It’s not every day that you get a chance to hear a National Book Award-winning author who’s from Ireland speak here on campus. But next week, you’ll get precisely that opportunity as author Colum McCann joins us here on The Bluff at 7 pm, Wednesday, February 20th, in Buckley Center Auditorium for a public lecture and book signing. There will also be a book discussion group facilitated by Fr. Charlie Gordon, CSC, on February 19th from 12 pm-1 pm in the conference room on the second floor of the library.
McCann’s book Let The Great World Spin won the 2009 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2011 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, one of the most lucrative literary prizes in the world. In addition, he’s written a total of six novels and three short story collections, had his work translated into 35 languages, and even received an Oscar nomination for 2005 short film based upon his short story “Everything in this Country Must.” Needless to say, McCann is extraordinarily talented and wildly successful—truly an inspiration for those aspiring authors among us. He currently lives in New York with his wife Allison and his three kids, serving as Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing in the MFA program at Hunter College.
I was privileged to interview McCann prior to his upcoming visit, and if you haven’t already read Let The Great World Spin, I hope his absolutely lovely responses might motivate you to turn the first page in a breathtakingly beautiful read. For more insight into what Let The Great World Spin is about, check out Dr. Larson’s highlights of its compelling themes here.
Can you describe your writing process a bit? How do ideas for stories come to you?
I get obsessed by an idea and then I can’t let it go. The only way to let it go is to write it out of me. I am curious about the world, I suppose. And I like living “out loud.” Also I like books that throw me into dangerous, unfamiliar territory. I have to find a way out. It’s like one of those “Escape the Room” games, which my daughter Isabella sometimes takes me to. I want to escape the room of my obsession …. to find the key and open the door and, perhaps, if I’m lucky, enable some sunlight.
Can you talk a little about the experience of being an Irish immigrant living in New York? Feel free to take this question in any direction you’d like.
Being Irish in New York is easy. In general everyone likes the Irish. We don’t cause much of a problem. We like other people. We care about the underdogs. We listen well. We sing — often badly and loudly. We don’t mind embarrassing ourselves. Essentially, we’re hams.
Describe your hometown and what it is that you miss the most about it (alternatively, if you don’t miss it, why not?).
I am back in Dublin enough that I don’t get a chance to miss it. Perhaps I miss a slow pint in Toners pub every now and then, but in general I find my Dublin everywhere.
Do you have a favorite film? What is it and why do you like it?
Oh this is ridiculously self-serving, but it’s true. A friend of mine, Gary McKendry, made a short film of my short story “Everything in this Country Must.” It’s only twenty minutes long, but I love it. It got nominated for an Oscar 2005. Gary’s a genius. He caught the pure texture of the story. If you want to have a look at it, click here.
Cats or dogs and why?
Dogs, dogs, dogs. I have one sitting at my feet this very minute. I’m about to take her for a walk in the park. Ah, that’s the life. Food, sleep under desk, walk in the park, return, sleep, eat, walk in the park at night, sleep again, dream of food. It’s easier than writing.
Which authors inspire you?
My teaching colleagues Peter Carey and Tea Obreht. Michael Ondaatje. John Berger. James Joyce. Toni Morrison. Oregon’s own Barry Lopez whose new book Horizons just took my breath away. And a million others … it would be impossible them all. Oh, and all my students. And all seven billion people I haven’t yet met!
Mr. McCann, you’ve achieved tremendous success as a novelist and author of short stories. Besides the pleasure of your craft, what motivates you to keep writing? What do you hope your legacy will be when future generations encounter your work?
Well, a late friend of mine, Jim Harrison, said in a poem: “Children pry up our rotting bodies with cries of earn, earn, earn.” Which is only partly tongue-in-cheek because I do have two kids in university and one in high school. But I suppose I am motivated by the desire to expand the lungs of my own world. I’m curious about the world and our place in it. I want to know what we can do to acknowledge the heartbreak of what unfolds around us. Also, how do we keep going? And how do we repair? And how can we better, not just for ourselves but for others too. It sounds lofty, but it’s simple enough — how do we make this patch of earth a better place? Books can do that.
Featured Image from McCann’s website.