In this edition of HoCoPoLitSo’s “The Writing Life,” poet and musician Terence Winch talks with Irish novelist Colum McCann (winner of the 2009 National Book Award for Let the Great World Spin) after his second novel debuted to great acclaim. McCann, who grew up middle class in Dublin, talks about his two-year bicycle trek around America, gathering stories as a journalist, that helped turn him into a novelist. And while he counts Irish writers as influences, he mostly read Kerouac and Burroughs as a teen.
McCann reads from his first novel, Songdogs, and from This Side of Brightness, about the New York subway tunnels and the homeless who make their homes there, as well as the sand hogs who built the tunnels. McCann spent a year in the tunnels, and counts listening as the best way to research. “I don’t want to write about my family, about me. I think it’s much more liberating to be in the imagination. People always tell to write what you know about, but I say no, write about what you don’t know about.”
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What a nice interview. I’m looking forward to reading This Side of Brightness. I loved Let the Great World Spin. That seemed to come out of nowhere (at least for me it did) and I was struck by the kindnesses in the story where ugliness could have prevailed. Wouldn’t it be good for us if we could all take a two year bike trip around the country and learn how to connect with others?
I too read “Let the Great World Spin,” and recommended it to friends and family. I look forward to reding “This Side of Brightness.” I first heard Colum McCann interviewed by Diane Rehm. Colum came through as a genuinely good human being who talked about the grace that is present in all of humanity. I found that grace evidenced in the lives of his characters in “Let the Great World Spin.”