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Litterature Treasa Devine - www.irisheyes.fr
Talking to Colum Mc Cann
by Treasa Devine
Colum Mc Cann is found surrounded by eager fans, signing furiously copies of Dancer in Brentanos, Paris. He is first and foremost a casual, friendly Irish guy with searching brown eyes and a Jackeen brogue - this particular Irish souvenir remains unaffected by a New York twang.
Born in Deansgrange, Dublin and now a proud New Yorker, he once claimed he is driven "paradoxically further away from Ireland each day". He has written a short story collection called Fishing the sloe black river and three novels, Songdogs, This side of Brightness and Dancer. Among other accolades, he has received the Pushcart prize, been an IMPAC finalists and has been named as the first winner of the Grace Kelly Memorial Foundation Award. While some might say he leans towards being a philosophical optimist, he describes himself as a "poetic realist.”
At the tender age of 21, he cycled thousands of miles around the USA as he felt he had "no trauma in his life” which could possibly invoke an artistic outlet like writing. Funnily enough, although he may not have had inspiration for a novel, he wrote his first match report when he was 12. Mc Cann remembers this and thanks his journalistic father for his advice long ago "whatever you do - don't become a writer”.
Inspiration for "Dancer”..
A friend from inner city Dublin was the infectious influence on Mc Cann for Dancer. To get away from his alcoholic abusive father he would dream of Rudolf Nureyev's dancing as he had seen on TV one night. This image captivated him and filled him with dreams and hope for the future.
What was surprising to find out is that the entire book Dancer is "pure fiction” spawned from Mc Cann's visits to Russia, watching videos of Nureyev, research in a NY library and imagining the legend in real life. Mc Cann purposely didn't write about Nureyev's AIDS virus as he "didn't want to drag him down.” His proudest moment to date concerning Dancer, was when Nureyev's friends told him they've read the novel and "recognize” Rudi.
Although the book is set in non-Irish locations, Mc Cann insists it is an Irish novel " it was one of my duties to bring the Irish novel outside of the boundaries of Ireland itself. There is no doubt it is Irish, as it is written by an Irish person and in its sensibility it is Irish, for example look towards the language and sounds.”
Loneliness and Survival
as prevailing themes
His novels revolve around themes of "displacement” of being "uprooted” from the comfortable, familiar surroundings and the experience of being "re-planted” somewhere else. He then explores how the character "is in exile ” from their communities and from themselves. Mc Cann explores how they interact with their new environments; "all those people; ÔInternational Mongrels' who are every-where but who don't necessarily want to be there, it is a new existence for them and it is a contemporary condition.” For Nureyev, "he was invited into everyone's salon, everyone's home but actually the only place he wanted to go, he was not allowed to go there Ð his home.” (Nureyev defected from Communism during the Cold War in 1961 whilst in Paris). Loneliness is a pre-occupation of the writer and so too is the theme of survival, despite the odds.
Mc Cann admits that his books have always been about "the redemption you can find by being alive and being thankful for being here.” He is an optimist of gigantic proportions claiming that during his research into This side of brightness (ie visiting with the homeless in abandoned NY subway tunnels) "even in the most depriving and degrading of circumstances they would say; Ôwhen I get out of here '”
Most important to Mc Cann
"For me, my kids are the most important thing in my life.” However, his career goal, is to write a great novel that lasts for 50 years or more so that his grand-children can still enjoy it. One could say that Mc Cann like Nureyev, will spend his entire life striving to create something of lasting perfection. In his urge to create this legacy, a "great piece of work”, he is unfailingly determined to keep writing until he achieves his goal - he quotes his driver, another great Irish writer, Samuel Beckett : no matter try again, fail again, fail better.
However in the meantime, Mc Cann plans to enjoy the journey, like his character Nureyev: "The perfection is not so much in the performance as in the journey towards it. This is the joy. You must burn!"
Le site de Colum McCann in french : Colum McCann
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