Mr. Russo, a frequent guest at the Lake Placid Film Forum is one of the best guys I’ve ever met. Ben Pfeiffer’s characterization of Russo rings true:
It’s no accident that Pulitzer Prize–winner Richard Russo has a big, infectious laugh. The sixty-five-year-old novelist’s trademark humor and empathy fill his books, masterpieces of lower-middle class naturalism like Empire Falls and Bridge of Sighs. Even his more serious novels contain some good jokes along with their ambitious literary questions, but in the texture of his writing you can sense something else, too. Beneath the fiction there’s a tougher sensibility, a sharper edge—the moral outrage that comes from being raised in a postindustrial mill town like Gloversville, New York. You can tell that Russo has a quiet, uncompromising dedication to telling the truth and that sometimes, maybe because of that character trait, he gets into arguments. But you can tell he’d rather laugh about it, and maybe buy his adversary a drink or two, try to find something in common; he’d rather make something else—peace, jokes, art—than war.
In a recent letter at the Author’s Guild—where Russo is a co-vice president—he talks about the Amazon-Hachette feud, but he wants to change the image of the guild to shape it towards what we’re building in the Adirondacks:
As one of three vice presidents of the Authors Guild (along with Judy Blume and James Shapiro), he wants to find ways to build a community for all writers. After more than a century, Russo says, the Authors Guild is reimagining its mission. All writers—traditionally and independently published, Amazon authors and recent MFA graduates, hobbyists and professionals—are invited to unite under the banner of the Authors Guild. The only requirement beyond being a writer and paying ninety dollars for the first year’s dues? Say you love literature, that you’re committed to books in all their forms, that you support other writers, whatever their stylistic quirks, genre choices, or artistic ambitions. Say that you believe books are different than other goods you can buy and sell and trade and steal.
He wants to open the guild up to independent, self-published, and young writers trying to break in:
When I was at the AWP conference in Seattle this year, I spent the entire time talking to writers finishing up an MFA. Those folks all said the same thing: That once they left their writing community at the university, they found that there was no community to replace it. The Guild that we’re reimagining would fill that void. Instead of being only a New York operation, we’d have lots of things going on in different regions. Making sure we have a way to introduce writers to the world. Making sure that those talents have continued access to the rest of us. So we’re working hard coming up with new programs that will provide that sense of community to a group of writers who are despairing out there in a world of smaller advances and smaller support. We want to defend all writers and all formats. We want writers who are doing well to keep doing well, sure. But we want to lend a special hand to those writers who seem to be getting hit the hardest. Some of those are writers coming out of MFA programs.
By setting up social gatherings, readings, and many other things.
….we’d like to have targeted gatherings designed to introduce younger writers to established authors and their readers. I’m very hot on the idea of a literary introduction series. A regular feature—maybe at someplace like the Rumpus—wherein a well-known writer, by way of a review or conversation, introduces a writer who is tremendously talented but doesn’t have a name yet. We’re also looking at doing things like that with your local NPR station, for instance. We’d like to do forums on YouTube or Google Hangouts. You take a topic, like how to organize a book tour, something like that, and have a roundtable discussion with a group of experienced writers. All of this stuff would be geared toward writers who feel adrift and alone in an increasingly hostile publishing world.
Okay, Mr. Russo—where do we sign up? Oh right here.