James Richard Russo. Author, screenwriter, professor of English, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Colby father. Your imaginative work is unique in the world of popular entertainment for its erudition, for its humor, and for its championing of the lives of working people. As an author your signature is a distinct sense of setting -- from Mohawk, New York, to Empire Falls, Maine, places not unlike your birthplace of Gloversville, New York, or your former home of Waterville. In five novels and a collection of stories, you have written of fathers and sons, of priests and parishioners, of the complexities of faith and betrayal. Your work has found poetry in our daily lives — in the steam rising from a coffee cup, in the silent smokestacks of a closed-down paper mill, in the jelly that drips out of a doughnut. You write with wisdom and with humor, with common sense and grace. Above all you write with respect and awe for the unsolvable mysteries of the human heart. “This,” one of your characters thinks in Nobody’s Fool, “is what we have been coming back to all our lives — to the mystery of affection, the way the heart inclines in one direction and not another, of its unexpected, unwished-for pirouettes, its ability to make a fool or a villain of its owner, if indeed any human can be said to own his heart.” Because of your elegant stories, a generation of readers has come to know your generous, complex heart, a heart that beats at the center of a world one of your characters wistfully and succinctly describes as a place of “wondrous possibility.”
By the authority of the Board of Trustees of Colby College, I confer upon you, James Richard Russo, the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa. The hood with which you have been invested and this diploma which I place in your hand are visible symbols of your membership in this society of scholars, to all the rights and privileges of which I declare you entitled.
Conferred May 23, 2004