"A lot of my characters in all of my books have a self-destructive urge. They'll do precisely the thing that they know is wrong, take a perverse delight in doing the wrong thing.""By ignoring a lot of American culture you can write more interesting stories. Unfortunately, if you were writing about America as it is, you'd be writing about a lot of people sitting in front of television sets.""Even at its most perceptive, sociology deals in abstractions.""HBO is really famous for hiring good people and staying out of their way until they ask for help, or need it. And that reputation is earned.""I can be glib and truthful all at once.""I don't think there's a shortage of material in the world. Or in my head. I just pray for continued good health, because I've got other stories to tell.""I have to have a character worth caring about. I tend not to start writing books about people I don't have a lot of sympathy for because I'm just going to be with them too long.""I looked back at some of my earlier published stories with genuine horror and remorse. I got thinking, How many extant copies might there be, who owns them, and do they keep their doors locked?""I read pretty voraciously. If it's good, I don't care what it is.""I suppose all writers worry about the well running dry.""I think a lot of what is going on with kids who get pushed too far and attempt either murder or suicide is that they are trying to deal with their own non-existence for the people who are supposed to care most for them.""I think it would be harder for me not to write comedy because the comic view of things is the one that comes most naturally to me.""I think that if people are instructed about anything, it should be about the nature of cruelty. And about why people behave so cruelly to each other. And what kind of satisfactions they derive from it. And why there is always a cost, and a price to be paid.""I want that which is hilarious and that which is heartbreaking to occupy the same territory in the book because I think they very often occupy the same territory in life, much as we try to separate them.""I was pretty dead set against ever writing an academic novel. It's always been my view that there are already more than enough academic novels and that most of them aren't any good. Most of them are self-conscious and bitter, the work of people who want to settle grudges.""I'm delighted by how Nobody's Fool turned out. It was a rare movie.""If my career continues along its current arc, people will probably look at me and see a writer who is obsessed with the relationship between rich and poor and with how the rich somehow or other always manage to betray the poor, even when they don't mean to.""If there's an enduring theme in my work, it's probably the effects of class on American life.""If you work at comedy too laboriously, you can kill what's funny in the joke.""It's no secret that in my books I'm trying to make the comic and the serious rub up against each other just as closely and uncomfortably as I can.""Movies have to handle time very efficiently. They're about stringing scenes together in the present. Novels aren't necessarily about that.""My books are elegiac in the sense that they're odes to a nation that even I sometimes think may not exist anymore except in my memory and my imagination.""People often ask me how I make things funny. I don't make things funny.""Some authors have a very hard time understanding that in order to be faithful to the spirit of the book, it's almost always impossible to remain faithful to the text. You have to make changes.""Structure is one of the things that I always hope will reveal itself to me.""Ultimately, your theme will find you. You don't have to go looking for it.""Usually by the time I finish a book tour I've just about had it with the book.""What comes easiest for me is dialogue. Sometimes when my characters are speaking to me, I have to slow them down so that I'm not simply taking dictation.""What does it feel like to be a parent? What does it feel like to be a child? And that's what stories do. They bring you there. They offer a dramatic explanation, which is always different from an expository explanation.""When authors who write literary fiction begin to write screenplays, everybody assumes that's the end. Here's another who's never going to write well again.""When I look back over my novels what I find is that when I think I'm finished with a theme, I'm generally not. And usually themes will recur from novel to novel in odd, new guises.""When I start getting close to the end of a novel, something registers in the back of my mind for the next novel, so that I usually don't write, or take notes. And I certainly don't begin. I just allow things to percolate for a while.""You can be interested in a Jane Smiley novel whether or not anyone says a word. She enters into her characters' thoughts with great understanding and depth.""You just kind of have faith. If that sounds kind of mystical, it's because I really don't know how it works, but I trust that it does. I try to write the way I read, in order to find out what happens next.""You use simple brushstrokes in a screenplay for things over which you would take much greater pains in a novel."
Russo was born in Johnstown, New York, and raised in nearby Gloversville. He earned a Bachelor's degree, a Master of Fine Arts degree, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Arizona, which he attended from 1967 through 1979. He was teaching in the English department at Southern Illinois University Carbondale when his first novel, Mohawk, was published in 1986. Much of his work has been semi-autobiographical, drawing on his life from his upbringing in upstate New York to his time teaching literature at Colby College. Russo is retired from the faculty of Colby College. He now lives and writes in Camden, Maine.
His 2001 novel Empire Falls received the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. He has written six other novels and a short story collection. Russo co-wrote the 1998 film Twilight with director Robert Benton, who also adapted and directed Russo's Nobody's Fool into a 1994 film of the same title, starring Paul Newman. Russo wrote the teleplay for the HBO adaptation of Empire Falls, the screenplay for the 2005 film Ice Harvest, and the screenplay for the 2005 Niall Johnson film Keeping Mum, which starred Rowan Atkinson.