," said Schwarzschild, "and I'm relieved. I went on a few road trips with him so I could get the details right about the life of a salesman."

Schwarzschild's parents wanted him to be a doctor, and even as an undergraduate he was taking pre-med courses, but the pull of literature eventually won out which led him to getting a doctorate in American Literature. He wasn't content just teaching and after four years as a professor at Sweetbriar College in Virginia, he enrolled in a Creative Writing Program at Boston University, which eventually led to a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University.

"It was an amazing two years at Stanford," said Schwarzschild. "I was able to work with great colleagues and great professors such as Tobias Wolff."

He also feels very fortunate to teach at Albany and work for the Writers Institute. "It's inspiring to be around so many great writers that visit the institute every year," he said. "It's a pleasure and an honor to hear what they have to say about the craft of writing."

To get a book published has been a dream of his since his undergraduate days at Cornell. "But I'm not content to have just one book," he said. "I want people to read this book and love it. I want it to get a favorable review in the New York Times. I want this to be the first book in a long literary career for me."

Short story writer Hannah Tinti came to publishing not from the world of academia as Edward Schwarzschild but from the publishing industry itself. "After graduating from New York University I became a voluntary reader at places like the Atlantic Monthly and the Boston Review," said Tinti in a recent phone interview.

From reading stories in the magazine slush pile Tinti began to see what stories worked and what didn't. "I'd usually pick two or three stories out of the hundreds I'd read and send them to an editor as a possible story for the magazine," she said. "I began to understand that these stories had a gripping beginning which the author's maintained through the middle and then brought them to a proper conclusion."

From her work as an editor and a reader Tinti began writing short stories of her own. Her first story collection "Animal Crackers" (196 pages, $12, Delta) has just come out in paperback.

Her collection of eleven strange yet original stories has received excellent reviews in both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, and she was chosen as a Barnes & Noble Discover pick.

"In most of these stories animals provide a key to the behavior of the humans," said Tinti. "I really like animals, and I use them as a vehicle to better understand the human characters."

Many of her stories deal with how and why humans cross the line into animalistic behavior. "What happens the moment before a man becomes an adulterer or a woman becomes a murderer?" said Tinti. "That's what these stories are trying to explore."

When she's not writing Hannah Tinti is the editor of One Story magazine, which began in April 2002 and publishes one story every three weeks. "I've been very busy reading so many submissions lately," she said. "We're a small literary magazine which features one writer and one story in each issue. We've been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek and the Oprah Magazine. Our subscriptions and our submissions have really taken off, so what started out as a part-time job has become full time."

She is excited to join Schwarzschild for the reading on Thursday. "It's sort of like coming home," she said. "Back in 2000 I was one of the ten writers that was able to study writing for a few weeks at a university in Switzerland. It was a Master Writer Mentoring Program put on by the New York State Writers Institute, and I worked for two weeks with Nicholas Delbanco. It was a big help for me to learn how to order the stories in my collection and decide which stories to keep and which to cut."

After writing her story collection Tinti is working on her first novel about grave robbers in the 1800's who would steal bodies and sell them to medical schools. "There's so much more space when writing a novel," she said. "I'm having a great time exploring all these different plot lines."

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