Baruch’s Dave King Wins the
Rome Prize in Literature
Photo: Jerry Bauer
Best-selling author and Baruch English Department adjunct Dave King has won the 2006-2007 Rome Prize in Literature. Presented by the American Academy in Rome on May 17, the Rome Prize – a fellowship to live in Rome for one year – is awarded annually to 30 emerging artists and scholars in 10 different fields within the Arts and Humanities, including Architecture, Design, Musical Composition, Modern Italian Studies, and Visual Arts.
King, who lives in Brooklyn and Columbia County, New York, will have a new address at the American Academy in Rome starting September 4. The Academy consists of ten buildings and eleven acres of gardens on top of the Janiculum, Rome’s highest hill. “It’s a dream come true,” says King, who will be provided with a studio apartment, an office, and a modest stipend to work on his next novel.
If winning the Rome Prize is a dream come true, it’s a dream within a dream. King’s debut novel, The Ha-Ha, was named one of the best books of 2005 by the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and Warner Brothers bought the movie rights. Does King picture any actors in the lead role? “I imagine some macho older guy like Ed Harris or Robert Duvall,” he says, though he concedes such decisions are out of his hands.
The protagonist of The Ha-Ha, whose life is transformed by an ex-girlfriend’s nine-year-old son, has not spoken in 30 years since suffering a war injury in Vietnam. In the screenplay, the Vietnam War will be changed to the first Gulf War, so younger audiences will relate to it more. “When work is translated into another medium, it changes,” says King. “The filmmakers can change plot points, but keep the essential truth. Their obligation is to do a good job, to capture viewers in the same way I capture readers.”
King is no stranger to change. He was a painter and a poet before publishing his novel. In fact, The Ha-Ha was originally to be a novel in verse, a project King abandoned after writing 70 pages of iambic pentameter. “Enforcing genres is important for the curator or the archivist, but I find creativity to be more fluid than that,” he observes.
King smuggles his students across generic borders at Baruch by giving them translation exercises: “I have them rewrite their term papers as 16-line poems,” he says. “It’s a way to articulate what they find essential at the paper’s core.” King adds: “I distrust the knee-jerk schism between business and creativity. Baruch students are often more creative than other students I’ve taught. Everyone’s life is enhanced by exploring the imagination, and it may be even more necessary at a business school than at a humanities school.”
Baruch students seem to agree, as many continue to correspond with him after their courses together end, and King generously comments on their work. “I tell them I’m like a muffler shop with a lifetime service guarantee,” he remarks.
Kings’s new book, he says, will update a theme previously explored by Henry James: “It’s about a naïve American couple who go abroad and lose their innocence.” Preferring to develop characters and see where they lead him, King does not plan his plots ahead of time, though he can provide some details to look forward to: “It’s faster-paced than The Ha-Ha,” says King, “with more jokes and more sex.”
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Visit Dave King's Web site for more information.