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‘Triply blessed’

April 6, 2017

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Novelist Donal Ryan giving a class during the Frank McCourt Creative Writing Summer School in New York in 2016.

 

By Peter McDermott

Last summer, the University of Limerick traveled to New York City for a few days and was such a success and had such a good time, it’s coming back.

According to Don Barry, the university’s president, its Frank McCourt Creative Writing Summer School in New York “links two literary worlds – on the banks of the Shannon and the shores of the Hudson – that fired our much-missed Frank’s imagination.”

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Seven of the 60 participants in the inaugural Frank McCourt Creative

Writing Summer School. PHOTO: PETER MCDERMOTT

 

The 2017 Frank McCourt Creative Writing Summer School will take place from June 22-25 at Glucksman Ireland House, New York University.

The late writer’s wife Ellen Frey McCourt said: “Three cheers to Shannon Airport Authority for continuing their enlightened support for the ambitious UL/Frank McCourt Summer School in New York.

“In one divine stroke they have enabled the two things Frank loved most—teaching and writing.  Thank you also to Joseph O’Connor and his UL colleagues for putting it all together with NYU, Frank’s Alma Mater, Glucksman Ireland House and the Irish Arts Center. Frank would feel triply blessed.”

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Ellen Frey McCourt and Frank McCourt during

a visit to Ireland in 1997. ROLLINGNEWS.IE

[CLICK ON PICTURES FOR LARGER IMAGES]

 

O’Connor, the international best-selling author of “Star of the Sea” and seven other novels, said, “‘The Summer School offers a taste of Creative Writing as we teach it at UL, with the emphasis on enjoyment, collegiality, mutual respect and love of words, in a community of writers working together.”

Teachers also include celebrated poet Mary O’Malley and rising literary star Donal Ryan, whose “The Spinning Heart” won the 2013 Guardian First Book Prize and was recently named the Irish Novel of the Decade.

Frey McCourt commented to the Echo about O’Connor: “He is the perfect choice for the Frank McCourt Chair: a writer of distinction, a warm, inspiring and nurturing teacher, and a highly capable and imaginative administrator.  What more could one ask?”

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Professor Joseph O’Connor and Irish ConsulGeneral

Barbara Jones at last year’s launch. HIGGINSPHOTONYC.COM

 

The Irish Echo put a few questions to Professor O’Connor about last year’s inaugural UL/ Frank McCourt Creative Writing Summer School and this year’s.

Did the Summer School last year meet your expectations?

I’d say we had a little trepidation about setting up the inaugural Summer School last year, simply because it was new. But it was an amazing success. I think part of that was because we had the huge and generous support of our sponsors, Shannon Airport, who were so encouraging, as were our friends at the Irish Arts Center, with all their wisdom and expertise on organization. And also because the Summer School is a tribute to Frank McCourt and his twin legacy as a writer and a teacher. There’s so much goodwill towards Frank. So many people have a story about him or remember him with great warmth and affection, whether from the classroom or because they loved his books.

And the teaching team we were able to put together was first rate, with sessions to appeal to many different kinds of writer. I think this year we’re very strong on those fronts too. We have the great Donal Ryan, a writer of astounding gifts, along with Kerry Neville, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald and Darragh McKeon, all of whom have achieved remarkable things in their writing.

 

Did you enjoy it? 

Oh, I absolutely loved it. To teach in such a beautiful and special place as Glucksman Ireland House is a privilege. The people who work there were, as always, so hospitable and gracious and helpful. We couldn’t do the Summer School without them. The first time I ever set foot in Glucksman Ireland House, as a young fella with a lot more hair than I have now, I had this longing to teach there one day. So, it was a dream come true.

 

Tell us something about the 60 participants in 2016?

We had people aged from 16 up to early 70s, with a range of writerly experience. A number of them had published books, articles, or online short stories and others were completely new to writing. We had teachers, students, retired people, a New York City firefighter. We see the Summer School as a community of writers learning from each other. Our open-mic sessions proved hugely popular with the students, and we were offered everything from poetry, extracts from novels, pieces of memoir, even songs. It was really uplifting to see the new writers find their voice. And there’s an enjoyable social dimension too. Our Sunday morning literary brunch at McSorley’s proved a lot of fun. We’ll be doing that again this year, thanks to our great friends there.

 

Is it possible that being away in an exciting city — in the case of the visitors –  heightens the senses and makes the learning experience, especially in writing, more interesting?

Well, New York is such a colorful and vivid city that all writers learn there, simply by keeping their eyes and ears open. And the seminar led by acclaimed Irish poet, Mary O’Malley, who will be with us again this year, focused on the work of New York-based poets like Frank O’Hara. This year we’ll have my colleague Eoin Devereux talking about the creativity of that great longtime New York resident, David Bowie. I think that going to New York as a young writer helped me immensely, I must say. You realize that there is a story on every block and every avenue and street corner. Then, there is the particular electricity of being in any place that is so multicultural but, more than that, so energetic in its spirit.

As Joan Didion pointed out, New York has the greatest concentration of young people anywhere in America, many of them from somewhere else, all of them wanting to make it and all with a story. And, as she puts it, amusingly but I think truthfully, too: “Few of those stories end in a double-ring ceremony.” So, there’s always that buzz and restlessness in New York, that sense that everything is still to be written.

The prospectus states: “The Summer School is open to application from everyone, whether resident in New York or willing to travel from Ireland.” Which sounds like you’re excluding people from New Jersey — even the governor?  What about someone from Butte, Mont.? Please clarify, if you would.

The Summer School is open to anyone and everyone – including Governor Christie, should the desire for storytelling strike him. We leave our baggage and our sins at the door.

For more information go here or for details and informal enquiries email: [email protected].

 

 

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