By Gwen Orel

How it’s New York: The book is about the Irish and Irish-American writers who live in New York.
How it’s Irish: The collection ends up with a great overview of 20th and 21st century Irish and Irish-American writers.

Many books are great. Recently I’ve become addicted to checking off boxes in listchallenges.com. I even made a list of my own five-star books.

But few books go the extra mile to become indispensable. “The Writing Irish of New York,” a collection of essays edited by New York-based Irish writer Colin Broderick, is one of those.

It includes essays by heavy hitters and some less well-known authors readers of this ‘zine will know from Irish American Writers & Artists, such as Peter Quinn, Larry Kirwan, Colum McCann, Kevin Holohan, Honor Molloy,and it also includes brief essays and/or quotations about iconic writers such as Eugene O’Neill, Jimmy Breslin (and you will NOT want to miss “Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists”, which debuts on HBO in January); Frank McCourt, Maeve Brennan, Oscar Wilde.

Altogether there are 23 original essays by living Writing Irish, with nine essays by Broderick about the iconic writers. These inserts are marked in the table of contents in bold.

“The Writing Irish of New York” is educational, entertaining and instructive for all writers and readers. If Irish Literature is something you care about, this book is a must. In addition to the essays, the book includes handsome photographs.

The  book traces the heritage of Irish-American writers from 1860 to the present day.

Broderick, who moved to New York from Northern Ireland in 1988, provides bookends, with an intro titled “Who are the writing Irish?” and an essay of his own at the end, titled “Lucky.”

__________________________________________________________________________________

READ: MAEVE’S HOUSE, SHABBY CHIC

READ: KEVIN HOLOHAN’S BLOOMSDAY TWITERATURE

_________________________________________________________________________________

Like most collections of essays, it’s best read dipped in and dipped out of– read in a clump it can be a little overwhelming. Many of the writers take as their jumping-off point a kind of autobiography.

Broderick traces the history of the writing community in his opening:

“By the eighties and nineties a community was emerging, a community with a cultural identity, with a fresh band of authors steering the way: Colum McCann, T.J. English, Edna O’Brien, Peter Quinn, Mary Pat Kelly, John Patrick Shanley and too many other wonderful wrtiers to mention here, a community that didn’t really coalesce I would argue, until the formation of the Irish American Writers and Artists Association in 2008.

“This book is an attempt to capture the essence of what that writing community feels like as a whole.”

In that, the book succeeds admirably.

Different writers take different tones: novelist Peter Quinn, formerly a speechwriter for New York governors Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo, titles his essay “Recollections of a B.I.C.” (Bronx Irish Catholic)– and the essay is journalistic and straightforward.

Black 47’s Larry Kirwan, originally from Wexford,  like the rock lyrics he writes, takes a more stream-of-consciousness, imagistic approach. But he doesn’t stint on details: he acquired the skill of creating characters “by observing the denizens of the Kiwi on countless after-hours nights,” he writes. Did you know he was very nearly in the video for Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun?” I didn’t. He skipped it because a play he had written was being staged that night and needed his attention.

Dublin-born writer Kevin Holohan’s “Hanging in Doorways” is creatively written as a dialogue between The Long-Suffering Reader and The Self. (Holohan occasionally writes for this zine).  I’m a playwright, so I’m partial to this:

The Long-Suffering Reader: So it must be very lucrative, then, this writing lark, if you are still doing it? Particularly in a pricey place like New York.

The Self: Yeah, right.

The Long-Suffering Reader: You have a day job of some sort, I take it?

The Self: I came to New York with a resumé that might as well have said: “B.A. in Anglo Saxon; six years teaching English as a foreign language in Spain; have seen spreadsheets.” So I temped.”

Honor Molloy, a former contributor, writes about her journey in the Joycean-imagistic style she uses in her novels:  “Uncle Walter collected us at Kennedy Airport and we stashed our belongings in the boot of a tan station wagon with faux wooden paneling. Why the pretendy wood? In the passenger seat, Mam cuddled weeshy Noelle n her lap.”

You feel as if you’re living the journey with her. And as the essay goes on, she talks about her journey in writing, too:

“I joined the Irish American Writers and Artists — a gang that held monthly salons at the Upper West Side’s Bar Thalia. On any given night, there’d be ten-twelve punters keening, crooning, acting, drooling picking, strumming and reading. … Through writing you can find a way to yourself. A way to quench the anger and the sadness.”

If you follow Malachy McCourt on Facebook, his vehement opinions won’t surprise you, but it’s a delight to see them here all the same. There’s some lip service to the biz of writing, of course:

“Regarding death, the only reason organized religion infects so many people is fear of death and hell. With that in mind, I discussed with one publisher the possibility f securing a large advance on the book I would like to write posthumously.”

Galway’s Seamus Scanlon (full disclosure: when I ate a rogue peanut that had snuck into my Muesli in Galway it was Seamus who took me to a doctor) goes particularly far in crafting his short essay as if it were one of his short stories. He never breaks the terse, observant style to give advice in “Outside It’s New York.” His story takes place in Galway:

“Inside motion and emotion flows through me,” he writes.

One could wish a few more women were represented: of the 23 contributions, only five are by women. That’s a little puzzling as there is no shortage of women at IAW&A meetings.

But that is a quibble. Anyone interested in Irish-American writing needs this book on the shelf.

**

“The Writing Irish of New York” includes original essays by Peter Quinn, Luanne Rice, Larry Kirwan, Kathleen Donohoe, Daniel James McCabe, Mike Farragher, Malachy McCourt, Don Creedon, Maura Mulligan, Kevin Holohan, Kevin Fortuna, Chris Campion, Dennis Driscoll, Billy Collins, Honor Molloy, Colum McCann, John Kearns, CharlesR. Hale, Dan Barry, Seamus Scanlon, Brian O’Sullivan, Mary Pat Kelly and Colin Broderick.

With essays and inserts by Colin Broderick on:

Maeve Brennan, Frank McCourt, Eugene O’Neill, Jimmy Breslin, Frank O’Hara, J.P. Doleavy, John F. Kennedy Jr., Brendan Behan and Oscar Wilde.

 

Gwen Orel
About the Author

Gwen Orel

The only New York journalist who writes for both the Forward and Irish Music Magazine.