Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo returns to SIU


Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and former SIU professor Richard Russo visited to discuss his literary career and newest novel on Tuesday. The event was held in the Student Center Ballroom B and attended by community members, students, and faculty.

Russo worked in the English Department and taught creative writing at Southern Illinois.

“Not only did I become a better teacher here, I became a better writer,” Russo said.


During Russo’s time teaching at SIU, he spent a lot of time in a corner booth where he used to do a lot of his writing.

“There was a Denny’s where he would go and have a little corner booth and sit down and he would do his writing,” said John Shaw, Public Policy Institute Director. “So I think that it was kind of a formative time in his life.”

Russo’s first novel “Mohawk” was published in 1986 and was just the beginning of his career. The book is focused on upstate New York; most of Russo’s novels are based on Gloversville, New York, where he grew up.

“Even my work that seems farthest away from Gloversville…is never very far,” Russo said. “The farthest geographically, in terms of, you know, a completely different kind of location, I set one of my novels in Martha’s Vineyard…But even that novel is set through the eyes of three scholarship kids who just happen to have gone to this college on the coast of Connecticut and they just happen to have been there for two long weekends and in their entire adult lives, they’ve gone to this island twice…Even when I’m farthest from Gloversville, everything still filters through the eyes of people like that.”

During the discussion, Russo explained how he became interested in writing. His mother was the person who inspired him by showing him the literary world through reading.

“It was from my mother that I learned reading was not a duty, but a reward. You can’t make a writer without first making a reader, and that’s what my mother made me,” he said.

Since Russo’s time at SIU, he has written 10 novels and two collections of stories. In 2002, Russo received a Pulitzer Prize for his novel, “Empire Falls,” which was adapted into an HBO miniseries in 2005.


Before that, Russo had seen his 1993 book “Nobody’s Fool” adapted into a film the following year. Coincidentally, both “Nobody’s Fool” and “Empire Falls” featured actor Paul Newman, who starred in the former and had his final live-action role in the latter.

“He [Newman] became the star actor of Nobody’s Fool and made it quite popular,” Shaw said. “Russo went to the staff and talked about Newman because the main character of the show was modeled after Russo’s father.”

“Empire Falls” was not the only HBO series based on a Russo novel. “Lucky Hank” was based on “Straight Man,” and focuses on battles within a fictional English department, which Russo has said was loosely based on his time at SIU.

“Lucky Hank” stars SIU alum Bob Odenkirk, who visited the university last semester to, among other things, promote the series.

These opportunities were the beginning of Russo’s second outlet where he began working on movies. Russo explained the differences between being a novelist and a screenwriter.

“The beauty of screenwriting is you don’t spend a lot of time explaining everything…I don’t have a good eye but I do have a good ear,” he said.

His visit began with a reception where people were given the opportunity to visit and speak with Russo before his talk took place.

At the end of the reception, everyone gathered into their seats to watch as Shaw and Russo sat down for a public discussion. Shaw asked Russo a series of questions about his career and his time spent at SIU.

Russo also discussed his new book “Somebody’s Fool” that he had published this year. He explained the element of comedy that he portrays in his writing.

“I never make anything funny, the world is a funny place,” he said.

After the series of questions between Shaw and Russo came to a close, time was left for attendees of the event to ask questions.

Since the event was based around Russo’s new novel, following the discussion everyone gathered for a book signing of the new book and any old ones fans brought to the event. This opportunity allowed people to get a one-on-one experience with Russo at the end of the evening.

Staff Reporter Alli Goering can be reached at [email protected]. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.


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