Americans will feel at home with this Irish Evening in Columbia

When Irish novelist Colum McCann reads from his work as part of the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society's 35th Irish Evening on Friday, March 1 at 7:30 p.m. in Howard Community College's Smith Theatre, the audience has a right to be in a green mood.

By way of colorful thoughts engendered by this festive evening of Irish literature, music and dance, they also might want to think about red, white and blue. McCann's writing has a lot to say about the United States, where he has set some of his novels and now lives.

McCann will be reading from his National Book Award-winning 2009 novel "Let the Great World Spin," which is set in New York City in the 1970s. A central figure in the novel is tightrope walker Philippe Petit, who audaciously walked across a thin wire extended between the top of the World Trade Center's twin towers in 1974.

There may be a Hollywood ending of sorts for this particular novel, because McCann has been working with producer J.J. Abrams on a screenplay for a film adaptation of "Let the Great World Spin."

It wouldn't be the first time he had dealings with the American film industry. His short story "Everything in this Country Must" was made into a short film directed by Gary McKendry that was nominated for an Academy Award in 2005.

When McCann wants to observe American society, all he has to do is look out the window. The 48-year-old author is Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing in the Master of Fine Arts program at Hunter College in New York City.

Not only is that city home to him, but one could say that the entire country has long been familiar to him. He arrived in the United States in 1986 and embarked on an 18-month bicycle tour of the country. He later worked in Texas as a wilderness guide in a program for juvenile delinquents, and completed his B.A. at the University of Texas. After marrying and briefly moving to Japan, his family moved back to New York City.

Not surprisingly, his novels reflect the breadth of his geographic and intellectual travels. At the upcoming Columbia appearance, he'll also be reading from his sixth novel, "Transatlantic," which will be published in June.

This ambitious new novel has intertwined narratives spanning several countries and centuries. Fictional characters are linked to actual historical figures who include nonstop transatlantic fliers in 1919, black leader Frederick Douglass in 1845, and the Irish peace process negotiated by U.S. Sen. George Mitchell in 1998.

McCann's earlier novels include "This Side of Brightness," about sandhogs digging tunnels under New York's East River in the early 20th century; "Dancer," about Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev; and "Zoli," about the Romany people.

As if all of this fiction writing weren't enough to keep him busy, McCann also has written articles for newspapers including the New York Times and magazines including the Atlantic and GQ.

That nonfiction side goes back to when the Dublin-born author studied journalism at Dublin Institute of Technology and then began his literary career as a reporter and columnist for The Irish Press.

McCann's prolific writing career has not lacked for recognition. He is the winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, Rooney Prize, Irish Novel of the Year Award, Pushcart Prize, and the 2002 Ireland Fund of Monaco Princess Grace Memorial Literary Award. He also was inducted into the Hennessy Hall of Fame.

Following McCann's reading and audience discussion, the Irish Evening will have a concert by Narrowbacks Eileen Estes, Jesse Winch, Terence Winch, Linda Hickman and Brendan Mulvihill. And there also will be step dancers from the Culkin School.

The Howard County Poetry and Literature Society's Irish Evening is Friday, March 1 at 7:30 p.m. at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Tickets are $35. For info, go to or

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