Friday, May 3, 2013

Author Tobias Wolff speaks at Grossmont College Literary Arts Festival

Tobias Wolff at Grossmont College

Award winning author Tobias Wolff was welcomed by a full house Wednesday, May 1, when he came to do a reading and book signing as part of the Grossmont Colleges 17th annual Literary Arts Festival in Griffin Gate.

Wolff is known for his memoirs, This Boy’s Life and In Pharaoh’s Army, and his short story collections, such as Garden of the North American Martyrs.

Before doing a reading of one of his stories, Wolff spoke about his childhood and influences that brought him to where he is today as a professor at Stanford University and as a speaker at Grossmont College.

Wolff was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1945 and traveled with his family to different states until  they settled in Concrete, Washington. Until age 10, he grew up in southern Florida, a place where his fondest memory is of the library. His mother gave him his first book, a book by Albert Payson Terhune. Terhune’s books were from the point of view of collie dogs. Wolff was hooked.

While visiting the library, one of the librarians introduced him to Jack London.  He enjoyed London so much that he changed his name to Jack for many years.  As well as Terhune and London, Wolff has many authors who have influenced him, including Ernest Hemingway and Leo Tolstoy.

Wolff’s reading was of his short story Bullet in the Brain. It was about a man named Anders who is waiting in line at a bank when two bank robbers come in. The story talks about what is not going through his mind when he gets shot by one of the men.  

Once the reading was over, Wolff answered questions from the audience and followed that with a book signing.
Professor Rocco Versaci from Palomar College attended with one of his students, Wyatt Reno.
“I really think he is one of our greatest living writers,” Versaci said. “I wouldn’t want to miss this opportunity.”

As a student in Versaci’s class, Reno had to read Wolff’s Old School two years ago.

“One of the characters was really terrifying,” Reno said, “so I wanted to come see him in real life and meet Tobias Wolff and see what he had to say.” 

--Carissa Leigh