Alumnus novelist visits for talk with Milstein students

On Oct. 17, the Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity welcomed screenwriter and novelist Howard Rodman ‘71 to Ithaca for a reading of his new book, “The Great Eastern.”

After graduating from Cornell, where he was editor-in-chief of the Cornell Daily Sun, Rodman held various jobs, including as a guitarist in several Manhattan bands. He eventually found success in screenwriting, working among stars like David Bowie and Julianne Moore and his screenplay for “Savage Grace” was nominated for a Spirit Award in 2008 after it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival.

Rodman is also a novelist. In 1990, he published “Destiny Express,” a fictional account of the life of a director in the German pre-WW1 filmmaking community. His new novel, “The Great Eastern,” is built around the premise that Captain Ahab from “Moby Dick” and Captain Nemo from “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” exist in the same universe.

Rodman’s dramatic reading felt a bit like listening to a sermon at a megachurch. His prose was epic and rousing, and his cadence was that of an accomplished storyteller as he narrated Ahab thrusting a piece of cable into a roaring fire. “I was impressed by how he captured the voices of the original characters he was using,” said Aidan Cuite ‘22.

In a discussion following the reading, Rodman flowed seamlessly from lighthearted banter to practical writing tips to existential questions of finding one’s own purpose. 

Students listened as he chronicled his journey from a kid who just wanted to get lost in a story to an accomplished writer who makes their own stories. 

Rodman described writing as “"discovering your own autobiography through your fictional characters" and summed up his talk about the process of writing by saying: “Good writing is made by climbing mountains of crumpled paper.”

Jasper Weed is a student in the Milstein Program.

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 Howard Rodman at his talk