Richard Russo Biography

Start Your Free Trial


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Download Richard Russo Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Richard Russo was born in Johnstown, New York, and grew up in the upstate New York town of Gloversville. His father left the family when Russo was still a boy, and troubled relationships between fathers and sons haunt many of his novels. Gloversville was named, in part, because of the glove-making and leather-tanning factories that provided most of the work for residents (and polluted the nearby waterways). Many of Russo’s novels are set in the fictional town of Mohawk, which also has an economy based on tanneries. The economics and working lives that Russo saw as a boy, coupled with his work in construction and road crews in high school and college summers, would particularly inform the blue-collar aesthetic of much of his fiction.

Russo attended the University of Arizona, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1971 and eventually a Ph.D. in literature in 1980. He realized while working on his dissertation that writing fiction appealed to him more than did literary criticism and academic writing, and he stayed on to earn a master of fine arts degree in 1981. Five years later, he published his first novel, Mohawk.

Russo has taught creative writing at various universities, including Southern Illinois University (Carbondale, Illinois), Colby College (Waterville, Maine), and the low-residency M.F.A. program for writers at Warren Wilson College (Ashville, North Carolina). Following the success of Nobody’s Fool and its 1994 film adaptation, Russo was able to write full time. Additionally, he and Benton formed a friendship and a writing partnership during Benton’s adaptation of Nobody’s Fool; together they have collaborated on screenplays for such films as Twilight and The Ice Harvest.


Richard Russo was born July 15, 1949, in Johnstown (and grew up in Gloversville), New York.  Russo is considered by many to be the best contemporary writer of small-town American life. He is often compared to authors like Sinclair Lewis and Sherwood Anderson who also wrote about small towns of their generation. Some critics contend that Russo’s own early experiences in old, dying, industrial towns of New England have had a profound impact on his focused subjects.

So far, there has been only one exception to this theme of small-town life—Russo’s 1997 Straight Man about the life and tribulations of a college professor, which is what Russo was for a time.

Russo has enjoyed a lot of success with his works. His novel Nobody’s Fool (1993) was adapted to film and starred some of Hollywood’s best, including Paul Newman and Susan Sarandon. Russo co-authored the film adaptation of this novel. He has also written other scripts both for film and television, including the 1998 film Twilight, the 2000 teleplay Flamingo Rising, and the 2005 HBO production Ice Harvest. But Russo’s greatest accomplishment, as far as critics are concerned, was his 2001 novel Empire Falls, which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Empire Falls is typical Russo, a story about a family in small-town Maine.

Other books that Russo has written include Mohawk (1986) and The Risk Pool (1988), a coming-of-age story also set in a dying blue-collar New England town. In 2002, Russo published a collection of short stories called The Whore’s Child and Other Stories.

Russo lives in Maine with his wife and two daughters. He used to teach at Penn State University at Altoona, the University of Southern Illinois, Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and Colby College in Waterville, Maine. Russo has retired from academia to focus his time and energy on his writing.


(Novels for Students)

Richard Russo was born James Richard Russo on July 15, 1949, in Johnstown, New York, but he grew up in Gloversville, an upstate New York town with many of the same difficulties as the fictional Empire Falls, Maine. The town’s major industry—the making of gloves—began to decline after World War II, when women ceased wearing gloves on an everyday basis. The author’s father, James Russo, worked at a wide array of jobs, including glove cutting and...

(The entire section is 1,090 words.)