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Irish writer McKeon headlines Society's annual Irish Evening

Novelist and playwright Belinda McKeon continues a venerable Columbia tradition when she reads as part of the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society's 39th annual Irish Evening on Friday, Feb. 10 at 7:30 p.m. in Howard Community College's Smith Theatre.

Among the many Irish writers who previously appeared as part of this annual event are Colum McCann, Frank McCourt, Emma Donoghue and Colm Toibin.

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McKeon's reading will be followed by traditional Irish music played by Narrowbacks' members Linda Hickman, Eileen Korn Estes, Terence Winch, Michael Winch and Jesse Winch. They're sure to be sounding especially fresh, because they have a new recording titled "This Day Too: Music from Irish America." Also certain to step lively are the accompanying step dancers from the Culkin School.

Born in 1979, McKeon grew up on a farm. She went on to study at Trinity College and University College, both in Dublin. After that she worked as a journalist, writing on literature, theater and other arts-related topics for The Irish Times between 2000 and 2010.

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The 1927 smash hit "Show Boat" helped modernize Broadway musicals by more tightly integrating the story and the songs; and speaking of integration, its miscegenation-themed plot was strikingly mature for mainstream entertainment produced during the Jim Crow era.

Aspects of her own life story can be found in both of her novels, which have earned her strong reviews and several awards.

Her first novel, "Solace," won the Faber Prize. Its plot concerns a male protagonist who leaves his rural Irish background and studies for his doctorate in Dublin. There he meets a woman and has an affair.

Besides moving from the Irish countryside to Dublin in her own life, McKeon eventually ventured even further away when she moved to New York City in 2005. There she received her MFA at Columbia University. She now lives in Brooklyn and is an assistant teaching professor in creative writing at Rutgers University.

McKeon's second novel, "Tender," concerns the relationship between a female journalist and a male photographer's assistant. The final part of this novel is set in New York City.

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Contemplating the autobiographical impulse in her fiction, McKeon observed during an interview with The Irish Times: "The boundary between what really happens in a life and what you imagine is much more fluid than I used to think — and I've become much more interested in writing which explores that."

When the Columbia Orchestra performs on Saturday, Feb. 4, at 7:30 p.m., in Jim Rouse Theatre, keep your ears open for the different musical influences in ea

Among her other literary activities, McKeon edited a collection of short stories by 17 contemporary writers titled "A Kind of Compass: Stories on Distance" in 2015. As somebody who moved from Ireland to the United States, Belinda McKeon qualifies as an expert on both literal and symbolic distance.

The Howard County Poetry and Literature Society has its annual Irish Evening on Friday, Feb. 10 at 7:30 p.m. in Howard Community College's Smith Theatre, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. There will be a reading by Belinda McKeon, music by members of the Narrowbacks and Irish food and drink. Tickets are $35. Call 443-518-4568 or go to www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2716229



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