Richard Russo to speak at FM

JOHNSTOWN – Pulitzer Prize-winning author and local native Richard Russo will come to Fulton-Montgomery Community College in October to speak and sign books as part of the college’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Foundation of FMCC Director Lesley Lanzi told the college Board of Trustees on Thursday that Russo will visit the college Oct. 9 from noon to 1:30 p.m. and is expected to discuss his books and talk about his experiences in the area.

The event will be free to the students and public, and book purchases will be available for the signing, Lanzi said.

The author, who grew up in Gloversville, has written novels that draw from Russo’s experiences in his hometown.

His latest work, “Elsewhere,” is a memoir in which he tries to untangle his troubled relationships with his hometown and his late mother.

A previous Russo novel, “The Risk Pool,” is a coming-of-age story set in fictional Mohawk, N.Y., a dying blue-collar town with similarities to Gloversville.

Russo won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2001 novel “Empire Falls,” which follows the story of Miles Roby in a fictional, small blue-collar town.

FMCC President Dustin Swanger said English professors Steven Hymowech and Stephen Astmann suggested the college host the author as part of the 50th anniversary celebration.

“We are excited about the opportunity to bring him back to the area to talk about his books and to some extent his experiences in the area growing up,” Swanger said about the visit. “I know people are excited about seeing him.”

Swanger said he hasn’t spoken to Russo directly about him coming to the area, but said he has heard he is eager to make the visit.

Swanger said despite some people in the community thinking he doesn’t “feel good” about the area, Swanger said he has heard Russo has fond memories of his time in the area.

“It will be during the day, so for some folks, that might be a challenge, and we will have limited seating, so it will have to be RSVP, and I expect it to be a very popular local event,” Swanger said. “To have it as part of our 50th anniversary I think is really a hallmark of our celebration of 50 years as a higher-education institution.”

Russo hasn’t been in Fulton County in several years, though he has made appearances in the Capital Region, including an appearance last year at Union College in Schenectady.

In “Elsewhere,” his recent memoir, he compares his anxiety about coming back to his hometown with something akin to a neurotic compulsion.

“I’d love to say this book made me feel better about everything, having gotten it off of my chest, but it’s still very difficult for me,” he told The Leader-Herald in an interview last fall. “It still feels very raw.”

He said on one hand, he would like to return to Gloversville, but he also fears that spending time in the real-life version of the place that has inspired his novels might “turn the spigot off.”

“What if I make my peace with the real place and it turns out that, as a result of that, I’m out of stories? That would be awful,” Russo said last fall.

Despite the event being free to the public, the college is expecting a large crowd. Only 400 tickets will be available, so those interested in attending should RSVP by calling the foundation office at 736-3622, Ext. 8020, officials said.

Russo could not be reached for comment for this story.

In other meeting business:

– The college starting this fall no longer will charge students who have served in the military the $5 parking fee each semester after the Board of Trustees unanimously approved a motion Thursday. Swanger said many of the State University of New York institutions have started doing this as a kind gesture to those who have served, and he wanted to present it to the board.

He said there are about 60 veterans who attend the FM campus, and although it isn’t a large financial burden on them, the college wanted to provide a positive gesture for their service.

Features editor Bill Ackerbauer contributed to this report.