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That old Mohawk magic: Author Richard Russo to speak at Founders Day


Photo credit: Elena Seibert
Photo credit: Elena Seibert

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo, whose novels draw heavily from his experiences growing up in the foothills of the Adirondacks, will deliver the keynote address at Founders Day Thursday, Feb. 23, at 12:45 p.m. in Memorial Chapel. The event commemorates the 217th anniversary of the College’s charter.

Russo has written seven novels, including Mohawk, Bridge of Sighs and Empire Falls, which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The Christian Science Monitor called it “the last great novel of the 20th century,” and the book was also adapted into an HBO mini-series starring Paul Newman, Ed Harris and Helen Hunt. Russo is also the author of Nobody’s Fool, which was adapted for the screen, starring Newman. His recent novel was 2009’s That Old Cape Magic. A collection of short stories, The Whore’s Child, was published in 2002.

Russo grew up in nearby Gloversville, less than an hour from campus. Those small-town roots run deep in the characters and sense of place in many of his novels, which have garnered high praise for their portrayal of blue collar America. A critic for the Chicago Tribune wrote of Empire Falls, “[Russo] brilliantly evokes the economic and emotional depression of a failing town, a place where even the weather is debilitating and the inhabitants seem to struggle merely to stay in place.”

At opening convocation in the fall, President Stephen C. Ainlay focused on the theme of place, and urged the campus community to appreciate the College’s location in the Mohawk Valley and the breadth of opportunities that affords.

“Richard Russo’s novels are both rich in character development and in descriptions of community life in upstate New York,” Ainlay said. “Given the focus of this year, we could not have a better speaker to discuss the importance of place identity as we celebrate the granting of our charter by the state.”

Russo earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s in fine arts and a Ph.D. from the University of Arizona. A retired faculty member of Colby College, Russo lives in Camden, Maine, with his wife.

Also at Founders Day, the College will present the Gideon Hawley Teacher Recognition Award to Samuel J. Salamone ’00, a chemistry teacher at Little Falls (N.Y.) High School. He was nominated by A. Richard Harris '14, a biology major from Little Falls. The award, named for the 1809 graduate of Union who was New York state’s first superintendent of public education, is given to secondary school teachers who have had a continuing influence on the academic life of Union students.

Past speakers at Founders Day have included Deborah Bial, founder and president of the Posse Foundation; Pulitzer Prize-winning author James M. McPherson; Paul LeClerc, retired president and chief executive officer of the New York Public Library and a former professor at Union; and Ira M. Rutkow ’70, a surgeon and author whose writing has focused on the history of American medicine.