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Bill Roorbach ~ Professor and Storyteller Extraordinaire

By Cristal Perriello

“When I was five I asked for a desk for Christmas,” says Bill Roorbach, a critically acclaimed author and the William H.P. Jenks Chair in Contemporary American Letters at the College of the Holy Cross.

Writing has always been a huge part of his life and at Holy Cross he teaches his way of life to his students through creative writing classes, fiction and nonfiction, beginning and advanced, and special topics creative writing courses like nature writing and screenwriting.

“Bill Roorbach is a great story teller, which is really important for a fiction professor. He absolutely enraptures his classes, keeps us at times howling with laughter and the next moment quite somber in reflection,” says Alicia Lincoln, a former student. “Best of all, he provides an atmosphere that makes our writing matter, and he encourages us to continue beyond the classroom, beyond graduation even, taking writing into anything and everything we do.”

Roorbach, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Ithaca College in New York and his M.F.A. in fiction writing from Columbia University, is the author of numerous books including Into Woods (2002), A Place on Water, (with Robert Kimber and Wesley McNair) (2004) and Temple (2005).

Married to painter Juliet Karelsen, Roorbach wrote a book titled Summer With Juliet (2000), about how the couple met. They have an eight-year-old daughter Elysia.

Roorbach’s nonfiction is nature-oriented and his fiction settles around love and relationships. He also writes a blog for (The Web Site of Maine) about life in rural Maine.

Yes ~ you read correctly ~ Roorbach commutes 3 ½ hours to work from Maine. “I will come down on Mondays, normally, and go home Wednesdays, staying with friends in Worcester when I am here.”

Part of his job is to bring authors to campus ~ to his credit he has brought Philip Lopate, Alicia Erian, David Gessner, Michael Pollan, and many others.

When he is not writing or teaching, he loves to backcountry ski, garden, and anything having to do with being in the woods.

He recently left the wilderness and took the heat in the kitchen as a judge for the “All Star Cake Challenge” on the Food Network. He judged the episode titled Life Stories. “The cake decorators made autobiographies in cake!” exclaims Roorbach. “The cakes were truly amazing ~ these people are geniuses.”

He was asked to judge the sweet competition because of his book Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories into Memoirs, Ideas into Essays, and Life into Literature, which he wrote in 1998.

At the end of the semester, Roorbach will be leaving Holy Cross to write full-time, travel, do readings, and give talks. He also plans on taking a trip to Germany to look at spring birds for an ongoing book project called A Season of Birds, with trips all over the world. “I’m just finishing a long novel, which I’ve worked on most of the time I’ve been at Holy Cross.”

What will he miss most about Holy Cross and Worcester? “The students, definitely ~ and I love the gritty post-industrial feel Worcester, and I have really enjoyed the restaurants, also, conversely, the nature.”

To learn more about Bill Roorbach, visit

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