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New Memoir by Mark Richard '80

“Say you have a ‘special child,’ which in the South means one between Down’s and dyslexic.”

So begins “House of Prayer No. 2,” the new memoir by Washington and Lee alumnus Mark Richard, of the Class of 1980, that was released today amid a flurry of positive reviews everywhere from Sunday’s New York Times Book Review to Entertainment Weekly.

In her New York Times review, Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum writes: “Richard was a ‘special’ child in several senses, and he beautifully demonstrates how this word, especially as it was used in the South, is roomy enough to accommodate contradictory meanings. The child is special because he bites strangers at parties but also because he sees an angel pass through the living room on Easter morning. One teacher predicts future greatness, while others suspect he ‘might be retarded.’ He can read aloud from a college chemistry textbook by the age of 6, but is considered ‘slow’ because he can’t correctly color the state bird. He is also special because of the congenital hip problems that land him for long spells in the Crippled Children’s Hospital, where he endures torturous operations and slow, immobile recoveries inside a body cast.”

A journalism and mass communication major at W&L, Mark was an assistant at Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review. After W&L, he became an award-winning writer of short stories and novels, publishing two collections, “The Ice at the Bottom of the World” and “Charity”; and a bestselling novel, “Fishboy.” His short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire, GQ, The Paris Review, The Oxford American, Grand Street, Shenandoah, The Quarterly, Equator and Antaeus. He has received the PEN/Ernest Hemingway Award, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a Whiting Foundation Writer’s Award, a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, the Mary Francis Hobson Medal for Arts and Letters and a National Magazine Award for Fiction.

Then there is his work in television and film, including being co-writer and actor in 2008’s Stop-Loss, a film that imdb.com describes as about “a veteran soldier who returns from his completed tour of duty in Iraq, only to find his life turned upside down when he is arbitrarily ordered to return to field duty by the Army.”

In advance of the publication of “House of Prayer No. 2,” Mark appeared on National Public Radio’s “The Diane Rehm Show,” where he referred briefly to his W&L career: “Probably not the best fit for me,” he said. “I didn’t go to prep school. I went to public high school, but I had great teachers there. I had a couple of really good teachers again. I had Jim Boatwright, who’s editor of Shenandoah magazine, who encouraged my writing, and a couple of maverick teachers, Bob De Maria in the journalism department. All you need is one or two teachers.” You can listen to the entire interview and read the transcript here.

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