Stanford Professor Tobias Wolff Will Read New Novel

Nationally acclaimed author Tobias Wolff will read tonight from Old School, his first full-length novel. Sponsored by the English Department and the John M. Kemper Memorial Fund, Wolff’s reading is at 7 p.m. in Kemper Auditorium. Wolff’s reading of Old School is fitting for its Phillips Academy audience, as the novel is set in a New England boarding school. The book’s protagonist is a working-class boy with a deep interest in literature who grapples to fit in with his privileged classmates. Detailed descriptions of famous authors’ visits to the boy’s school are also woven into the novel; Ayn Rand, Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway are all portrayed, allowing Wolff to relate the culture and literature of the book’s 1960’s setting. Wolff is highly regarded by critics for his mastery of short stories and memoirs. He is frequently published in The New Yorker, and his most famous short story collections include In the Garden of North American Martyrs, Back in the World, and The Night in Question. It is, however, Wolff’s two memoirs that have garnered him the most attention in literary circles. In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of the Lost War details Wolff’s experience as a Green Beret in the military during the Vietnam War. Published in 1994, the book was chosen as a finalist for the National Book Award. In 1989’s This Boy’s Life, Wolff describes a family torn apart by divorce, recounting his childhood struggle with an abusive stepfather. The memoir is lauded for its style and was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for biography and the Ambassador Book Award of the English-speaking Union. This Boy’s Life was later produced as a motion picture, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Ellen Barkin. Wolff’s visit to the Academy is one of the many stops that he has made recently at schools and universities across the nation to promote Old School. Because the novel is the first work that Wolff has published in seven years, it has attracted considerable attention from critics. Although much of Old School’s content is taken from the author’s childhood, Wolff said that the work is not purely autobiographical, as it features a number of fictional events. The book, however, like many of Wolff’s other works, draws heavily from his personal experiences. Born in Alabama in 1945, Wolff was raised in the Skagit River Valley of Washington and briefly attended the Hill School in Pottstown, Penn. He also served in the United States Army for four years, providing him with experiences and memories that would later be used throughout his writing. Wolff has received several prestigious awards for his work, including the PEN/Faulkner Award, the nation’s largest juried award for fiction, in 1985 for his novella, The Barracks Thief. In 1990, Wolff earned the Whiting Foundation Award, as well as the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Award, the Rea Award and two O. Henry Awards for short stories. Wolff was also honored with an Academy Award in Literature by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an organization dedicated to recognizing the achievements of American writers and artists, in 2001. Wolff holds a B.A. degree from Oxford University and a M.A. from Stanford University. Throughout his prolific writing career, he has served as an editor and, briefly, a journalist. Until 1997, Wolff taught creative writing at Syracuse University in upstate New York. He currently resides in Northern California, where he is serving as a professor of English and Creative Writing at Stanford.