‘McCann’s Success, in The Irish Times (21 Nov. 2009), p.17.

Note: The second half of The Irish Times leader on 29 Nov. 2009 was devoted to McCann’s success in winning the American National Book Award.


Earlier this year in an interview in this newspaper [Irish Times,] Colum McCann expressed some disappointment at not being included in the long-list for the much-hyped Booker Prize. His recompense in receiving the National Book Award this week is not to be under estimated. Along with the Pulitzer, this award is regarded as America’s most eminent literary prize. McCann’s achievement in becoming the first Irish writer to win it places him alongside some of the iconic names of contemporary American fiction.

The judges noted McCann’s “lyrical gifts” which are abundantly displayed in Let The Great World Spin. This book, which has been described as “the first great 9/11 novel”, is not, only a showcase of the author’s finest writing to date, but also a remarkable triumph of storytelling and insight into the human spirit. An imaginative paean to his adopted city of New York, McCann’s interweaving of different lives and stories deserves all the plaudits and acclaim that this life-affirming novel has received.

In each succeeding work, the Dublin-born writer has tackled ambitious and distinctively non-Irish themes, and like others of his generation he has moved the locus of his writing to places far from his homeland: Zoli had as its central character an eastern European gypsy poet; Dancer reassembled in fictional form the life of the ballet virtuoso Rudolf Nureyev.

His international appeal is reflected in the translation of his work into over 30 languages, with a particularly strong following among readers in France where the government awarded him a Chevalier des arts et lettres, a rare distinction for a foreign writer.

In a time of anxiety about cuts in funding for our writers and artists, it is worth recalling McCann’s recent statement to an joint Oireachtas committee when he eloquently championed State funding for the arts, citing his own experience of receiving an Arts Council bursary as one that facilitated his development as a writer - a development that undoubtedly led to the acclamation and award that came his way in New York this week.

In response to McCann’s success, Minister for the Arts, Martin Cullen, paid tribute not only to the author but to “the global cultural profit of Irish artists” and Ireland’s “world-class achievement in creativity”. In making his case for continued and adequate investment in the arts, the Minister now has yet another fine example of how the Irish imagination continues to be one of our greatest assets.

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