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  • NYS Writers Institute

William Kennedy’s “Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game”– a Zoom discussion

“Without a sense of place, you don’t, as a writer, have very much. Place is all those forces of a given society impinging upon and determining character. Without it, a book becomes bloodless.”

-- William Kennedy

We hope you enjoy this Zoom discussion of William Kennedy‘s Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist’s 1978 novel about a pool hustler and poker player during the 1930s.

The event was produced by Stanford University's Another Look Book Club.

Tobias Wolff
Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff, a National Medal of Arts winner and a past guest of the NYS Writers Institute, will lead the discussion. He wrote: "Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game belongs to William Kennedy’s celebrated Albany sequence of novels. Set during the Depression, it concerns a young gambler and bookie, the Billy of the title, who suffers a setback that compels him to embark on an odyssey – and I use that word advisedly – through the demimonde of his city, during which he encounters temptations and dangers that test his resolve to the limit.

There are gangsters, there is a kidnapping, but at its core this novel is about character, and what this man will do and endure to preserve his honor."

Carol Edgarian, Robert Pogue Harrison
Carol Edgarian, Robert Pogue Harrison

Joining Wolff in the discussion was Carol Edgarian, novelist and founding editor of Narrative Magazine; and Another Look's Director Robert Pogue Harrison,

This event was originally scheduled for April, 2020, but postponed because of COVID.

Also, we encourage you to read Cynthia Haven‘s Q&A interview with William Kennedy, “At the Mercy of My Passions and Opinions”: A Conversation with William Kennedy, published in The Los Angeles Review of Books.

You may purchase Billy Phelan's Greatest Game at the local, independent Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza.

About "Another Look"

Another Look is a seasonal book club that draws together Stanford’s top writers and scholars with distinguished figures from the Bay Area and beyond. The books selected have been Stanford’s picks for short masterpieces you may not have read before. Join the Another Look Book Club mailing list.


The William Kennedy event is sponsored by Stanford Continuing Studies and the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute, with promotional support from the NYS Writers Institute at the University at Albany.


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