By Gail McCarthy
---- — Gloucester’s George Rosen has lived a life as varied as the short stories he has written.
The Chicago-born writer was educated at Harvard, became a Peace Corps volunteer, worked as a political speechwriter, a high-school debate coach, a low-income-housing consultant and — for about six weeks — a semiprofessional actor.
He even attended Harvard Law School for a month and a half before changing paths because his passion was writing and traveling.
That wasn’t the first time he made a major about-face.
As a college student, he landed a coveted janitor’s union job at Marina City Towers in Chicago, but walking back home from the interview, “after contemplating a summer facing a 65-story building with a bucket and mop,” he walked into the office of a Democratic senatorial reelection campaign to volunteer, and ended up as a paid press aide.
Rosen’s recently published book “The Immanence of God in the Tropics” featuring seven stories — one recently was purchased by the Storyville app — is a mosaic of topics.
The book title comes from the last story in the collection, and will be presented at the reading next Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Harbor Room in East Gloucester. The event, sponsored by the Gloucester Writers Center and The Bookstore of Gloucester, is free and open to the public.
The book received a Publishers Weekly “Pick of the Week” this fall and — due to the several stories set in Africa or Mexico — was also named by that magazine as one of the “Top Ten Travel Books for Fall 2012.”
His early travels left an indelible mark on Rosen, who has lived on Cape Ann for more than 30 years. He worked in Kenya with the Peace Corps from 1968-1970, and this experience would serve as the setting for his 1990 novel “Black Money” (Scarborough House), which received positive reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus.
In 1972, he traveled for seven months throughout central Asia, including Afghanistan, Iran and India, visiting places now dominated by war and conflict.
“I was doing a lot of wandering around,” said Rosen, acknowledging that these experiences became sparks of inspiration for his later writings. His short stories have appeared in Harper’s, the Yale Review, the Harvard Review, and a Harcourt Brace anthology of crime fiction. He has reported on West Africa for the Atlantic and on Mexico for the Boston Globe, and writes frequently for the Globe’s op-ed page.
Rosen said he thinks of the stories in his new book as travelers tales.
“They are all places I have been to,” he said. “Four are set in East Africa, one in historical East Africa, which is a little more imaginary than the other three, which are rooted in Kenya.
“One is in modern Mexico,” he continued, “the most recently written story, one in a coastal New England community very much like Cape Ann; and one story is set in a sauna in a coastal community much like Cape Ann, but involves someone telling a long story about what happened to him in Mexico 40 years ago.”
Rosen, who majored in American history and literature with the Harvard Class of 1968, raised two boys here with his wife Barbara Gale. But his time in Africa, he says, changed his visions of life forever.
“It has shaped my perspective on the world,” he said. “The vantage point of my life is from the Peace Corps years and that group of friends I most closely identify with.”
The publisher describes the book as “tales of soccer, death, hot water, lost love, and the presence of God in Africa, Mexico, and the coast of New England.”
Rosen taught writing at Tufts University, and has also been a radio commentator for the Boston NPR station, WBUR. His awards include the Frank O’Connor Memorial Award, two fellowships from the Artists Foundation, and most recently, a Fellowship in Fiction from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
Fellow Gloucester author Peter Anastas praised the book in a recent review.
“Rosen is a brilliant practitioner of the form, a writer whose technique and inspiration are never on show, though powerfully implicit in every crackling sentence he writes, every nuance of character and shade of meaning,” Anastas wrote. “Though we can imagine the writers he’s read in a lifetime of practicing the craft of fiction, the voice in these stories is unmistakably his own. This is a collection that demands to be read and re-read.”
The book has garnered praise from a variety of writers and critics, including author Edith Pearlman, who was a National Book Award Finalist and winner of the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award.
“The stories in George Rosen’s collection take place in unlikely sites under unsure conditions; they treat with respect odd people — a man somewhere between a bum and a crazy, another who’s afraid of words, a reticent couple who practice reckless abandon,” Pearlman wrote.
“The unadorned sentences often reach a conclusion whose truth makes you catch your breath,” she said. “This unpretentious book is the work of a master.”
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go ... What: Gloucester writer George Rosen holds a reading from his book "The Immanence of God in the Tropics" -- a collection of short stories, published by Leapfrog Press When: Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 7:30 p.m. Where: The Harbor Room at 8 Norwood Court in Gloucester. This event is organized by the Gloucester Writers Center and The Bookstore of Gloucester. Refreshments will be served. For information and directions, visit gloucesterwriters.org.