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Author Tobias Wolff and the Big Read

Steve Kraske welcomes author Tobias Wolff to talk about Old School, his novel about a teenage boy who feels awkward and out of place at an elite New England prep school in the 1960s. The book is this year's Big Read selection at area libraries.By Up to Date, May 12, 2009


For months now readers across the country have been partaking in the Big Read - a community reading program sponsored in part by the National Endowments for the Arts.

This year, participants in the Kansas City area have been delving into the work of prize-winning author Tobias Wolff in his book, Old School, a novel about a teenage boy who feels awkward and out of place at an elite New England prep school in the 1960s.

Tobias Wolff joins Steve Kraske to talk about his career and his book, and discuss what makes the story of the teen who learns the painful difference between truth and fiction relevant to audiences today.

Additional Information:

What is The Big Read?
The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) designed to restore reading to the center of American culture.

This year, the libraries of the Greater Kansas City are joining together to promote Kansas City Big Read. Check out the Web site to learn about events, contests and other Big Read events throughout the metro area.

The Author:

Tobias Jonathan Ansell Wolff was born on June 19, 1945, in Birmingham, Alabama. His father, Arthur, was an aeronautical engineer but also a pathological liar and supreme con artist, as detailed in the 1979 memoir The Duke of Deception, by Tobias's older brother, Geoffrey. As a result of one of these many deceptions, Tobias, who was raised and remains a Catholic, did not discover until adulthood that his father was Jewish. His mother, Rosemary Loftus Wolff, a waitress and secretary, was a woman of spirit, resilience, and great intelligence, who met the many reverses in her life with humor and determination.

Wolff's parents separated when he was very young. He was raised by his mother in Florida, Utah, and Washington state. Eager to escape rural Washington and life with his mother's second husband (experiences vividly recounted in his memoir This Boy's Life), he won a scholarship to the Hill School, a prestigious academy in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. He loved the school but struggled because of his poor academic background. Ultimately, he was expelled because of failing grades in math.

In 1964, Wolff joined the U.S. Army. He spent a year learning Vietnamese, and then served in Vietnam as a paratrooper. Out of these experiences came his second memoir, In Pharaoh's Army: Memories of the Lost War (1994). After his discharge in 1968, he enrolled in Hertford College of Oxford University, where he earned a degree in English in 1972. In 1975, he earned a master's degree in education from Stanford University, where he was also awarded a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing.

Wolff taught at Syracuse University in New York from 1980 to 1997. The novelist Richard Ford and the short-story writer Raymond Carver were among his friends and colleagues. Since 1997, Wolff has taught English and creative writing at Stanford University, where he holds the Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods professorship in the School of Humanities and Sciences. Among his honors are the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the Rea Award for the Short Story, and three O. Henry Awards.

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