GV professor’s play “Rust” printed in New York Times Magazine

GVL / Eric Coulter
Proffessor Austin Bunn featured in Time magazine

Eric Coulter

GVL / Eric Coulter Proffessor Austin Bunn featured in Time magazine

Chris LaFoy

The top right corner of the New York Times’ front page famously reads, “All the news that’s fit to print,” and Grand Valley State University assistant professor Austin Bunn has been officially deemed fit, as his documentary play was published in the Jan. 8 edition of the New York Times Magazine.

“Rust” is a play documenting the real-life events around the 2008 closing of the GM steel stamping plant in Wyoming, Mich. Bunn’s goal was to capture a glimpse of what an event like this closing does to a country, state, community and individuals.

“More broadly it’s about the transformations in the manufacturing industry in Michigan and in America, and a young playwright’s attempts to understand what happens to the people who make things when we stop making things,” Bunn said.

The project lasted more than two years and consisted of interviewing people from all walks of life with ties to the plant. Managers, employees and even local bartenders were asked to give their personal stories so Bunn could accurately portray the truth on stage. Bunn was assisted through this process by GVSU graduates James Walsh and Thomas Mervenne. The students actually appear in the play as a composite character named James.

“An editor from the New York Times read the script and was interested in excerpting it,” Bunn said. “A first for a play in the pages of the New York Times.”

Actors’ Theatre Grand Rapids debuted “Rust” in September. The play was received well, and the group is currently organizing a tour to broaden its audience.

“A magazine like the New York Times is read by people all over the country,” said Caitlin Horrocks, writing professor at GVSU. “Austin’s play could be the very first time many of those readers have ever heard of GVSU. I can’t think of a better introduction to the great work that’s happening here.”

Dan Royer, also a professor of writing at GVSU, said even though the wide audience is impressive, the play’s publication validates Michigan’s struggles.

“I’m sure Austin is delighted to share his work with such a large audience,” Royer said. “But all of us — students, faculty and residents of West Michigan — are all pleased to have so many people learn about the struggles of people in our local area that many know as friends and family.”

Faculty members at GVSU are required to publish works to be eligible for tenure. Royer said that while most faculty works are published in scholarly journals, professors sometimes publish their work through more public outlets.

“It doesn’t get much more public than the New York Times Magazine,” he said.

Bunn is currently developing a production that will debut in New York this spring, headlined by the star of the “Harry Potter” franchise.

“My screenplay ‘Kill Your Darlings’ is going into production in March in New York City, starring Daniel Radcliffe,” Bunn said. “It is a true story about the origins of the Beat Generation and a murder that changed all of their lives.”

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