Pen, Paper and Palate at Half King: A Night to Remember

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How It’s New York:  at one of the city’s best pubs, with three Irish-American and two Irish writers.  And one of the conclusions of the panel, led by Colum McCann, was that only in America was there such a range of different ethnicities in writing so thoroughly embraced.  Ruda Dauphin is a native– and she’s not Irish.  So New York
How It’s Irish: All the writers are connected by this heritage they deal with in one way or another.

Dan Barry, Paul Muldoon, Mary Gordon, Peter Hamill

Colum McCann moderated “Wriring Lives:  History on the Page”, with Dan Barry, Paul Muldoon, Mary Gordon, and Pete Hamill

Tuesday night at the Half King on West 23rd Street, Ruda Beresford Dauphin, Executive Director of a wonderful new program called “Pen, Paper and Palate,”  hosted  “a celebration of Irish and Irish-American writing, culture and food” with five outstanding authors. The evening was part of Culture Ireland’s yearlong Imagine Ireland initiative.  Singer Ashley Davis performed before and after. 

It was not a reading, but a discussion of being an Irish or an Irish-American writer.  Before the event began, Colum sat down briefly at the table with me, Aidan Connolly, and Gina (did not get her last name), and said he didn’t know what would happen.  If he was telling the truth– and he looked as though he was– then he has got to be one of the most articulate, smart moderators EVER.  He was eloquent but I also never once had the feeling that as he was listening a part of him was thinking “what will I ask next.”

McCann, of course, won the 2010 National Book Award (he’s been busy lately, also appearing Wednesday night at Symphony Space to read one of Edna O’Brien’s short stories for Selected Shorts).  Dan Barry is a columnist for the New York Times; Mary Gordon is an award-winning author whose new book The Love of My Youth has just come out (watch for review and podcast appearance coming soon); Pete Hamill just released Tabloid City– I had a chance to meet him recently at a wonderful event at the Irish Arts Center; Paul Muldoon is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, and the poetry editor of The New Yorker.


You knew you were in good hands when McCann opened the discussion by asking Pete Hamill if he could remember his father shaving.  Not only could Mr. Hamill (if it weren’t for the memories he shares you’d never believe him to be in his late 70s; he is so quick and funny and vital!), he remembered the layout of the bathroom, and the importance of hot water.  Mary Gordon talked about nearly being expelled from school after hosting a dance party at her house– how her mother came to her rescue and told the nun that any immorality had to be in her mind only.  “Then she smacked me against the wall 1000 times after we got home,” she said.  Other highlights included Paul Muldoon talking about poems too personal to publish– one about a miscarriage his wife would not allow, and then after revision how she said now it was “equal to the moment.”  Then he corrected himself saying she hadn’t said it that way, Harold Bloom might, she probably said it was OK.  Dan Barry described how his mother could make an engrossing story out of buying a quart of milk– and how his having been bullied as a child by other kids formed him into writing.

If you haven’t been down to the Half King, it’s time to go.  The wonderful pub on 23rd and 10th has a great menu, prepared by Executive Chef Gregory Baumel, and the pub is owned by filmmaker Sebastian Jungr.  There are outdoor tables for balmy nights like Tuesday.  Among those spotted at the event were novelist Belinda McKeown, Irish Arts Center’s Aidan Connolly, screenwriter Bernard McMullen, singer Julie Feeney, playwright Barbara Hammond, and Global Communications expert Margaret Dorgan.

It was an enlightening and entertaining discussion.  Pete Hamill talked about the overuse of cetain Irish songs, including “Galway Bay.:  So when Ashley Davis got up to sing, what were her first words but:  “If you ever go across the sea to Ireland…”

After the event, some people lingered on and there was a kind of party-piece around the table happening.  Ashley Davis sang “Cockels and Mussels,” then Colum McCann joined in with the gay version, about Michael Malone:  “muscle up your cocks boy, alive, alive o.” Julie Feeney charmed not just the table but the whole restaurant with a Scots Gaelic song, and when she finished she seemed startled at the burst of applause.

I’ll get some audio up from the event as soon as I can!

Me, Aidan Connolly, Gina
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