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Colum McCann in conversation with Dave Eggers
Sunday, April 26th, 2020
Colum McCann is the award-winning author of seven novels and three collections of short stories. His most recent novel, Apeirogon (to be published in February 2020) has already received several rave advance reviews, including starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist.
Let the Great World Spin was published in 2009 and won worldwide acclaim, including The 2009 National Book Award in the U.S, the 2010 Best Foreign Novel Award in China, the International Impac Award 2011, a literary award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and several other major international literary prizes.
Let the Great World Spin became a best-seller on four continents. His novel TransAtlantic was also an international sensation and became an immediate New York Times best-seller on its release in 2013. It too garnered several international awards including the Mondello Citta de Palermo Prize in Italy.
McCann’s fiction has been published in over 40 languages and has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, Paris Review, Granta, The Atlantic Monthly, GQ, Tin House, Bomb and several other places. He has written for numerous publications including The New York Times, the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, Die Zeit, La Republicca, Paris Match, the Guardian, the Times and the Independent.
McCann is considered, in every sense, an international artist. Born in Ireland, he has travelled extensively around the world. He and his wife Allison lived in Japan for eighteen months. He currently lives in New York City, where he holds dual Irish and American citizenship. He is a member of the Irish Academy, Aosdana, and was awarded a Chevalier des arts et lettres by the French government in fall 2009 (making him one of a exclusive number of foreign artists recognized in France for their literary contributions: other recipients have included Salman Rushdie, Phillip Gourevitch and Julian Barnes).
“The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough.”
–Let the Great World Spin
The territory of McCann’s work is international in scope and geography–his topics have ranged from homeless people in the subway tunnels of New York, to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, to the effects of 9/11, to a poetic examination of the life and culture of the Roma in Europe. He is known as a writer of style and substance, hailed by critics and readers alike. Among his major influences are Michael Ondaatje, John Berger, Don DeLillo, E.L Doctorow, Toni Morrison, Edna O’Brien and the Irish novelist Benedict Kiely. McCann is known a “poetic realist,” a writer who is known to tackle the dark in order to get through to the light–“any sort of light, however compromised”–on the far side.
Visit the Book Passage website to have any of Colum’s books delivered right to your door.
You’re sure to enjoy these Book Passage favorites:
Apeirogon: A Novel
Let the Great World Spin: A Novel
TransAtlantic: A Novel
Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice
Get ready to join McCann in conversation, Sunday, April 26.
In the meantime, we invite you to take a moment now to help shape this upcoming conversation:
Check out the list of questions submitted by other registered attendees, and then vote to support any of the ones that match your own interests.
Feel free to add your own question. Then spread the word to make sure others have the chance to help move your question to the top of the shared list.
Among contemporary writers, which writer’s work intrigues you most?
What book would you recommend for additional reading/background on the current political state in this region? Am looking for further explanation of the settlements and some of the key geo-political issues.
I am very interested in the friction between fact and fiction in this book. Could you talk about the choices/voices you used to tell this urgently important story?
When in history and in what culture do you think best care taken in raising children?
Something that astonishes me in Apeirogon is the way you place sentences, facts, history, questions and thoughts in the narrative. Often a single sentence lands like an arrow piercing through my skin. Sometimes like a stray bullet to the back of my head. Can you talk a little about the meticulous choices you made along the way in telling this story? How did you find this rhythm and trust?
Aside from the fact that Bassam read 1001 Arabian nights to Abir, what is the significance of the 1001 cantos, 1001 fragments? Is it your way of attempting to prevent further deaths in Israel the way Scheherazade told Middle Eastern folktales in order to ward off her own death.
Have you read The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan? It,too, long Ike’s at the Israeli-Palestinian issue through the eyes of two unlikely friends. An Israeli woman and a Palestinian man.
How does it feel to be a storyteller during these strange days of a pandemic? I keep thinking of a sentence in Apeirogon, “And we think the myths are startling.”
How has the telling of this story through the lens of Apeirogon impacted Rami and Bassam and the work they are doing? Can you share any specific stories that have risen out of Apeirogon’s publication?
I am blind and rely on audio books to read your work. You’ve read a number of your books for the audio versions, is that something you enjoy doing, and do you think reading your work out loud affects how you write?
In Transatlantic and Let the Great World Spin, we bore witness to the complex lives of brave women as they navigated the limitations of their sex and class, and as viewers we witnessed history in the making through their life stories. They were complicated, deeply flawed, yet so whole. Is it possible to find this thread in Apeirogon? Where do you see ideas of gender fitting into this work?
How do I get an autographed copy of your book?
In Transatlantic and Let the Great World Spin, we bore witness to the complex lives of brave women as they navigated the limitations of their sex and class, and as viewers we witnessed history in the making through their life stories. They were complicated, deeply flawed, yet so whole. Where in Apeirogon may we find this thread continue?
Reading Apeirogon has helped me not only to better understand the Israeli/Palestinian conflict but to feel it in a very profound way. You confront the pain, senselessness, and enormous generosity in the stories of Rami and Bassam. What was the most challenging aspect of telling their stories – or the thing that you were most afraid of?
Thank you for the work you are doing with Narrative 4. Can you share any stories that have surfaced with the organization during this time when we are feeling such deep isolation and fear?
I have read All your books.Iam a fan! I’m having trouble tuning in to Apeirogon…!I am on may third attempt.What in you made you write this particular story?
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This is not a question, but it’s information about a joint Israeli-Palestinian memorial ceremony sponsored by Combatants for Peace and Parents Circle-Family Forum, at 10:30 AM PST tomorrow, 4-27. Before the coronavirus lockdown, they were expecting 20,000 Israelis and Palestinians at the commemoration in Tel Aviv. Now everyone around the world can participate by logging on to http://www.afcfp.org/watch-the-memorial or at https://www.facebook.com/c4peace.
I know that you call this a work of fiction and you give an example of a small change you made. How much is really fiction? The journalist in you seems to come through in the most poetic ways and served you well. How much liberty were you able to take? Thank you for your beautiful and important book.