Biography: Colum McCann

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Colum McCann is the award-winning author of six novels and two collections of short stories. His most recent novel is TransAtlantic. His novel Let the Great World Spin won worldwide acclaim, including The 2009 National Book Award in the U.S, the 2010 Best Foreign Novel Award in China, the International IMPAC Award 2011, a literary award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and several other major literary prizes. McCann’s fiction has been published in over 35 languages and has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, Paris Review, Granta, The Atlantic Monthly, GQ, Tin House, Bomb and several other places. He has written for numerous publications including The New York Times, The Irish Times, The Irish Independent, Die Zeit, La Republicca, Paris Match, The Guardian, The Times and The Independent.

The territory of McCann’s work is international in scope and geography–his topics have ranged from homeless people in the subway tunnels of New York, to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, to the effects of 9/11, to a poetic examination of the life and culture of the Roma in Europe. He is known as a writer of style and substance, hailed by critics and readers alike. Among his major influences are Michael Ondaatje, John Berger, Don DeLillo, E.L Doctorow, Toni Morrison, Edna O’Brien and the Irish novelist Benedict Kiely. McCann is known a “poetic realist,” a writer who is known to tackle the dark in order to get through to the light–“any sort of light, however compromised”–on the far side.

He is a member of the Irish Academy, Aosdana, and was awarded a Chevalier des arts et lettres by the French government in fall 2009 (making him one of an exclusive number of foreign artists recognized in France for their literary contributions: other recipients have included Salman Rushdie, Phillip Gourevitch and Julian Barnes). The exclusive American Academy honored him with a literary award in May 2011.

Let the Great World Spin received unprecedented international recognition. McCann was awarded the Deauville Festival Literary Prize; the Ambassador Award; the inaugural Medici Book Club prize;’s “Book of the Year,” 2010; the 2010 NAIBA “Book of the Year,” given by independent book-sellers; and he was the overall winner of the Grinzane Award in Italy. The book was short-listed for several other awards including Irish Novel of the Year. In 2010 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. J. J. Abrams, highly acclaimed director and creator of the television program Lost, bought the film rights for Let the Great World Spin. McCann is currently adapting the screenplay along with Abrams. It is not McCann’s first foray into film—his short film “Everything in this Country Must,” directed by Gary McKendry, was nominated for an Academy Award Oscar in 2005.

In 2003 Colum was named Esquire magazine’s Writer of the Year for their “Best and Brightest” issue. Other awards and honors include a Pushcart Prize, the Rooney Prize, the Hennessy Award for Irish Literature, the Irish Independent Hughes and Hughes/Sunday Independent Novel of the Year 2003, and the inaugural 2002 Ireland Fund of Monaco Princess Grace Memorial Literary Award.

“I believe in the democracy of story-telling,” said McCann in an interview. “I love the fact that our stories can cross all sorts of borders and boundaries. I feel humbled by the notion that I’m even a small part of the literary experience. I grew up in a house, in a city, in a country shaped by books. I don’t know of a greater privilege than being allowed to tell a story, or to listen to a story. They’re the only thing we have that can trump life itself.”

McCann was born in Dublin in 1965 and began his career as a journalist in The Irish Press. In the early 1980s he took a bicycle across North America and then worked as a wilderness guide in a program for juvenile delinquents in Texas. After a year and a half in Japan, he and his wife Allison moved to New York where they currently live with their three children, Isabella, John Michael and Christian. McCann teaches in Hunter College in New York, in the Creative Writing program, with fellow novelists Peter Carey, Claire Messud and Nathan Englander.

McCann is very active in New York and Irish-based charities–in particular organizations such as the brand new global charity Narrative 4 (launched in May/June 2013, which Colum founded along with Lisa Consiglio and Luis Urrea), PEN, the New York Public Library, the Norman Mailer Colony, and Roddy Doyle’s Fighting Words.

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