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Stunning acclaim for former UC novelist

by John Bach

The literary work of a former University of Cincinnati professor is receiving a surprisingly successful second life several years after his death and nearly two decades after its original printing.

Austin Wright taught at UC's McMicken College of Arts and Sciences for 23 years before retiring in 1993, the same year his novel, "Tony & Susan" was originally published.

Wright, who died in 2003 at age 80, received mild acclaim following his book's original release, but the author's work has received international attention since being re-released in England last year. The book will be reissued by Grand Central Publishing (in hardcover only) in the U.S. Aug. 11.

Among the recent praise

Compelling … mesmerizing … irresistible.

— New York Times

A superb and thrilling novel … extraordinary.

— Ian McEwan

My favorite novel of 2010 would have been my favorite novel of 1993 — if only I had known about it … Wright died at the age of 80; in 2010 "Tony and Susan" returns to print as his stunning literary legacy.

— Min Jin Lee, Times (London)

Beloved at UC

Wright was the recipient of the Mrs. AB "Dolly" Cohen Award for excellence in teaching in 1967 and the George Rieveschl Jr. Award for excellence in scholarly or creative work in 1974.

"Austin Wright was a very distinguished scholar and teacher, a Neo-Aristotelian from the University of Chicago, respected not just by his colleagues and students here but by English professors around the country and considered an important figure in the world of literary criticism," recalls Russel Durst, a former colleague and current head of UC's English & Comparative Literature Department.

"I couldn't have been happier for him when he began having not just critical but also commercial success with his novels late in his career. 'Tony and Susan' was a Book of the Month Club selection and widely acclaimed. Part of the novel concerns a grisly murder which takes place during a car trip. I started reading the novel the night before embarking on a road trip myself, and I was genuinely shaken by the violent encounter the book depicted. It was a very rare reaction on my part but a tribute to the power of Austin's writing."

Over the years Wright published seven novels and several scholarly works. His final book was "Disciples," an explanation of religious fanaticism in 1997.

In "Tony and Susan," Wright's protagonist sends a copy of his novel to his ex-wife. As she reads, she is drawn into the fictional life of Tony Hastings, a math professor driving his family to their summer house in Maine. As the Hastings' ordinary civilized lives are violently sent off course, Susan is plunged back into the past, forced to confront the darkness that inhabits her, and driven to name the fear that gnaws at her future and will change her life.