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Author Stephen Schottenfeld to read from most recent work at Roz Steiner Gallery in May

By Billie Owens

Press release:

Noted author Stephen Schottenfeld will present a reading on Wednesday, May 3, at 12:30 p.m. in the Roz Steiner Art Gallery at the Batavia Campus of Genesee Community College.

"Bluff City Pawn" is Schottenfeld's most recent work, published in 2014 by Bloomsbury USA. The story follows a Memphis, Tenn., pawnshop owner as he enlists his brother's help in a scheme to acquire a valuable gun collection. Through the lives of three brothers, the book explores themes of class, family, race, ownership and loyalty during tough economic times where desperation and the drive to get ahead dominate.

He also completed a story collection, "Miss Ellen Jameson Is Not Deceased," and he is currently at work on his next novel. His stories have been published in various publications, including The Gettysburg Review, Virginia Quarterly Review and New England Review.

His work has garnered a grant from the Michener/Copernicus Society of America, a Halls Fiction Fellowship from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a Shane Stevens Fellowship in the Novel from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and special mentions in both the Pushcart Prize and Best American Short Stories anthologies.

Schottenfeld holds a master's degree from Johns Hopkins University and earned an M.F.A. at the University of Iowa, where he is also a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He currently is the James P. Wilmot assistant professor of English at the University of Rochester.

JoNelle Toriseva, Creative Writing Club co-advisor and director of English, Communications & Media Arts, invited Schottenfeld to campus to share his work and creative process with students and the local community.

Best-selling authors on awesomeness make a stop in Batavia this week

By Steve Ognibene

The Oola Dream Tour—which could include anything from scheduled events featuring motivational speeches and inspirational stories to random stops in random cities -- will roll into Batavia this Thursday from 7-9 p.m. in a 1970 VW surf bus. This is an "I Spy" event where they will be around town at various random stops.

Whether it’s a full-blown event or a random stop, that bus will also be carrying — and collecting — the dreams and aspirations of thousands of Americans, in the form of thousands of stickers attached to the outside of the VW.

During the Oola Dream Tour, all who see the bus are encouraged to write down, on a sticker, a goal or dream they hope to accomplish in life. Not the one thing they want to do, or the one thing they know they will do, but the one thing they know they need to do. That thing that is holding them back.

It's a powerful and inspiring message. And those stickers make their way onto the bus, which will head to its next stop to collect even more dreams and aspirations.

"Everyone deserves a life that is balanced and growing," according to Oola authors Dave Braun and Troy Amdahl. "Our mission is to change the world with one word, 'Oola.' "

What is Oola? Oola, according to Braun and Amdahl, is that perfect state of awesomeness. When you're in the zone. When your life is balanced and growing in seven key areas.

Why attend? Why track down the bus? The Oola Dream Tour is one of the most interactive and inspiring experiences you’ll ever be part of. And you will get to be a part of it. You may not even know how powerful this will be until you get here.

Is this just someone telling me what I should or shouldn’t do? No. Not even close. Braun and Amdahl aren't preachy. They’re not telling their stories for selfish reasons. They truly want you to live the OolaLife. "Oola" the book, in fact, reads more like the script of a classic "buddy road trip" movie than a self-help book.

And now these two buddies have taken that “buddy road trip” movie on the road, in a VW bus, collecting dreams, and they want your dream on the bus. If they are going to follow through on their mission to “change the world with a word,” they know that a better world starts with a better you. As we become better as individuals, our families become better, our community becomes better, and the world becomes better.

For more information and content for publication purposes, refer to the links below.

Upcoming Tour Stops:

The OolaGuys:

This is Our Story:

Author visits Batavia church to discuss book on interfaith dialogue

By Daniel Crofts

It is a bestselling book. It is a “template for religious dialogue,” according to one of the authors. It is required reading in high school and college religion classes. It is a scandal to some, and an inspiration to others.  Last but not least, it was adapted and performed as a play by folks in a Florida retirement community.

The phenomenon in question is the book titled “The Faith Club: A Muslim, a Christian, a Jew – Three Women Search for Understanding,” by Suzanne Oliver, Ranya Idliby and Priscilla Warner.

Oliver came to St. James Episcopal Church in Batavia Saturday to discuss the book, answer questions, and sign copies of the book at a reception afterward. An Episcopalian Christian herself, Oliver attends a church of the same name in New York City.

“Except we have an apostrophe after the ‘s,’ ” she said, eliciting laughter from her audience.

Her visit was part of St. James’ bicentennial celebration, which will include other events as well.

“When I imagine Batavia 200 years ago,” Oliver said, “I imagine a variety of Christianities, as well as native religions that must have been present. Diversity of religion is not really new. But we have to learn to approach it in new ways that affirm the humanity and divinity in all of us.”

This is what Oliver, Idliby (a Muslim) and Warner (a Jew) tried to do with their book, which was first published in 2006. 

Oliver sees this as part of a nationwide movement to foster interreligious dialogue and understanding in the face of much fear and violence associated with religion. One reason she feels this is especially important and timely is the increasing number of non-Christian immigrants to the United States.

“From 1992 to 2012, the proportion of Christians in the United States fell from 68 percent to 61 percent,” Oliver said. “At the same time, the proportions of Muslim and Hindu immigrants have doubled. It is important that we integrate these growing religions into our American communities.”

According to Oliver, the genesis of the project came in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

“I met Ranya (Idliby) at our daughters’ school bus stop the week of those attacks,” she said.  “Our girls had started kindergarten together, and 9/11 was supposed to be their school picnic day.”

At the time, Oliver was part of a book club that decided to read about Islam and the Middle East in order to explore who these Muslim terrorists were, and why they hated Americans. She invited Idliby to their talk on Thomas Friedman’s book “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” and found that she “defied my stereotypes about Muslim women.”

Prior to meeting Idliby, Oliver believed Islam was a violent religion that mistreated women. But she was surprised by Idliby’s personal independence and her ability to read the Koran (Islam’s principle religious text) and see connections with Judaism and Christianity.

It was Idliby who conceived the idea of teaming up with a Christian mother and a Jewish mother to write a children’s book consisting of a miracle story from each of the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Through a Jewish friend, Oliver met and recruited Warner, whom she described as “open-minded and curious enough” to join the project.

But when they pitched the idea to an agent, the agent wasn’t interested. Instead, she was interested in the relationship these three women had forged among themselves in trying to write what had seemed like a simple children’s book. How they handled their disagreements (some of them major), found common ground, and continued to work together despite tensions and differences were to become the “stuff” of their joint project.

“This was a bigger commitment than any of us had anticipated,” Oliver said. “We would have to be vulnerable, honest, and forgiving with each other. We would have to figure out how three people could structure one story out of a shared, yet individual experience. And we would have to be willing, ultimately, to share this story with the world.”

And this is what they have done. With more than 200,000 copies sold, “The Faith Club” has reached many people throughout the country and garnered much praise.

At the same time, Oliver acknowledged, there are people of all three faiths who have criticized the book for presenting a watered-down version of each faith. One fairly well-known religious leader even compared it to “the coming of the Antichrist.”

But Oliver, for her part, is not only determined to continue the pursuit begun with “The Faith Club,” but also insists on the need to let go of “religious absolutes” and on the “obligation of contemporary religious leaders to prepare their congregants for the inevitability of interfaith encounter by teaching pluralist theologies of religion.”

In fact, that was the topic of her thesis at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where she earned a master of arts in Interfaith Theology and Ecumenical Studies in 2012.

“I began to recognize (in my faith journey) that no religion had all the answers,” Oliver said. “As Ranya had said in our conversations, ‘Religion is only as enlightened as the human hands it finds itself in.' ”

For more information on "The Faith Club," visit the book's Amazon page.

Author Gina Peca

By Leslie DeLooze

Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., Batavia presents Author Gina Peca on Tuesday, November 12 at 7:00 p.m.  A Batavia native, Gina will talk about her book “I Wouldn’t Change a Thing,’ about the lessons she learned from her young daughter who embraced life in the face of terminal cancer. The book received a blurb from Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who had developed a friendship with Catie during her illness.   More information is available at or by calling 585-343-9550 ext. 8.

Event Date and Time

"Authors in Autumn" Information Meeting on Fall Tour

By Leslie DeLooze

Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., Batavia will host an information meeting on the “Authors in Autumn” Fall Tour on Tuesday, April 23 at 7:00 pm.  Phyllis Breen from First Choice Educational Tours will talk about the library's third annual fall trip, scheduled this year from October 18-20, to the Hudson Valley. Hear about accommodations, travel plans, special dinners, and the numerous historic sites that will be featured. This will include a short slide show of last year's trip.

Event Date and Time

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