Completing ‘An Unfinished Life’ Author visits culmination of annual community reading project

By Ben Beagle
March 7, 2007
bbeagle@batavianews.com

Mark Spragg is a seasoned veteran when it comes to “one book, one community” reading projects. His novel, An Unfinished Life, has been featured in about two dozen such programs.
This year it’s part of “A Tale for Three Counties,” a community reading project organized by public libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties, and Genesee Community College that culminates with author visits beginning Thursday.
“I’m very keen for these one-book programs because I think they generate a good deal of community enthusiasm for literature,” Spragg said in a telephone interview from his home in Cody, Wyo.
“Our common art form now is television or film which I think is by nature reductionist to the depth of good writing. I’m tickled to see American libraries embrace this ‘community read’ concept,” said Spragg, whose work has been compared to that of his friend Kent Haruf and Cormac McCarthy.
The latest “Tale” wraps this week when Spragg arrives for talks and book signings in each of the three counties. His first visit is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday in Room T102 of the Conable Technology Building at Genesee Community College, 1 College Rd., Batavia. The author’s presentation will be followed by a cake and punch reception and book signing.
Spragg is also scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. Thursday at Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., Batavia; 7 p.m. Friday at Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, 620 West Ave., Medina; and 2 p.m. Saturday at Perry Elementary/Middle School, 50 Olin Ave., Perry, a program hosted by the Wyoming County libraries.
“You’ll have a treat with him. He’s a very well-spoken guy,” Haruf, the acclaimed author of Plainsong, said in a telephone interview.
Leslie DeLooze, the reference librarian at Richmond who started the “Tale” project, said people attending the talks can expect to see a personal side of the author and hear what motivates him to write.
Lee-Whedon director Mary Zangerle is also looking forward to meeting the man behind the story.
“After reading his biography (Where Rivers Change Direction) … You can see the book characters Einar and Mitch were obviously based on people the author knew and loved,” Zangerle said. “There’s a gruff exterior but a very tender and caring inner person.”
Copies of both An Unfinished Life and Where Rivers Change Direction will be for sale at the author talks.
In An Unfinished Life, Spragg takes readers to fictional Ishawooa, Wyo., and writes from a number of shifting viewpoints. He tells the story of bitter Einar Gilkyson, his best friend Mitch, Einar’s daughter-in-law Jean and her daughter, Griff; Roy, the boyfriend Jean is running from, and the bear that attacked Mitch and left him severely injured.
Spragg, a former scriptwriter who has written two novels and an acclaimed memoir, said he expects to talk about the genesis of An Unfinished Life. The story began as an experiment with his wife, Virginia Korus Spragg, about telling the same story in two different mediums. The book was released in fall 2004, and a film directed by Lasse Hallstrom starring Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Lopez followed several weeks later. The Spraggs shared a writing credit for the film.
“Mark is just great,” Leslie Holleran, who produced the film, said in a telephone interview. “He has a dry sense of humor and is self-deprecating in a way that he let Einar share in his ways, in his respectful way.”
Spragg anticipates people being interested in learning about the filmmaking process. He also expects to read from the book and field questions from the audience – “so the audience is not left feeling they’ve had to endure some lecture.”
The question-and-answer session is one of the things Spragg said he is most looking forward to. “I feel at ease when I’m doing that,” he said.
Spragg’s memoir won the Mountain & Plains Booksellers Award for non-fiction in 2000. His first novel, The Fruit of Stone, tells the story of two friends and was selected as an American Library Association Booklist Editor’s Choice in 2002 for best adult fiction and was one of the ALA Booklist Top 10 first novels in 2002. Both books were top-10 Book Sense selections.
Next month, Spragg visits Fort Collins, Colo., for “Read On! Fort Collins.” Last year An Unfinished Life was selected for “One Book Arizona.” The novel was also part of a state-wide reading project in Alaska, and similar programs in cities such as Salt Lake City, Utah, Lansing, Mich., and Billings, Mont.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” Spragg said. “Quite a few communities have been kind enough to pick up this book. It’s very flattering.”

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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