One Book One Community: Colum McCann’s Gift to Pittsburgh and the World

Colum McCann - PAL 3-10-2014

Colum McCann, March 10, 2014

photo credit: Renee Rosensteel, renee@rosensteel.com

event photos generously provided by Renee Rosensteel and Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures

Colum McCann had us at hello.

“Happy to be here with yinz!” the National Book Award winning Irish author said, greeting the delighted sold-out crowd at Carnegie Music Hall in pitch-perfect Pittsburghese.

Colum McCann visited our city on March 10 as part of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Ten Literary Evenings Monday Night Lecture Series, made possible by The Drue Heinz Trust. His lecture, underwritten by UPMC, also launched One Book One Community 2014, an initiative of the Allegheny County Library Association (ACLA).  (Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is a sponsor of One Book One Community 2014.)

TransAtlantic, Colum McCann’s latest novel, is this year’s One Book One Community selection. It’s a fascinating novel about three interconnected journeys across the ocean, but also across time and history and generations.  The characters’ stories, like so many of our stories, are woven together.

“Every moment that we live in has been influenced by the past,” McCann said during his lecture. “Everything we do … matters to the future.”

Colum McCann 2 - PAL 3-10-2014

He was referring to TransAtlantic. But the magic of the evening was wrapped in stories about his childhood filled with books from a journalist father who traveled to America and who returned with the best for his young son, cultivating a “love of stories.” It was about  losing faith as a writer and regaining it through the “spectacular generosity of the Rooney family” who gave him “the oomph” to continue writing by awarding him the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 1994.

“I wouldn’t be here without them,” he stated.

Everything we do matters to the future.

It was about Pittsburgh – our beloved Pittsburgh, a city that Colum McCann had visited for the first time this Monday.

“I felt like I was stepping through parts of Dublin, parts of New York,” he observed. Earlier in the day, he’d spoken with students from Woodland Hills High School and he was impressed with how the youth reflected on the city.  You can learn so much about a place from talking and listening to a city’s children and young people, he said.

Everything we do matters to the future.

Indeed, we live in a city of bridges. Our everyday crossings over the Allegheny, the Ohio, and the Mon may seem more insignificant than transatlantic ones – although depending on the time of day, the weather, and the particular bridge, it may feel almost as long. Our everyday lives and actions don’t always seem historical, like they matter in the lives of others.

Everything we do matters to the future.

And especially here in Pittsburgh, our big small town, we are more connected than we ever imagined.

At the end of the evening, I stood in line, juggling my three Colum McCann books to be signed, my cell phone charged for a much-hoped for photo.  I chatted with the ladies behind me, one of whom held a copy of Dancer written in an unfamiliar language.

Igrac - Dancer in Russian

Someone had invited her to the lecture, asking her if she had ever heard of Colum McCann. I’m reading his book now, she had said.

“I could tell him that I came all the way from Serbia to have him sign my book,” she said, and we laughed. “Because it’s kind of true.”

Someone else said hello. The ladies resumed their conversation. I didn’t have a chance to hear her story. I wish that I had.

Upon seeing the book, Colum McCann was amazed. He had never seen that edition of Dancer … until that moment, right here in Pittsburgh.

I took in the electric symbolism of the moment: transatlantic crossings, connections.  “The world grows small around us, it seems.”  That’s what Colum McCann said to a sold-out Pittsburgh crowd moments before, and watching him sign that book, I felt and saw the absolute truth of his words.

Books really do have the power to connect the world.

~ Melissa F.

One Book One Community is an initiative of the Allegheny County Library Association. For details on how you, your book club or your organization can participate, stop by your local library or visit One Book One Community.org.

More information about Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures can be found here.

6 Comments

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6 responses to “One Book One Community: Colum McCann’s Gift to Pittsburgh and the World

  1. What a lovely post. Colum McCann is one of my favourites. I recently went to see him read from TransAtlantic in Belfast and he was so personable and entertaining.

  2. His book Let the Great World Spin is on my top ten faves. Quite a talented writer.

  3. He is one of my very favorite authors, too … so much so that I bought the ticket for the lecture nearly a year in advance. You are right, Cathy746books, he is incredibly genuine and entertaining. And so funny. Reticent, I hope you have the chance to hear him speak in person sometime; he is (as anyone who is a Colum McCann fan can imagine) quite the storyteller.

    Thanks for reading and for your kind words.

    - Melissa F.

  4. his words really do ring a bell :’“Every moment that we live in has been influenced by the past,Everything we do … matters to the future.”

  5. I love how you’ve taken the theme of his book (transatlantic, water crossings) and modified it to make a connection that ‘brings it home’ and roots it in Pittsburgh. As the waters of Pittsburgh’s three rivers have shaped our city and our lives, so have the waters of the Atlantic shaped the lives of those on both sides — and those crossing over.

  6. JMVarnerBooks ~ Thank you … that’s it, exactly. The symbolism and connections were incredibly powerful last week and had a lot of meaning for all of us. Thanks for reading.

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