Richard Russo, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Empire Falls” and several other novels, has lived in Maine for many years, once taught at Colby College in Waterville, and has a daughter who graduated from Colby. So when the college asked him to deliver its commencement address in 2004, it didn’t have to worry much about whether he’d step up.
The speech that Russo gave is included in his new book, “The Destiny Thief,” a collection of essays touching on everything from Charles Dickens to gender reassignment. If you have any interest in knowing what Russo would have to say in a graduation speech, you need to pick up this book. Why? Because Richard Russo’s career as a commencement speaker is over.
“I made up my mind that I would never do another,” he says with a smile. It’s not as if he’s not in demand at schools—“I get asked every year”—it’s just that he doesn’t want to repeat the experience. And he hasn’t.
“I did it. I have no desire to do another.” He ends the thought with a laugh, as he often does. “That was all I had to say.”
I will not steal Russo’s thunder and impart the wisdom he offered to the Colby class of 2004, with one exception. Are you paying attention? Because here’s one of the nuggets an acclaimed American writer with a keen eye for life’s absurdities offered those young graduates, advice you are now getting for free: “Rotate your tires.”
Richard Russo will be speaking about his new book, “The Destiny Thief,” at Print: A Bookstore in Portland. The event begins at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 8.