By ALISSA SCOTT
JOHNSTOWN -- At times regarded for his disdain of the area, Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo returned to his hometown Wednesday to share fond memories of Gloversville and Johnstown.
Russo, 64, who spent the first 18 years of his life in Gloversville, has since traveled throughout the country and made a living off stories of his "small-town America" for the past three decades.
He met a packed auditorium at Fulton-Montgomery Community College Wednesday afternoon as part of the college's 50th anniversary celebration. Russo, now of Portland, Maine, read a seven-segmented piece he wrote a year ago, "Destiny Thief." He chose it because it "clarified [his] relationship to this place."
F-MCC President Dustin Swanger said he can't remember the last time Russo was in the area.
"I think having completed ["Elsewhere"] and worked through that has opened the opportunity for him to come here and speak," Swanger said. "I certainly wouldn't want to say that he will be back every year, but I think the timing was right and he felt that the timing was right."
"Elsewhere," Russo's latest novel released in 2012, is a story with two plot lines -- one very private and intimate about his relationship with his mother, the second about his connection with Gloversville.
During the question and answer portion of the event, Russo described himself as "the boy who stayed and the boy who left" in response to with which character in his books he most identified.
"I left and don't come home as often as some would like," Russo said, "But at the same time, I also never left. Here I am, 30 years later writing these same books about the same places."
Another audience question card asked Russo to describe his fondest memories of the area.
"The best thing about growing up in Gloversville was 36 Helwig St.," Russo said of his first home in the area. "You only want to let yourself out in the world if you know that you're attached to something to draw you back. For me that was a house on Second Avenue and Helwig Street."
Russo also said he remembers his mother taking him by the hand to the Gloversville Public Library when he was too small to go on his own.
"Libraries are changing before our eyes right now," Russo said. "But I think that libraries, public libraries, are more important now than they were when I was a kid. ... Public libraries are what allow people like me to do what I do."
Russo encouraged others to support their public libraries, for there's no telling which could be fueling the next prize winner.
"There is a Pulitzer Prize winner in there right now writing a book," Russo said. "You don't know who he is. I don't know who he is. He doesn't know who he is. She doesn't know who she is. After all, she's only 8 years old."
The gymnasium unloaded and piled into the lobby where Russo waited to sign books for a long line of fans. Copies of "Elsewhere" were also on sale.
"Thank you, thank you so much," Elaine Harris said to Russo, approaching him at the book signing.
Harris, of Gloversville, said she could listen to Russo speak for hours.
"I'm actually buying this book," she said pointing to a copy of "Elsewhere," "to share with visitors to the area who don't know about Richard. He's just so inspiring."
Russo's previous works include seven novels and one collection of short stories. His 2001 novel, "Empire Falls," won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It was also adapted into an HBO mini-series.