Alum Touted as Renaissance Man
Posted on Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Lynn Hoffman '65 is featured in The Chestnut Hill Local, a Philadelphia-area weekly newspaper. Hoffman is described as a "Renaissance man," in the article, which notes his careers in a variety of fields and details his most recent work, the book "bang-BANG" (Kunati Books, 2007).
"He has been a best-selling novelist, professional photographer, executive chef/owner of an Italian restaurant, a college professor, Ph.D. in anthropology, author of books on beer and wine, founder of the Drexel University culinary arts program (in 1994) and 'sailing bum,' but despite all those areas of interest and expertise, the subject that ignites the most passion in him is gun violence in America," says the article.
The novel is described as anti-gun violence and has "earned numerous rave reviews." Among other reviews excerpted is one from reviewer David Pitt (Booklist), "The characters are tough and believable, and the dialogue positively sings. In many ways it's the literary equivalent of a Tarantino movie; edgy, streetwise and a little arrogant (don't expect a balanced book on the subject of gun control), with a strong and determined female protagonist. ‘Brilliant' might be too big a word for this novel but not by much."
While at Hobart College, Hoffman was active with WEOS, the campus radio station. He earned his B.A. in anthropology and a doctorate degree at Syracuse University.
The complete text of the article about Hoffman follows.
The Chestnut Hill Local
"A passionate Renaissance man"
by Len Lear and Odessa Bond
"One function of a writer should be to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."--Mark Twain
Mt. Airy resident Lynn Hoffman, 63, could easily be classified as a Renaissance man. He has been a best-selling novelist, professional photographer, executive chef/owner of an Italian restaurant, a college professor, Ph.D. in anthropology, author of books on beer and wine, founder of the Drexel University culinary arts program (in 1994) and "sailing bum," but despite all those areas of interest and expertise, the subject that ignites the most passion in him is gun violence in America.
Hoffman's latest novel, bang-BANG (Kunati Books, 2007), is a virtual jeremiad against gun violence. It tells the story of Paula Sherman, a waitress whose best friend is shot to death before her eyes during a mugging. Sherman's expressions of grief are distorted by a pro-gun senator for political purposes, making Sherman so infuriated that she wages a campaign against the culture that glorifies guns and puts the rights of gun owners ahead of those of their victims. Paula takes her crusade to the streets, inspiring a groundswell of anti-gun vigilantism across America, and Hoffman performs a biopsy on her soul.
The book has earned numerous rave reviews. For example, reviewer David Pitt wrote in Booklist, "The characters are tough and believable, and the dialogue positively sings. In many ways it's the literary equivalent of a Tarantino movie; edgy, streetwise and a little arrogant (don't expect a balanced book on the subject of gun control), with a strong and determined female protagonist. ‘Brilliant' might be too big a word for this novel but not by much."
J.R. Lankford, author of The Jesus Thief, wrote that "bang-BANG is a stunning accomplishment, a laugh-out-loud, cry-out-loud, terrifying, original and wonderful novel that I simply devoured."
Hoffman's writing has "cruel radiance" (to quote famed writer James Agee). His narrative takes off like grease on a skillet, and he has a Tom Wolfe-like dazzle for description, as in the following: "Her (Paula Sherman's) styling, her shaping of the words has a slightly pained edge to it, not the utter tragedy of a doomed operatic character, not the mocking self-knowledge of a blues singer, but the dangerously sharp, jaggedy edge of a well-nourished disappointment ... The muscles around her mouth seem to have lost something, some range of motion, the strength to reach out to hilarity or down to tears. There are the first puffy traces of emotional flabbiness, the beginnings of a permanent cringe."
Regarding Hoffman's unlikely fictional hero, he explained, "Paula Sherman is my antidote to all of the gun worship in this country, which I hate from the bottom of my heart. Safety of children means nothing, which is despicable. We should all be outraged that you can buy a gun in a schoolyard in so many parts of the city.
"Guns are controlled by this huge industry that is powerful, vicious and unscrupulous, and no one will take them on. If you want to own 47 guns, no problem. This sickness is fomented by the National Rifle Association and the gun industry. They own the politicians and the culture in this country, so I have an anti-gun hero in Paula Sherman. I just wish people who collect guns would give up that hobby and start collecting copies of my books instead."
Hoffman, who has a daughter from a previous marriage, lives in Mt. Airy with a long-time female companion and a six-month-old Labradoodle, Lola, whom he walks every day in Pastorius Park and/or Carpenter Woods. "I just love this area," he said. "The park areas and the architecture are so beautiful."
A native of Brooklyn, Hoffman graduated from Hobart College in the late ‘60s and went on to earn his doctorate degree at Syracuse University, working his way through school as a cook at Stampalia's Restaurant in Syracuse. ("I get a warm glow when I think of Jack Stampalia, the chef. He was such a wonderful person.")
Lynn taught anthropology for four years at Oswego State University in New York but then took off for the Caribbean island of St. Croix, where he worked in a restaurant. He eventually opened his own 50-seat Italian ‘red gravy' restaurant there, La Piazza, which he owned and operated for 17 months.
"I found that I liked restaurants better than graduate school because there was a better class of people in the restaurants," said Lynn, "but I was way overtrained for St. Croix. It was like a small town, and I got bored after a while. I loved sailing, but there is a limit to how much energy you can pull from that, and there was a definite need for good conversation. St. Croix was even smaller than it appeared."
As a result, Hoffman moved to Philly in 1976 (because he could not afford to live in his native New York), bought a house in Fairmount for $10,500 and changed professions again. Photography had formerly been just a hobby, but Lynn started a commercial photography business that lasted seven years. He did his own darkroom work and shot weddings, portraits, illustrations, double exposures (on purpose), trick photography, etc.
"I had so much fun doing it but was always struggling financially," said Hoffman. "I can understand why trust fund people become artists. It's a great way of life as long as you don't have to worry about money."
Switching gears again, Lynn, aided by his restaurant background, began writing restaurant reviews for The Welcomat, a center city weekly newspaper that was transformed into Philadelphia Weekly in 1993. After writing more and more articles for the Welcomat in addition to his restaurant reviews, Lynn was motivated to try his hand at a novel.
It took him just six months to complete a book called The Bachelor's Cat. Although it's extremely difficult for a first-time author to even get an agent to read his/her book, Hoffman was able to secure an agent who was so impressed with The Bachelor's Cat that she put it up for auction. Out of 10 book publishers, seven made a bid on it, and Hoffman selected the highest bid, $180,000, which was made by HarperCollins. In addition, the movie rights were sold, although no movie has been made of it yet. The book was published in 1997 and eventually sold more than 50,000 copies. It was also translated into French, Italian, German and Thai. "That book paid for my daughter's first three years of college," said Lynn.
Hoffman's New Short Course on Wine (Prentice-Hall, 2006) was conceived when he started teaching about wine at Drexel and could not find a suitable textbook. Thus, he started writing handouts for students and eventually developed it into a book. Hoffman ignored advice from those in the hospitality and wine business that he should start the book with how wine is made. He started instead with the experience of tasting wine, what to look for in wine, etc.
But somehow, we get the impression that this wine buff and brilliant writer would give up all of his stash of Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon in return for some rational, progressive and enforceable gun control legislation.
For more information about bang-BANG or any of Hoffman's other books, email firstname.lastname@example.org.