Hamilton headlines HoCoPoLitSo's Irish Evening

It takes so long to say the name of the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society that one can be thankful that everybody just refers to it as HoCoPoLitSo. One of this literary organization's longest running and most popular activities is an annual Irish Evening that features a reading by a celebrated author, an opportunity to have books signed, live music and, of course, Irish coffee.

This year's event promises to live up to that lively tradition. Memoirist and novelist Hugo Hamilton is the guest speaker for the 34th Irish Evening Friday, Feb. 17 at 7:30 p.m. at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre.

"The writers we've had are internationally known, not just known in Ireland," says Catherine McCloughlin-Hayes, longtime chair for the Irish Evening. "They're the best of the best."

She cites Seamus Heaney, Frank McCourt and numerous others whose poetry, novels and memoirs have gained widespread recognition. Hamilton had been scheduled to appear at this annual event once before, but he had to cancel due to illness.

If she seems especially glad that Hamilton is finally making it to an Irish Evening in Columbia, it's because "he's a little different and brings something else to it. With Hamilton, it's the identity thing and the changing face of Ireland."

From the cradle, Hugo Hamilton has been thinking about the cultural complexity of identity-related issues. The 58-year-old author was born in Dublin to an Irish father who was a staunch nationalist and a German mother who came to Ireland after World War II.

In his 2003 memoir "The Speckled People," Hamilton writes about growing up in the 1950s and '60s as part of "the new Irish, partly from Ireland, partly from somewhere else." Indeed, he also has called himself and his siblings "German bread with Irish raisins."

Incidentally, this well-known literary memoir has just been adapted into a play running at the Gate Theatre in Dublin.

In "The Speckled People" and the subsequent 2006 memoir, "The Sailor in the Wardrobe," Hamilton makes it clear that he had an unhappy childhood that extended into an unhappy young adulthood.

One reason was that as a boy he was only permitted to speak Irish and German in the house. He was forbidden to speak English there, even though almost everybody else out in the Dublin streets obviously was speaking English. When Hamilton's brother was caught speaking English, their father broke the brother's nose.

Besides directly addressing his own identity in these two non-fiction books, Hamilton is the author of seven novels and one collection of short stories.

His fiction includes two novels, "Headbanger" (1996) and "Sad Bastard" (1998), that are both about a Dublin policeman, Pat Coyne, who was known as the Dublin Dirty Harry; and, most recently, his 2010 novel "Hand in the Fire," which concerns a Serbian immigrant meeting an Irish lawyer in Dublin.

The cultural blending within his own family history and the increasing ethnic diversity within contemporary Irish society as a whole make it seem likely that he will have an ample supply of material for his future literary output.

Hamilton has remained close to the source and still lives in Dublin, where he and his journalist wife, Mary Rose Doorly, raised three children. He's also currently getting a chance to check out social conditions in the United States, because he is teaching during the spring semester at Villanova University.

Hugo Hamilton appears at the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society's Irish Evening on Friday, Feb. 17 at 7:30 p.m. at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre, 10901 Little Patuxent Pkwy., in Columbia. Tickets are $35. Call 443-518-4568 or go to http://www.HoCoPoLitSo.org.

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