Author Spotlight: William D. Rezak
William D. Rezak was president of Alfred State College from 1993 until his retirement in 2003. He was also formerly the dean of the School of Technology at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Georgia. Before his tenure in higher education, Rezak was a mechanical engineer and spent eighteen years in the design and construction of power plants. He has now channeled his attention to writing and his new title, The Arab and the Brit: The Last of the Welcome Immigrants, comes out this December.
Tell us about your upcoming book.
“For years when asked my nationality I responded that my father was Palestinian, my mother was British and that I am American. My father came to the US as a small child. My mother’s parents were destitute children in Victorian England and were sent to Canada separately alone into indentured servitude at the ages of 10 and 16. They met and married and moved to upstate New York. The stories of the adventures of my ancestors as they found their way to the New World are fascinating. With immigration such a controversial subject today, my family’s story may not be unique, but it is uniquely American.”
What was your favorite chapter to write?
“Writing about my paternal grandfather’s life in Palestine and the chain of events that led to his and my grandmother’s decision to flee from Ottoman rule to the US has always captivated me. My maternal grandparents’ challenges in servitude in Canada were no less harrowing. My maternal grandfather, after who I am named, came to the New World all alone at age 10 to live with strangers. His is a compelling experience, as well.”
Did you encounter any struggles along your writing process? If so, what were they?
“Writing about my family’s journey to America was the proverbial labor of love. As the reader will learn, it required extensive research about the Middle East, Victorian England, Canada and Syracuse.”
Is there a lesson that can be learned from your novel of trial and triumph?
“American policy (or lack thereof) today seems to lose sight of the fact that this country was built upon the labor and entrepreneurial spirit of foreigners who have always flocked to our shores of opportunity. Today we have become paranoid about the intent and attitudes of those who wish to be part of the American success story. People from all over the world wish to come to America to work hard and build wealth for their families. Without their contributions we would not have food on our tables or be able to construct our homes and buildings or care for our infrastructure. America needs to remember how immigrants have built our country as it gropes for answers to today’s immigration challenges.”
How would you describe your writing style?
“I am a minimalist writer. I enjoy presenting a compelling story succinctly and cogently with little flowery language. I want the reader to be captivated without being burdened. I want to learn things in my own reading without a lot of superfluous information. This informs my writing.”
Name one of your role models? How have they influenced your life?
“Winston Churchill is one of my heroes. He suffered great successes in his life of leadership after experiencing great failures. And yet, he kept striving for his goals and for positive outcomes. He was a source of inspiration to me during the roller coaster years of my college presidency.”
Are you planning to write another novel in the future?
“The Arab and the Brit ends in 1951 when I was a child. I intend to write about my own life, about my years as a college president and about the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
For more information on Rezak’s “classic page turner,” as described by Alfred University’s Edward Coll,visit the Syracuse University Press website.