Richard Russo

Richard Russo

Past Event: Wednesday, September 17, 2008

At Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

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Sponsored by Hoffman Construction Company of Washington.

Janet Maslin of the New York Times may have summed it up best when she called Richard Russo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Empire Falls, “an improbably neighborly and nonchalant version of the great American novel.”

Still shy of his sixtieth birthday, having raised a family and taught for twenty years to boot, Russo has turned out six novels, a short story collection and two screenplays that read as easily as a long sip from a cool draft and a conversation with a friend (or, when suspenseful, like a game of high-stakes basement poker). His style mixes history, humor, and heartbreak in a way that seems effortless and fluid, the narration’s perspective shifting back and forth between characters or time periods to give the reader a bit of information and then steal her away to a sight off-screen. It is a style of storytelling reminiscent of porch stoops and campfires, of long drives and even longer marriages: anecdote building on anecdote, followed by an aside, a revelation, a secret revealed in the safety of accumulated time.

“I come from a long line of bullshitters,” Mr. Russo said in a recent interview with Steve Inskeep on National Public Radio, speaking of his family and particularly of his father. In college, Russo would return home from the University of Arizona where he earned a B.A., M.F.A., and PhD, to Gloversville, New York, where he worked with his father on road crews over summer vacation. In the evenings, the men retired to the local bar to tell tales, and it was there—in a town named after the gloves its residents once manufactured—that the novelist got his start. At the end of each summer, having listened to and become a part of his town’s story, he would question his motivation for leaving the woof and weave of his community. But every fall he would leave, and the leaving likely gave him the distance needed to see the thing of which he was a part.

Russo sets his novels in Gloversvilles—towns where people know each other, know each other’s families for generations backwards and forwards, where there is (or was) an industry that made the town tick. Every town has a café, a bar, a high school, a lover’s lane, and stories—local legends, family sagas, heroes, and villains—so the towns themselves are virtually interchangeable. But Russo is not writing about any place in particular, he is writing about class and race. And from town to town, these issues are always the same. With a New England wit and a Midwestern heart, Russo’s quotidian if elegiac characters fight the good fight—through high school, marriage, and work. And they hold up a mirror to the facts and prejudices of our daily life, ultimately asking where art can shine a light or break a pattern to create social change.

Retired from the faculty of Colby College, Russo and his wife live in coastal Maine. They have two daughters. His most recent novel, Bridge of Sighs, was published in 2007.

Excerpt from Bridge of Sighs (2007)
I will have to make a concerted effort not to brood about the fact that Buddy’s walking around Thomaston in my father’s old coat. After all, things like this happen all the time in small towns. When I was growing up it wasn’t difficult to trace the provenance of a particular item of clothing. A blue blazer, for instance, might be purchased for a junior high or high school boy by his Borough parents; by the following summer he would have outgrown it, and the blazer would then be donated to their church’s clothing drive, after which it would reappear on the back of some East End kid, whose parents would take it the following year to Goodwill, where a West End mother would purchase it for her son. Nor will I ever forget the senior prom when a Borough girl, a friend of Nan Beverly’s, came over specifically to tell Sarah how pretty she looked, that the dress she was wearing really looked much better on Sarah than it had on her at last year’s junior prom.

Is it any wonder our adult lives should be so haunted? Over and over we go up and down the alley between the theater and the dime store, as my mother and I did today, moving through space, yes, but also through time, meeting ourselves, as Owen always says, coming and going. How beautiful Sarah looked in that dress. How important it must have been to that Borough girl, who wasn’t pretty, to undermine her beauty. How she must have wanted to tear the dress right off her.

When I see Buddy Nurt again, I’ll offer him money for my father’s jacket. I don’t want him wearing it.

Selected Work
Bridge of Sighs (2007)
Ice Harvest (screenplay, 2005)
The Whore’s Child (2002)
Empire Falls (2001)
Straight Man (1997)
Nobody’s Fool (1993)
The Risk Pool (1988)
Mohawk (1986)

Reviews and articles from the New York Times
NPR: Richard Russo’s Small-Town America
Richard Russo’s Working Arrangements

Event Details

Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

200 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101

View directions.

Transportation & Parking

This event will be held in the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, the largest event space at Benaroya Hall. 

Benaroya Hall is located at 200 University Street, directly across Second Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum. The public entrance to Benaroya Hall is along Third Avenue.

  • From Southbound I-5
    Take the Union Street exit (#165B). Continue onto Union Street and proceed approximately five blocks to Second Avenue. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5
    Exit left onto Seneca Street (exit #165). Proceed two blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Seneca Street exit and move into the left lane. Turn left onto First Avenue and proceed one block. Take the next right (at the Hammering Man sculpture) onto University Street. Continue up the hill two blocks to Third Avenue. Turn left onto Third Avenue. Continue to the next block and turn left onto Union Street. Make the next left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Southbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Denny Way/Downtown exit. Keep right and cross over Denny Way onto Wall Street. Proceed approximately five blocks and turn left onto Second Avenue. Continue south on Second Avenue approximately eight blocks. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.

By Bus
Benaroya Hall is served by numerous bus routes. Digital reader boards along Third Avenue display real-time bus arrival information. For details and trip planning tools, call Metro Rider Information at 206.553.3000 (voice) or 206.684.1739 (TDD), or visit Metro online. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, served by bus and light rail, has a stop just below the Hall (University Street Station).

The 430-car underground garage at Benaroya Hall provides direct access from the enclosed parking area into the Hall via elevators leading to The Boeing Company Gallery. Enter the garage on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street. Maximum vehicle height is 6’8″. Blink charging stations are available for electric vehicles. The event rate is $16.

Parking is also available at:

  • The Cobb Building (enter on University Street between Third and Fourth avenues).
  • The Russell Investments Center (enter on Union Street between First and Second avenues).
  • There are many other garages within a one-block radius of Benaroya Hall, along with numerous on-street parking options.


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