President and Salon host Brendan Costello Jr. [Photos by John Kwok]

Warm applause on cold evening

Salon Diary / By Anthony Murphy

Brendan Costello, President of Irish American Writers & Artists, hosted the first Salon of 2024 at the Ellington, corner of 105th Street & Broadway. It was a cold evening outside, and the room was packed. After the audience had warmed their hands by applauding Brendan’s new appointment, he introduced the first presenter and Salon regular, Ron Vazzano. The prolific poet read a witty, fact-filled account of Mardi Gras, and the New Orleans carnival krewes, detailing the debauchery that gives way to religion the day after. Ron’s current writing can be found at his online MuseLetter. (

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Next was a debut for new member and Bronx resident, Maureen Ocasio, who read a short story, evoking 1960s memories of family and the love and loss found within. She left us with a pregnant pause, an intriguing “to be continued…”

 The dapper Al Gonzalez also had a Bronx tale to tell. His real-life accounts detail some episodes from his time as an NYPD radio car cop. Today he told us a moving Christmas story about the human touch, acting with honor and the need we all have to feel safe and protected. His memoir is titled “The Wearing of the Blue.”

  Kate McLeod then read a short yet powerful poem, a despairing cry concerning the human condition. Kate is a regular at the Salon, and is a librettist and lyricist and is working on an all-consuming project, “I Heart My Car: The Musical.”

  Rebecca Coffey is a science journalist and gave us a humorous essay concerning evolution. This involved graphic tales of certain arachnids’ amorous episodes, and the sacrifices made to further the species. All is fair in love and war, and it certainly doesn’t sound fun for spiders. Visit Rebecca’s website for more about her work.

 Thom Molyneaux opened the second half of the night with two monologues of Shakespeare’s “Henry V” exploring what it means to be King and a third of Dylan Thomas explaining what it means to be a poet, from Sydney Michaels play Dylan. Thom was delighted with the reception he received and especially with the connection between himself and the audience as Dylan explains how “Baa Baa, Black Sheep” is actually the story of his life and that “Have you any wool?” is the request life makes of poets, “Have you any long rainbow strands of wooly thoughts to be woven into the dense and lovely fabric of poems, which are the ferventest of prayers by which men praise God and this his slapdash Eden, continually lost and found and lost, alas.” Words like that certainly make the job easy.Next, another debut for a new member. Marlene May, originally from Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, presented an excerpt from a novel in progress. Set on a farm in rural Ireland, it was a story of a family’s generational differences, as the younger ones dare to have ambitions. The dialogue was lively and lovingly read. Marlene has been published on Irish Central and in the Connaught Tribune.

Marlene May.

 Casemiro “Cas” Torres followed. His brutally honest autobiographical account of the hardest of childhoods was an emotional listen. Tales of cruelty and homelessness ultimately gave way to love and hope, rehabilitation felt like reincarnation. And Cas has since found a positive use for these stories, writing a play, “The Castle,” which became a movie, “Released” by Winner Productions.

Board member John Munnelly rounded things off with three self-penned songs, accompanied by his own twelve string guitar. An always welcome listen, or singalong, his improvisational wit can be next enjoyed as part of the Improv. Rep. Theatre Ensemble (IRTE). They have a show, vIRTEgo Circus that starts at The Producers Club, West 44th Street, on Friday, Feb. 16, and runs through St. Patrick’s weekend, Fridays and Saturdays only.

John’s final song brought the evening to a close on a positive note, but unfortunately we have to end this diary with some sad news. It is with heavy hearts we announce the untimely passing of our dear colleague Jay Wanczyk. Jay was a warm and generous man, always friendly, curious and, above all, supportive.

He was an enthusiastic attendee and participant in our Salons, and his photography helped us document our Salons and other events. Jay brought positive energy wherever he went and he epitomized IAW&A's spirit of convivial community.

Jay made our world a better place. He will be sorely missed.

Click here to read his obituary.

Our next Salon will be on Feb. 20 at The Ellington. Visit the IAW&A website here for more information on upcoming events.