Townley, Roderick 1942–

views updated

Townley, Roderick 1942–

(Rod Townley)

PERSONAL: Born June 7, 1942, in Orange, NJ; son of William Richard (a businessman) and Elise (Fredman) Townley; married Libby Blackman, April 4, 1970 (divorced, 1980); married Wyatt Baker (a poet and yoga instructor), February 15, 1986; children: (first marriage) Jesse Blackman; (second marriage) Grace Whitman. Education: Attended Hamilton College, 1960–61, and University of Chicago, 1961–62; Bard College, A.B., 1965; Rutgers University, M.A., 1970, Ph.D., 1972.

ADDRESSES: HomeKansas City, MO. Agent—c/o Writers House, 21 W. 26th St., New York, NY 10010. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Writer. Passaic County Community College, Paterson, NJ, associate professor of world literature, 1972–73; TV Guide, New York, NY, former editorial writer, beginning 1980. Visiting professor, University of Concepcion, Chile, 1978–79.

AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright fellowship, 1978–79.


Safe and Sound: A Parent's Guide to Child Protection, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1985.

Final Approach (poetry), Countryman Press (Woodstock, VT), 1986.

(Translator) Rene Escudie, Paul and Sebastian (for children), Kane/Miller Books (La Jolla, CA), 1988.

(Editor) Night Errands: How Poets Use Dreams, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1998.

The Great Good Thing (novel; for young readers), Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2001.

Into the Labyrinth (sequel to The Great Good Thing; novel; for young readers), Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2002.

Sky: A Novel in Three Sets and an Encore, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2004.

The Constellation of Sylvie (novel), Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to periodicals, including Studies in Short Fiction, Philadelphia, New York Times, Washington Post, Village Voice, and the Detroit Free Press.


Blue Angels Black Angels (poetry), privately printed, 1972.

The Early Poetry of William Carlos Williams (criticism), Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1975.

Summer Street (chapbook), The Smith (New York, NY), 1975.

Minor Gods (novel), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1976.

Three Musicians (poetry), The Smith (New York, NY), 1978.

The Year in Soaps: 1983, Crown (New York, NY), 1984.

Contributor to books, including University and College Poetry Prizes: 1967–1972, edited by Daniel Hoffman, Academy of American Poets (New York, NY), 1974; Eleven Young Poets: The Smith Seventeen, edited by Ray Boxer, The Smith (New York, NY), 1975; William Carlos Williams: Man and Poet, edited by Carroll F. Terrell, National Poetry Foundation (Orono, ME), 1983; Conversations with Ralph Ellison, edited by Maryemma Graham and Amritjit Singh, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1995; and Ravishing Disunities, edited by Agha Shahid Ali, Wesleyan University Press (Hanover, NH), 2000.

SIDELIGHTS: Roderick Townley has published several books of poetry as well as works of literary criticism, including books on poet William Carlos Williams, but among his better known works are several novels for younger readers. The Great Good Thing, for one, follows Princess Sylvie and her numerous friends as they reenact their story each time the book is read. Princess Sylvie and her comrades exist within the pages of an old, almost forgotten book, The Great Good Thing. In it, Sylvie yearns to do "one great good thing" before she submits to marriage, and the story follows her swashbuckling adventures in pursuit of that thing, whatever it may be. When young Claire reads the book, the same copy that her grandmother had also read and loved, the characters return to life, acting out each part of the story anew. The book is destroyed by Claire's vile brother, however, and with nowhere else to go the characters cross into Claire's mind, where they live in her dreams. The sheer passage of time threatens them because Claire may forget them and their story completely. Sylvie rescues herself and her friends when she crosses into the mind of Lily, Claire's daughter, and Lily is inspired to retell and republish the story, giving the storybook characters a renewed life. School Library Journal reviewer Debbie Whitbeck commented that Townley's approach is "an extremely clever and multilayered concept," but questioned whether younger readers will be able to grasp its multiple levels. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called it a "clever, deftly written" novel for younger readers.

Into the Labyrinth finds Princess Sylvie and her cohorts busily reenacting their story in the wake of a fresh printing, as Sylvie continues searching for her "one great good thing" to do before marriage. When their story is published on the Internet, however, the pace becomes exhausting. The story must be reenacted again and again as new readers come to the tale. Not only must the characters get used to a frenzied pace, they also have to come to terms with new threats and phenomena unique to the online world, including wordpools, unexpected changes to their stories, the loss of sections of the text, and deliberate changes by readers with access to electronic versions of the story.

When a dragonlike "bot" appears, created by a descendent of the original author, it seems its mission is simply to destroy the story, ripping out chunks of text and bringing in characters from other stories. However, Princess Sylvie and her friends are not going to passively sit by and be destroyed, and they mount an expedition to confront and delete the dangerous electronic dragon-bot. A Kirkus Reviews critic called the book a "brilliantly imagined sequel" to The Great Good Thing. that explores concepts of how stories happen and how fiction affects readers. Booklist contributor John Peters called the novel a "grand, tongue-in-cheek adventure." Beth L. Meister, writing in the School Library Journal, commented: "Sylvie is an appealing, thoughtful, and involving heroine, pulling the fast-paced plot to its satisfying conclusion."

Sky: A Novel in Three Sets and an Encore centers on fifteen-year-old jazz pianist Alex "Sky" Schuyler. Though his private-school classmates think little of him, Sky is a driving force in his jazz band, consisting of drummer Max, bass player Larry, and manager Suze. Along with his jazz, Sky also has an eye for Suze. Unfortunately for Sky, his conservative, workaday father sees jazz music as a waste of time and wants Sky to quit his band for something more practical. As punishment for sneaking out to a Count Basie concert, Sky's father takes away his piano, which had belonged to his mother. Pushed beyond endurance, Sky runs away to make a life on the street. When he meets Art Olmedo, a blind jazz pianist in rapidly declining health, Sky bonds instantly with the weathered musician. Through Olmedo, he learns important lessons about music and about life. The book "brings the beatnik era to life while expressing timeless, universal themes about the generation gap," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Paula Rohrlick, writing in Kliatt, called the novel an "appealing coming-of-age tale about finding yourself and finding your calling."



Booklist, November 1, 2002, John Peters, review of Into the Labyrinth, p. 499.

Guardian (London, England), April 26, 2003, Jan Mark, "The Never-Ending Story," review of The Great Good Thing.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2002, review of Into the Labyrinth, p. 1402; July 1, 2004, review of Sky: A Novel in Three Sets and an Encore, p. 638.

Kliatt, July, 2004, Paula Rohrlick, review of Sky, p. 13.

Library Journal, September 1, 1998, Kim Woodbridge, review of Night Errands: How Poets Use Dreams, p. 181.

Publishers Weekly, May 21, 2001, review of The Great Good Thing, p. 108; August 30, 2004, review of Sky, p. 56.

School Library Journal, July, 2001, Debbie Whitbeck, review of The Great Good Thing, p. 114; October, 2001, Louise T. Sherman, review of The Great Good Thing, p. 89; October, 2002, Beth L. Meister, review of Into the Labyrinth, p. 174; July, 2004, Susan Riley, review of Sky, p. 113.


Books for Sleepless Nights, (November 5, 2005), review of Night Errands., (November 5, 2005), Lisa Marx, review of The Great Good Thing.