Emcee Charles Hale had worried that some regulars might give the Irish American Writers & Artists salon a miss on a wet Tuesday in December.
But, he needn’t have. For they drifted in from the night in their ones and twos and soon the Café Thalia at 95th and Broadway was near to full. Other than four young adults working at laptops, they were there to listen and a good number of them to read, as well.
Hale’s concern may have stemmed from the fact that the salon has expanded after just half a year from its first Tuesday of the month event to a version further downtown on the third Thursday. That debuted on Nov. 17 at the Cell on West 23rd Street, which is a rather more flexible performance space than Café Thalia. “They can sing, they can act, and they can play music,” said the emcee.
Hale, himself, is a dab hand at the piano, another IAW&A member reported back about the first night at the Cell. “Oh, I haven’t played in years,” he said modestly.
He got involved in the IAW&A after he saw the organization’s president Peter Quinn being interviewed by Patricia O’Reilly on “Out of Ireland” about its signature event, the annual presentation of the Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I’d met him a few times and he’s on Ric Burns’s ‘New York,’ which I’ve seen 500 times,” Hale recalled. “I said: ‘I’ve got to join this group.’”
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When the IAW&A had a general meeting at the Irish Consulate in the spring, he volunteered for the events committee and was appointed its chairman. It was IAW&A co-founder Malachy McCourt, one of last week’s 11 contributors, who suggested the Salon, and Hale who executed the idea. It took off right away.
Honor Molloy, who has a book and audio book coming out on St. Patrick’s Day, said: “It’s funny that the salon moves around the city now, up the town and down, but it feels like the thriving center of my creative life.
“I told Charles and Peter Quinn a while back that the IAW&A has taken the place of New Dramatists for me,” she added. “That was an organization that made me feel I had comrades, collaborators and an artistic home.”
“It’s a great informal way to meet artists and exchange ideas,” said novelist Kevin Holohan, whose debut “The Brothers’ Lot” has garnered rave reviews in Dublin (Irish Times), London (Times Literary Supplement) and New York (Library Journal). “And it provides a supportive, receptive and constructive forum to try stuff out loud, knowing there is a safety net of good will there.”
“I have heard the best writing I’ve heard in years,” said Molloy, specifically citing her fellow Dubliner Holohan, but like him stressed its informality.
“I can bring polished work into the salon, or a personal piece I’ve never shared with a soul,” she said.
Another Dubliner Brendan Connellan said: “Although there is a certain guilty pleasure in seeing your words gather on a screen and nibble on each other, there is nothing like releasing them out into the wider world.”
Connellan added: “At the salon, a receptive audience takes the time to shut off their phones, sit in darkness and give you their time — an act of great generosity amidst the busy chaos of New York.”
Last week, Molloy presented a video of “Sixpence the Stars,” a recreation and re-imagination of one of her mother’s Radio Éireann scripts from the mid-1960s. It’s about a Moore Street woman trader who retells the Nativity tale. She also assisted Sheila Walsh read her play in progress, “Mr. Tweedy’s Neighbors.”
At the Cell, she read “If It Wasn’t for the Letters ” — a piece about her family’s successful emigration from Ireland when she was a child.
Hale commented in his blog about that effort: “If you didn’t have a catch in your throat or a tear in your eye, you weren’t paying attention. A wonderfully crafted, powerful story.”
Molloy said that she soon plans to read at the salon an excerpt from “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” that her sister used to read to her when she was a child.
Last week, Sarah Fearon spoke about Irishness and the Holiday Season; John Kearns brought the room back to 1911 with some pages from a New York-set novel he is writing; Maura Mulligan revealed some of her upcoming memoir “Call of the Lark”: Kevin McPartland, a Vietnam veteran, read from a Mekong Delta-set story he had published 20 years ago. Other material based on real-life experiences came from Kathy Callaghan, who recalled being on her father’s shoulders in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, on Nov. 22, 1963 and Kathleen Rockwell Lawrence remembered how her father, who had 15 children, really had it in for the birth-control advocate Margaret Sanger.
Hale said that anyone can attend, but that generally the readers and performers are drawn from the signed-up membership and that that has developed a sense of community. Sometimes, though, visitors from Ireland and elsewhere and “starving artists” from New York do get to the microphone.
“We occasionally make an exception,” he said.
The next salon will take place at the Cell, located at 338 W 23rd Street in Manhattan, on Dec. 20, beginning at 7 p.m. For more information on joining the Irish American Artists and Writers and presenting at a salon contact Charles Hale at [email protected]