September 27, 2013
Mark Salzman is an award-winning novelist and nonfiction author who has written on a variety of subjects, from a graceful novel about a Carmelite nun’s ecstatic visions and crisis of faith to a compelling memoir about growing up a misfit in a Connecticut suburb – clearly displaying a range that transcends genre. As a boy, all Salzman ever wanted was to be a Kung Fu master, but it was his proficiency on the cello that facilitated his acceptance to Yale at the age of 16. He soon changed his major to Chinese language and philosophy, which took him to mainland China where he taught English for two years and studied martial arts. He never gave up music, though, and Salzman’s cello playing appears on the soundtrack to several films, including the Academy Award-winning documentary Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien. He has also played with Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax at Lincoln Center. Salzman’s unusual combination of talents – as both a well-known author and a concert-proficient cellist – led to a feature profile about him in The New Yorker magazine. He was also recently presented with the Algonquin West Hollywood Literary Award.
A number of Mark Salzman’s books have been chosen for “book in common” reading programs by more than a few schools and universities for their elegance, humor, and portrayal of our shared humanity. His first memoir, Iron and Silk, inspired by his years in China, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction and received the Christopher Award. His book True Notebooks is a fascinating look at his experiences as a writing teacher at Los Angeles Central Juvenile Hall, a lockup for violent teenage offenders. Salzman is also the author of the memoir Lost in Place: Growing Up Absurd in Suburbia, and the novels The Laughing Sutra, The Soloist, and Lying Awake. Common to each of his works is a theme of how people struggle to reach an ideal but often fall short, and the quiet change that takes place in facing the discouragement and the possibility of never achieving their goal. Salzman writes with gut-wrenching honesty and unalloyed warmth, combined with a sharp sense of humor. His newest work is the non-fiction title The Man in the Empty Boat.