Author R.A. Salvatore speaking in Thompson Hall classroom

Learning from a Master

March 29, 2024
Students and faculty welcomed the insights from visiting writer R.A. Salvatore '81, '91
Author R.A. Salvatore speaking in Thompson Hall classroom
R.A. Salvatore visits with students in game studio
R.A. Salvatore spoke to students in Associate Professor Les Nelken's class at the game studio.

R.A. Salvatore found appreciative audiences among the many classrooms he visited during his time as writer-in-residence this Spring, with Michael Rene a most attentive student.

“I was a nerd before it was cool,” said Rene, 42, a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant. “Back in what the cool kids are calling the late 1900s, when I was getting my first exposure to fantasy literature, (Salvatore) was one of the first authors I discovered. It was really cool to meet the man who was one of those influences in what has become a hobby.”

Rene was grateful to Salvatore for autographing one of his books. “I felt like a Swiftie backstage at Foxboro.”

Beyond his “fanboyism,” Rene said he appreciated Salvatore sharing his perspective on the writer’s process. “He was very open and candid about how he got into writing in the first place, and how it’s changed from when he started and how he’s had to adapt to changes in the industry,” Rene said. “That was really insightful.”

"It's very rare to have the chance to hear directly from an author who is part of a course topic, and even rarer when that author is a true titan in the field,” said Professor Ben Railton of the English Studies Department. “So having R.A. Salvatore add his voice, perspective, and experiences into the conversations for our intro to sci fi and fantasy class was a highlight of the semester for all of us. We laughed a lot and learned even more."

Salvatore also spoke to Professor Kisha Tracy’s class on literary myths and traditions. “It is interesting for students to hear from an author like Mr. Salvatore about his writing process, especially how previous literature and history has influenced his books and the stories he wants to tell,” she said. 

In her course, students work with writings from all over the world from the beginning of recorded history up through the age of exploration. “One of our major themes is how this early literature is connected to or reflected in more modern media - books, of course, but also films and video games, about which Mr. Salvatore can share invaluable insights.”

Mackenzie Dodge, a sophomore mathematics major, found Salvatore's presentation compelling. "It's one thing to know a celebrity is from Massachusetts or the New England area, but it's another to know that Mr. Salvatore, being a best-selling author, grew up in this area and goes to the same college as us," Dodge said. "I love reading in general so I was excited to hear about his story and creative process as an author."

Professor Kyle Moody and RA Salvatore converse in class
Author R.A. Salvatore, right, converses with Associate Professor Kyle Moody during his campus visit this spring.

Associate Professor Kyle Moody welcomed Salvatore’s perspectives for his course on message design.

“Speaking with R.A. Salvatore was a dream come true, and to do this in a classroom filled with curious students was a memory I'll keep forever,” Moody said. “We exist in a time of intellectual property, transmedia, and franchises galore, and Salvatore has written for many of them. His overview of world building was a hopeful insight into the creative process at a time when so much proselytizing regarding the future of the creative industries is occurring. To have somebody with his experience discuss the necessity of history and culture when writing was a reminder that nobody creates in a vacuum, and that we must all continue to learn and grow even when we leave the academy and professionalize ourselves. Salvatore's down-to-earth realism about the opportunities placed in front of him further reinforces the notion that learning should teach us to recognize those chances ourselves, and to take them whenever we can.”

Associate Professor DeMisty Bellinger-Delfeld welcomed Salvatore to her class on research in creative writing. “I liked that he was able to speak to the importance of research for your writing, and brought up things beyond going to the library or using the Internet,” Bellinger-Delfeld said. She said she also appreciated his carefully considered responses to questions about approaching race and gender in his work. “We were all inspired by his responses and his ability to think through those topics.” 

Professor Frank Mabee facilitated a conversation between Salvatore and students in a game design seminar, where they explored the impact of artificial intelligence on creative industries. “Bob asserted that while he believed AI would contribute to advances in the health sciences, its application in creative fields, such as writing and illustration, was leading to more harm than good,” Mabee said. “Writing creatively means breaking grammatical rules and being irregular and variable when it suits the content.” 

Students in the university’s game design program also got to pitch prospective games based on Salvatore’s imagined universe. Associate Professor Les Nelken, who briefly worked for the game studio Salvatore co-founded, said the students did a fine job. 

“When the creator of an IP says you ‘got the world right,’ as Bob said at one point, that’s really great,” Nelken said. “Bob gave the students some really great advice, notably about learning history. Extremely important whether you want to write, or create games.”

Alexander Mullin, a senior game design student, said he appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with his peers in a thought experiment building from Salvatore’s imagined worlds. “It helped bring us into the process of writing and created common ground between the students and Salvatore to talk about,” he said. “The group exercise we conducted helped solidify a few points about practical creativity and world building.”

Sam Hilty, also a senior in game design, said he appreciated hearing Salvatore’s points about dealing with roadblocks in his writing. “Learning how his thought process worked was really the most interesting part for me, as I also want to create characters and stories for a career.”