In a television interview with writer Theo Dorgan, Colum McCann once admitted that writing could be a mystery, that “I don’t always know what I’m doing.”
He certainly seems to figure it out.
McCann, who will be speaking in the auditorium of the main Akron-Summit County Public Library at 7 tonight, has written six novels (Songdogs, This Side of Brightness, Dancer, Zoli, Let the Great World Spin and Transatlantic) and two collections of short stories, often to great acclaim. He received a National Book Award for Let the Great World Spin, and a movie version is in the works from J.J. Abrams (Lost, Star Trek Into Darkness).
A self-described “international mongrel” — born in Ireland but now living in New York — McCann’s reach has been global, with his fiction translated into 35 languages. Let the Great World Spin also won a Chinese award for best foreign novel.
He has achieved much with a blending of real events and imagined ones, of the recent past and more distant ones. His most recent novel, Transatlantic, includes Frederick Douglass traveling to Ireland during its 19th-century famine; Jack Alcock and Teddy Brown making the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic in 1919, years before Charles Lindbergh’s famous solo journey; and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell helping bring peace to Northern Ireland in 1998.
As if that were not enough to juggle in one book, McCann told interviewer Doug Muzzo that Douglass’ story carried echoes of Barack Obama. And, while Let the Great World Spin is set in 1974, McCann has said it is a 9/11 novel. No wonder that he lists among his influences other writers working the seam between fact and fiction like Don DeLillo and E.L. Doctorow.
He tells his stories with a richness of language that should be the envy of most other writers, and a love of telling detail. In the reader’s guide with Let the Great World Spin, he says, “Shortly after 9/11 everything in Manhattan seemed to have intimate meaning. The supermarket shelves were empty of eyewash. A disused fire hydrant seemed connected to everything that ran beneath the city. … Somehow each thing was linked to the next and the last.”
And the novel itself is rife with such detail. As it begins, people stop in Manhattan to see a tightrope walker poised to cross between the World Trade Center towers. While some witnesses were hushed, McCann wrote: “Around the watchers, the city still made its everyday noises. Car horns. Garbage trucks. Ferry whistles. The thrum of the subway. The M22 bus pulled in against the sidewalk, braked, sighed down into a pothole. … Taxi doors slammed. Bits of trash sparred in the darkest reaches of the alleyways. Sneakers found their sweetspots. The leather of briefcases rubbed against trouserlegs.”
And, if you look at interviews with him on YouTube, you’ll see McCann’s a pretty good talker, too.
Admission is free. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Parking in the deck on High and Market streets is free if you arrive after 6 p.m. There will be time for questions and answers after McCann’s talk. He will sign copies of his books, which will be for sale.
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or email@example.com.