Roorbach, Bill 1953–
Roorbach, Bill 1953–
PERSONAL: Born August 18, 1953, in Chicago, IL; son of John E. (an oil company executive) and Reba (a horticulturist) Roorbach; married Juliet Brigitte Karelsen (an artist), June 23, 1990; children: Elysia Pearl. Education: Ithaca College, B.A. (cum laude), 1976; Columbia University, M.F.A., 1990.
CAREER: University of Maine, Farmington, ME, assistant professor of English, 1991–95; Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, assistant professor, 1995–98, associate professor of English, 1998–2001; Jenks Chair in Contemporary American Letters, College of the Holy Cross, 2004–. Colby College, visiting associate professor, fall, 2001; Ithaca College, distinguished visiting writer, 2006. Worked variously as a piano player, musician, singer, bartender, cattle rancher, carpenter, plumber, and handyman.
MEMBER: Associated Writing Programs, Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Modern Language Association, Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance.
AWARDS, HONORS: Bread Loaf Fellow in nonfiction, 1992, for Summers with Juliet; Notable Stories of 1994, for story "A Job at Little Henry's"; Seed Grant, Ohio State University, 1997; Sphinx and Mortarboard honoree for excellence in teaching, Ohio State University, 1998; MacDowell Fellowship, 1998; Ohio Arts Council grants in creative nonfiction and in criticism, 1999; Notable Essays of 1999, Best American Essays, 2000, and Best-Nature and Science Writing, 2000, all for "Scioto Blues"; Flannery O'Connor Award in short fiction, 2001, for Big Bend; Silver Rose Award for Excellence in the Short Story, American Renaissance for the Twenty-first Century Foundation, 2001, for story "Big Bend"; Furthermore Publication Grant, J.M. Kaplan Fund, 2002; National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship, 2002; O. Henry Award, 2002; School of the Arts Fellowship and Fellowship of Distinction, Columbia University.
Summers with Juliet, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1992.
Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories into Memoirs, Ideas into Essays, and Life into Literature, Story Press (Cincinnati, OH), 1998.
Big Bend: Stories, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 2001.
The Smallest Color (novel), Counterpoint (Washington, DC), 2001.
Into Woods (essays), University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, IN), 2002.
Big Bend (short stories), Counterpoint (Washington, DC), 2003.
(With Robert Kimber and Wesley McNair) A Place on Water (essays), Tilbury House Publishers (Gardiner, ME), 2004.
Temple Stream: A Rural Odyssey, Dial Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to anthologies, including Turning Toward Home, Franklin Square Press, 1995; Prize Stories 2002: The O. Henry Awards, edited by Larry Dark, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2002; New Stories from the South: The Year's Best, edited by Shannon Ravenel, Algonquin Books, 2002. Contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Missouri Review, Granta, New York, Poets and Writers, Iowa Review, Witness, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Newsday. Editor, Columbia: A Magazine of Poetry and Prose.
SIDELIGHTS: Bill Roorbach is a novelist, essayist, and educator whose nonfiction works often focus on nature and the environment. Roorbach's Summers with Juliet is based on travels the author made with his wife, Juliet, before they were married. The book muses on nature, fishing, and the foundation blocks beneath a committed relationship. "Roorbach's debut provides pure enchantment," noted a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. The reviewer further commented that Summers with Juliet is "lyrical, earthy and suspenseful." Cosmopolitan writer Louise Bernikow called the book "touching," adding that it provides "a really lovely love story." Harry Middleton, reviewing the book for New York Newsday, described Summers with Juliet as "an engaging love story" and praised Roorbach for writing "honestly, movingly, sometimes poetically."
The Smallest Color, Roorbach's debut novel, "brilliantly and compassionately recalls the turbulence of the Sixties as well as the violent yet idealistic fringes of the antiwar movement," commented Library Journal critic Karen Anderson. Protagonist Coop Henry has reached a comfortable point in middle age in which he is happily married and lives in a scenic dream-house in Colorado. A former Olympic skier, he is also a coach for the U.S. ski team. But Coop has a second life buried deep in his past, when he lived an edgier existence as a peace activist in 1969. He also carries a tremendous burden of guilt from this time: the fact that he has, for the past thirty years, claimed that his older brother, Hodge, is still alive and living in exile after the bombing of an airplane factory when in fact Hodge has been dead since then. His parents are particularly eager to locate their son before their fiftieth wedding anniversary, and have hired a private investigator to find him. In the present, Coop's happy life begins to crumble as his secrets face exposure. Hodge's death, and the real reasons behind it, become apparent, and the life Coop has built on thirty-year-old lies begins to shatter.
Kyle Minor, writing in the Antioch Review, called The Smallest Color "an intricately crafted novel" and "a small masterpiece." Roorbach "effectively juggles a number of themes in a slyly composed whodunit that's also a paean to burying the bones of the past," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor. A Publishers Weekly reviewer observed: "This is a piercing novel, one that perfectly captures the seismic upheaval of the end of the '60s." Reviewer Phoebe Kate Foster, writing on PopMatters concluded: "Roorbach is a bona fide, credential-carrying '60s savant, and you can trust his voice to describe the era."
Temple Stream: A Rural Odyssey chronicles Roorbach's ongoing fascination with the titular scenic waterway that flows by his home near Farmington, in eastern Maine. He explores the natural history of the stream and the environmental factors that make it such a beautiful natural attraction. Stories of Roorbach's own life mingle with his tales of his perambulations through the environment of Temple Stream. He describes his wife's pregnancy; his adventures in home improvement; his encounters with a surly neighbor; and his observations about the birds, animals, and plants that make up the ecology of the stream. Prominent in Roorbach's narrative is his desire to find the stream's origin. Throughout the book, Roorbach demonstrates a "voice as pure and true as the stream itself" as he "limns a lyrical yet precise portrait" of the diverse life that lives along the banks of Temple Stream, commented Carol Haggas in Booklist. Roorbach's writing is "so immediate and compelling, his eye for the human condition so keen," that the book occupies a "class of its own," asserted Library Journal reviewer Felicity D. Walsh.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Antioch Review, fall, 2002, Kyle Minor, review of The Smallest Color, p. 711.
Booklist, August, 2001, Connie Fletcher, review of The Smallest Color, p. 2091; July, 2005, Carol Haggas, review of Temple Stream: A Rural Odyssey, p. 1895.
Cosmopolitan, February, 1992, Louise Bernikow, review of Summers with Juliet, p. 18.
Franklin Journal, August 2, 2005, Kenny Brechner, interview with Bill Roorbach.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2001, review of The Smallest Color, p. 1158; June 15, 2005, review of Temple Stream, p. 675.
L.A. Weekly, September 19, 2001, Hillary Johnson, review of Big Bend.
Library Journal, August, 1998, Lisa J. Cihlar, review of Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories into Memoirs, Ideas into Essays, and Life into Literature, p. 104; October 15, 2001, Karen Anderson, review of The Smallest Color, p. 110; February 15, 2002, Nancy P. Shires, review of Into Woods, p. 144; July 1, 2005, Felicity D. Walsh, review of Temple Stream, p. 80.
New York Newsday, February 2, 1992, Harry Middleton, "Splendor in the Grass."
Publishers Weekly, January 1, 1992, review of Summers with Juliet, p. 40; September 10, 2001, review of The Smallest Color, p. 61; May 30, 2005, review of Temple Stream, p. 50.
Bill Roorbach Home Page, http://www.billroorbach.com (September 1, 2006).
Brisbane Writers Festival Web site, http://www.brisbanewritersfestival.com/ (September 1, 2006), biography of Bill Roorbach.
PopMatters, http://www.popmatters.com/ (October 1, 2001), Phoebe Kate Foster, review of The Smallest Color.
Random House Web site, http://www.randomhouse.com/ (September 1, 2006), biography of Bill Roorbach.