SCHWEINFURT, Germany - The Schweinfurt community enjoyed an evening of the arts yesterday outside of the Conn Community Club when mingling with critically-acclaimed novelist and travel writer, Gary Shteyngart, author of award winning books, "The Russian Debutante's Handbook" and "Absurdistan."

Shteyngart humored the audience with story readings, book signings, and a question-and-answer session.

"I like to have a program away from the library and have the people from the community involved. It's beneficial because we are in a deployment situation, so we have to make it special for family members here," said Christine Willis, librarian at Ledward Library.

The evening kicked off with a poetry jam session and presentation by the summer hire teens, followed by a question and answer portion where attendees could enjoy getting to know Shteyngart, as he answered personal questions and offered his expertise on the subject of writing.

"I really like these workshops. I talk about what writing means to me, how I became a writer, take questions, and do a brief reading. Writing is my dream job. ... It's a calling in some ways. And having an experience like this makes it even better and more worthwhile," Shteyngart said.

Shteyngart, who is also a contributing editor at "Travel and Leisure" magazine and has fiction and essays featured in such publications as "The New Yorker", "Granta", "GQ", "Esquire", and the "New York Times", read two personal essays to the crowd once published in The New Yorker. He concluded the book reading portion with two blurbs from The Russian Debutante's Handbook.

According to Shteyngart, the atmosphere of workshops like this are relaxed and takes participants away from a typical academic setting, adding that "there's nothing at stake here."

Shteyngart's visit concluded his tour of eight garrisons within Europe as part of the Army-Europe "Conversations" literary discussions, which has brought in authors like Daniel Wallace and Andrew Carroll. According to the Army Europe Libraries Web site, these workshops are meant to provide inspiration for anyone interested in creative writing, or just reading in general, while giving Soldiers and family members the opportunity to meet notable authors.

"Reading takes people away from the day in and day out realities, which is so sad at times. Reading is your fantasy, your imagination, and that's what's important," Willis said, quoting Shteyngart who said, "If you don't read, you don't think."