NORMAN — Acclaimed novelist and short story writer Tobias Wolff addressed an intimate gathering of Norman’s lovers of literature Thursday evening at Longfellow Middle School.
Wolff’s presentation was part of the Pioneer Library System’s annual The Big Read, which featured Wolff’s novel, “Old School”, as its selected literary work.
At once candidly humorous and affectingly introspective, Wolff reflected on early influences that led him to writing and their correlation to the novel’s central themes of class consciousness, authenticity, friendship and passion for the written word.
“There are some very autobiographical elements in this book,” Wolff said. “My classmates recognize things like Robert Frost’s visit or the kind of atmosphere, values and problems you found there.”
Like the protagonist of “Old School,” Wolff was a scholarship student at The Hill School — an elite boarding school in Pennsylvania — who stood apart from his peers as the child of a working class background.
“In writing this book there was a lot imagined and a lot that was close to my heart that I wanted to deal with — things that lodged in me that I’d been brooding over for years. There was a kind of class consciousness that I’d never encountered before. We like to think that class doesn’t really matter in this country, but I found it to be a very powerful element in social relations,” Wolff said.
In spite of his unique outsider’s perspective on privilege, Wolff said he loved his experience at boarding school, citing friendship as another central inspiration for “Old School” and mentioning friends from his boarding school days with whom he maintains close correspondence.
“(Writing “Old School”) I wanted to capture the excitement of a literary culture such as I’d never known, that intellectual excitement and the intensity of friendship and competition. I’m not nostalgic for those days, but it was a particular cultural moment, and one of the things that writers do is try to catch time and hold it, to celebrate without sugar-coating, and I wanted to do that in this book,” Wolff said.
For more information on the PLS 2013 The Big Read, visit bigreadok.com.