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By Donna Yee (October 18, 2007)

Pulitzer Prize-winning Author Richard Russo Visits UAlbany

Richard Russo

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo. (Photo, courtesy of the New York State Writers Institute)

"I'm simply trying to have fun...If I'm not entertaining myself, I'm probably not entertaining you," said Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo, when asked about his writing process.

On Oct. 5, the New York State Writers Institute welcomed the upstate New York native to UAlbany, where Russo gave an informal seminar in the Campus Center Assembly Hall. The seminar, which was open to the public, allowed readers of Russo's numerous novels to pose questions about his writing and writing processes. Later that evening, he gave a reading at Page Hall.

After being introduced to the audience by New York State Writers Institute Director Donald W. Faulkner, Russo opened the seminar by asking how many of those in the room were from Gloversville, as he was raised there and the settings in his novels are towns similar to Gloversville. Laughter rolled through the room as several hands were raised. He then moved on to speak about the work ethic he derived from his parents, specifically his father.

He said, "Working hard... for him [father] was a sense of pride."

Russo's work ethic, combined with talent, have led him to great success. In 2002, he received the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Empire Falls, which became a miniseries for HBO, starring Paul Newman, and aired in May 2005. Another novel, Nobody's Fool, has also been adapted for the screen. Russo's novel The Risk Pool is currently in film pre-production.

Audience members inquired about his latest novel, Bridge of Sighs, which Russo described as his biggest project so far and which contains his most beloved and interesting characters. While revising the novel, he kept in mind whether or not the reader would have a good time with the book.

Members of the audience also asked about Russo's research when writing novels, whether or not he attended his high school reunion and which novel he has written is his favorite. Russo explains that he needs to do very little research. Instead, he simply approaches those with knowledge of what he is unfamiliar. In addition, his characters are based on people he has known throughout his life, but altered to suit the story at hand. He has not attended a high school reunion and his favorite novel that he has written is always the one he is currently working on.

One student posed a question about the water imagery in Empire Falls that was mentioned by his professor, causing appreciative laughter. The student explained that he wanted to receive, "straight from the source," confirmation of water imagery. The novel did indeed contain water imagery.

Russo currently resides in Maine with his wife and two daughters. His most recent novel, Bridge of Sighs, was released in September.


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