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April 24, 2014

'A great storyteller'

Author Richard Russo to receive Marquand Prize at end of festival

If her grandfather were alive today, Beth Welch is sure that he would be a fan of author Richard Russo’s work.

That’s one of the biggest reasons that Welch selected Russo to receive the second John P. Marquand Prize for American Literature, which will be presented Sunday afternoon at the Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport.

“I’m so thrilled he accepted it,” said Welch, who lives in Newbury.

The Marquand Prize was created at the suggestion of Welch’s husband, Chuck Christensen, a retired publisher, and Vicki Hendrickson, co-chairwoman of the Newburyport Literary Festival. It is presented every four years, to coincide with each time that the festival highlights fiction. Anita Shreve received the first award in 2010.

John Phillips Marquand was a Newburyport writer who wrote several best-selling novels, including the popular Mr. Moto spy series and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Late George Apley.” The award is part of Welch’s ongoing crusade to keep her grandfather’s name alive, more than four decades after his death in 1960.

Just as Newburyport makes a frequent appearance in Marquand’s novels, Russo’s hometown of Gloversville, N.Y., is featured prominently in his own books.

“Place is an important character in his novels,” Welch said of Russo, who now resides in Camden, Maine.

Both authors “care deeply about matters of class,” she said, and write about similar themes.

“They’re very interested in the conflict of social constraints and personal destiny,” she said. “They’re both single children with complex relationships with their parents, and that plays out in the novels, too.”

Russo, 64, is also a Pulitzer Prize winner, earning the honor in 2002 for “Empire Falls,” the story of a diner manager living in a small Maine town controlled by a rich family. The novel was later turned into an HBO miniseries with Paul Newman, who also starred in the 1994 adaptation of Russo’s “Nobody’s Fool.”

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