Richard Geller: The Strings Attached

A birthday gift changed Richard Geller's life.

After a career as a business writer and teacher who wrote poetry on the side, on his 60th birthday Richard bought himself a guitar and began to play.

"I was turning 60 and I thought, 'I need to do something for my 60th birthday,' and I had no freaking idea what I wanted to do!" Richard says.

Following an impulse, he decided to forego a pilgrimage to Japan and chose instead to buy a handmade guitar from a craftsman in Tennessee. The decision turned out well.

"I had at least three chords when I started," he jokes, but although Richard says he never wanted to play and had never written any songs before he bought the guitar, he has always had an uncanny ability to reproduce a tune.

"I can play anything, but I don't know how I do it and I don't necessarily do it well," says the self-taught musician.

That guitar craftsman advised Richard to attend the Swannanoa Gathering, a week-long music jam held outside Asheville, North Carolina, in the Blue Ridge Mountains every summer-and Richard went.

"I did something that was fairly uncharacteristic-I bought one [the guitar] without discussing it with anybody, but I've always had this very strong intuitive thing and I've really always believed that God loves fools," he says. "I went down there and it was transformative."

Now seven years later, Richard has a growing fan base, has opened for folk singer Gretchen Witt, and is preparing to record a follow-up to his 14-song debut CD Songs About Something to include collaboration with Grammy-award winner Sally Van Meter.

Richard, who describes his work as "very issue-oriented," says, "I personally really want to be associated with these causes that I care about and that I think my work can serve."

So far, so good. His song "Every Time I See Your Face," written about his wife, was picked up by the non-profit Norwegian Cancer Society to serve as a background track on a public service announcement in Norway.

"A director from Norway came to the site, fell in love with the song, asked if she could use it for a commercial, and eight months later I've got a commercial on national television in Norway," Richard says, adding that his songs are under consideration for a PBS program and a series of documentaries for the U.N. Foundation.

Richard, who has a master's in fine arts in poetry from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, taught at Memphis State University before earning his master's in arts and philosophy from Yale University. He was involved in the civil rights movement, spent time traveling in the Far East, and has been writing poetry his entire life, but only began writing novels 12 years ago.

Because Richard's books are self-published, they are available through his website, which went live in 2008. The site, which took three years to build, is a rich virtual fantasy created by two Florida web designers to resemble the world of Richard's books.

"We decided to create a world that was reflective of the values and the principles and the ideas embedded in the work and hopefully people would be sufficiently engaged or curious about that to get them to start to engage with the work," Richard says.

Statistics show some visitors spend more than an hour on the site per visit.

"The thing that's amazing about the Internet is that anyone has access to anyone, anywhere, anytime potentially, but you have to do something that is noteworthy," says Richard, adding that his work is "generally about the quest for meaning, lasting values, the possibilities for inner peace, and self acceptance. Those are pretty deep kinds of themes and they are genuinely of interest to people everywhere, but nowhere in particular."

Richard says he believes in sharing what he learns with the Internet community and says he believes in collaboration, not competition.

"The wired world is so big and indie artists are not really competing with each other for the same customers," he says. "As counter-intuitive as it might sound, openly sharing what works and what doesn't, helping each other, cooperation-that's what makes sense," he says.

Richard's blog "A Blog about Something" went live about a year ago, but its focus is moving from sharing what he learns about marketing to something much broader.

"I figured one of the things I can do is to help other indie artists find whether anything works," he says. "I want to change my blog at some point to this whole question of peace of mind because I feel a real compulsion to both explore that more deeply myself and also [because] I think people don't realize how amazing they are."

Richard's fifth book, a book of poetry called True Worldly Things, will be available in February. He is currently working on a show that combines music and poetry called "Who We Are, What We Are."

Richard and his wife Cecily Baran have two daughters, Juliette, 14, in grade 9 at Daniel Hand High School, and Genevieve, in grade 7 at Polson Middle School. They moved to Madison 12 years ago from Stamford.

To nominate a person of the week, call 203-245-1877, ext. 6146 or email

Visit Richard Geller on the web at His books and music are available on his website and at various online booksellers.


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