Richard Russo
Laurel Cerier

richard-russo.jpegRichard Russo

Richard Russo was born in Johnstown, a small town in upstate New York, on July 15, 1949. He received his B.A. in English, his Ph.D. in American Literature, and a master of fine arts degree in creative writing all at the University of Arizona, finally completing school in 1981. It was not until he began working on his dissertation that Russo determined that he preferred to write fiction over academic nonfiction, which is why he received a degree in creative writing after earning his Ph.D.. Soon after, Russo worked as a college professor, first teaching fictional writing at the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, then creative writing at Colby College in Waterville, Maryland.
It is teaching the basics of these two types of writing that actually led to the success of Russo's first novel, Mohawk. As he was questioning the character-building and conflict formation of his students' stories, he was naturally checking those of his own, and when the book succeeded, Russo was propelled into the world of writing small town stories full of complex characters and life-changing events, much like he experienced growing up. He continued on to write the Pulitzer Prize-winning Empire Falls and Nobody's Fool, both of which introduced him to screen-writing and resulted in successful films. Adding this third vocation to his career then caused Russo to realize, as he states in an interview with the New York Times, "...when a novelist starts writing screenplays, the novels themselves become more like screenplays. They become more spare. They become more rooted in the present. Less time is spent describing the real physical world [and] less time is spent on what characters are thinking because these are things that movies don't do very well." This has not, however been an impediment on his ability to write successfully, for at the age of only 47, Russo was able to comfortably retire so that he could focus on his writing.

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It only took a few pages for me get hooked to Empire Falls. Although the Russo's details can sometimes be annoying in that they can stray from initial idea that the character is think about, each time a character is introduced from his/her own point of view, their outlooks on life and priorities are clear right from the start. At first, I felt bad for Miles Roby, the book's main character, because he honestly seems hopeless. He dropped out of college, his marriage is failing, and he is stuck running the Empire Grill. His life is plain and he is barely content. However, as the story dives into flashbacks about Miles's mother, Grace, I was able to gain huge insight in to the reasoning behind the behaviors of Miles, his father, and Mrs. Whiting, all of whom act in mysterious ways at various times in the story. Even though their romance was doomed, I couldn't help but root for Grace and C.B. Whiting's (Mrs. Whiting's late husband) affair. Both were just desperate for love. This seems to be a pattern in Russo's book, for Miles's ex-wife also leaves him for affection and John Voss shoots students in his art class because he feels so ostracized. I was incredibly surprised by the shooting, but also impressed at Miles's ability to be just what Tick needed while she suffered the emotional consequences. In the end, I wished that Miles would take Tick to live at Martha's Vineyard, but the fact that he didn't turned out to be all right. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Russo's ability to turn a small, boring town into one of real depth.


I absolutely loved this novel! Even though I am still a kid and haven't reached a mid-life crisis, Russo's ability to create a story that anyone can relate to is clearly reflected in this one, and although I cannot personally identify with the main character, Griffin, I cannot help but recognize my own father's relationship with his mother as Griffin's is presented in That Old Cape Magic. Throughout the book, I rooted for Griffin's marriage, worrying that the failure of his parents' marriage would override the success of his own. Like his daughter, Laura, I worried that the year-long separation truly meant the end, but stood firm to hope that a separation can be ambiguous in meaning and truly only calls for a break rather than a break-up. It would have been tragic for Griffin to lose his near-perfect match, who clearly is still deeply in love with him.

"Empire Falls" Trailer

"That Old Black Magic"(The song to which the title, That Old Cape Magic, alludes to)

Conversation: Novelist Richard Russo