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Richard Russo: Advice for Aspiring Writers

Wednesday, April 3, 2019 RPI Mckinney Writing Contest Guest Speaker
8 p.m. CBIS (Biotech) Auditorium, RPI, Troy
For directions, visit:

Free and open to the public.

Richard Russo
(Photo by Elena Siebert)

"There are no small lives, there are no small stories, there are no small people."
-- Richard Russo

Richard Russo is the nation’s most celebrated novelist of crumbling Rust Belt towns and the lives of their blue-collar inhabitants. A son of Gloversville, he frequently sets his fiction in Upstate New York.

Russo received the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Empire Falls (2001), which was adapted as an HBO miniseries starring Ed Harris and Helen Hunt. His most recent novel, Everybody’s Fool (2016), is a sequel to his 1993 novel Nobody’s Fool, which became an Oscar-nominated movie starring Paul Newman.

Russo’s new book is The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life (2018). In these nine essays, Russo provides insight into his life as a writer, teacher, friend, and reader. From a commencement speech he gave at Colby College, to the story of how an oddly placed toilet made him reevaluate the purpose of humor in art and life, to a comprehensive analysis of Mark Twain's value, to his harrowing journey accompanying a dear friend as she pursued gender-reassignment surgery, The Destiny Thief reflects the broad interests and experiences of one of America's most beloved authors.

In his review of The Destiny Thief in the New York Times Book Review, Jay Fielden wrote, "Perhaps what's most admirable about these essays is their genial and searching tone. In this know-it-all age Russo places his faith in the ideals of art—ambiguity, paradox, heresy, the sublime—over the black-and-white ideologies or our current politics."

Booklist said, “For aspiring writers, Russo’s musings on the art and craft of the novel are a trove of knowledge and guidance.For adoring readers, they are a window into the imagination and inspiration for Russo’s beloved novels, screenplays, and short stories...Few authors seem as approachable in print and, one suspects, in person as acclaimed novelist Russo."

Sponsored the 78th Annual McKinney Writing Contest, Rensselaer's annual writing competition for undergraduate and graduate students and named for alumnus Dr. Samuel P. McKinney, who began the contest in to honor his wife and to to recognize and reward the communication skills of Rensselaer students. Additional sponsors include RPI's Vollmer W. Fries Lecture; Department of Communication and Media; School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; Rensselaer Union; Friends of the Folsom Library; Poets & Writers; and the NYS Writers Institute.

Richard Russo at the New York State Writers Institute, May 10, 2016

A Conversation With Richard Russo -, October 18, 2013

Richard Russo on William Kennedy at BookExpo America in New York City, May 31, 2009