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Albany Book Festival: National Book Award winner Colum McCann

We're delighted to have National Book Award winner Colum McCann join us (online) for our upcoming Albany Book Festival September 10-24. He is the internationally bestselling author of the novels TransAtlantic, Let the Great World Spin, Zoli, Dancer, This Side of Brightness, and Songdogs, as well as three critically acclaimed story collections and the nonfiction book Letters to a Young Writer.

His newest novel Apeirogon has been longlisted for the Booker Prize and received rave reviews. A sampling:

Colum McCann's "Apeirogon"

“Brilliant . . . powerful and prismatic . . . Apeirogon is an empathy engine, utterly collapsing the gulf between teller and listener. . . . It achieves its aim by merging acts of imagination and extrapolation with historical fact. But it’s undisputably a novel, and, to my mind, an exceedingly important one. It does far more than make an argument for peace; it is, itself, an agent of change.”The New York Times Book Review (cover review)

“This is a wondrous book. In an accretion of splendid detail, McCann writes with an amazing abundance of humanity as he describes the age-old story of inhumanity to man. The effect is absolutely staggering—it will bring you to your knees. Writing at the top of his game, McCann brings us a book that we sorely need. It left me hopeful; this is its gift. What a read!”—Elizabeth Strout

“Virtuosic . . . Colum McCann’s grand and exhilarating novel Apeirogon is . . . a profound prayer for peace. . . . Apeirogon reminds us that such incandescent art evokes humility and light in the face of oppression and loss.”O: The Oprah Magazine

“Dazzling . . . hypnotic . . . heartbreaking and mesmerizing . . . Besides the kaleidoscopic brilliance of the narrative, this is also a deeply human story.”San Francisco Chronicle

“McCann performs his own epic balancing act between life and art, writing with stunning lyricism and fluent empathy as he traces the ripple effects of violence and grief, beauty, and the miraculous power of friendship and love, valor and truth.”Booklist (starred review)

Join us Friday, Sept. 18, for a special event. Colum McCann in conversation with Edward Schwarzschild.* Click here to order Apeirogon through the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, the sole bookseller for the Albany Book Festival. 

Here's an interview first published in the San Diego Union-Tribune and reprinted with permission.

Author Colum McCann on politics and the art of peacemaking

By Denise Davidson, March 8, 2020

Irish-born writer Colum McCann’s new book, “Apeirogon,” is classified as a novel — yet parts of it are factual.

“Really, it’s a story like any story. Some of it’s imagined but all of it is real,” said the international best-selling author. “The world demands that we label things as fiction or nonfiction. Essentially every story is a fiction, and it is equally a piece of nonfiction too. I’m not trying to be a smart aleck here. This is what I truly believe. What is most important is to try to tell an honest story.”

“Apeirogon” is inspired by the lives of two fathers — one Israeli and one Palestinian. Both of their young daughters were violently killed in the ongoing regional conflict. The fathers channeled their grief by joining forces and became peace advocates. Woven into their stories are other stories — all told from different angles and point of views.

McCann has received many honors, including the National Book Award, a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres from the French government and the 2010 Best Foreign Novel Award in China. His work has been published in more than 40 languages. McCann teaches at Hunter College in New York City and lives there with his wife and family. On Monday night, he will be at the University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Theatre. Q: What does your title mean, and why is it important to your novel? A: An apeirogon is a shape with a countable infinite number of sides. It sounds crazy and impossible and beautiful all at once — and it is. You can be part of an infinite shape and land on any finite point within it. You can be at home and you can be everywhere. And you can, in fact, be lost too. I think it’s a word for the modern condition.

Q: Who are Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan? Who were their daughters Abir and Smadar? A: Bassam is Palestinian. He’s a father and a husband and a peace activist. He would say that he is a human being, and he would regret the need to have to say that. Rami is Israeli. He is a father and a husband and a peace activist also. He would call Bassam his best friend. Abir and Smadar are their daughters who died in a conflict that the two men speak out against again and again and again. Q: What are two true facts that surprised you the most about Bassam and Rami? A: Every moment of their lives surprised me. For example, Bassam is a Palestinian who studied the Holocaust while in prison. And Rami is an Israeli who triumphs the humanity of his Palestinian neighbors.

Q: Why is ‘Know your enemy; keep them close’ a common refrain for Aramin? A: I think this phrase can be explained in several ways. In wartime, it’s a way to restrain your enemy. In peacetime, it’s a way to embrace him or her.

Q: Who is Nurit Elhanan? Why do some people consider her controversial? A: Nurit is Rami’s wife. She’s a brilliant academic. She is pretty controversial in Israel. She wants the occupation to end, and she vocally blames the Israeli government for the death of her daughter by a Palestinian suicide bomber.

Q: What main idea do you want to talk about at USD on Monday night? [Editor's note: Colum McCann was scheduled to speak at the University of San Diego in March.] A: That’s a hard question. I’m going to talk about peace and peacemaking, I suppose. I’m going to talk about two men who lost their daughters and believe that they can harness the power of their grief to work for peace.

Q: Are you personally hopeful about future Israeli and Palestinian political relations? A: Ouch, that’s another hard question. I think I’m a pessimistic optimist, or pessoptimist, I suppose. Some days are gray, and others are bright. When I think about the political landscape in its current incarnation, I am intensely gray. When I think about the real people on the ground — the Ramis and the Bassams and the young Greta Thunbergs of this world — I feel a beam of brightness shooting through the room. And I believe the brightness swamps the gray.

Q: Do you consider this a political novel? A: Yes. It’s explicitly political. But it doesn’t tell you how or what to think. I hope that it allows you to think. It gives you a chance to make up your own mind.

Q: Can you please talk about your nonprofit Narrative 4 that you co-founded? A: With pleasure! Narrative 4 is, in my view, one of the most necessary organizations for our divided times. We bring young people together to tell one another’s stories. We encourage radical empathy. We ask you to walk in somebody else’s shoes and then to turn that empathy into action on the ground. We ask you to refuse cynicism. We ask you to look across the room, or the city, or the country and see yourself. We are fronted by writers, powered by teachers and embraced by young people all over the world.

Q: What’s the importance of storytelling? Why do you refuse cynicism, and how do you react to cynics? A: I love hanging out with cynics. They make me laugh. Seriously. They are so serious about themselves. They consider themselves muscular and smart, but they’re really quite weak. In fact, I find them intensely sentimental. They refuse to see beyond their own bordered ideas. They’re not interested in the value of others. Give me an optimist ... or even a pessoptimist ... any day.


* Edward Schwarzschild is the author of the new novel In Security (SUNY Press, October 2020). He is also the author of Responsible Men and The Family Diamond. At the University at Albany, State University of New York, he is Associate Professor of English, Director of Creative Writing, and Fellow of the New York State Writers Institute.

In Security is available to order through the SUNY Press website at a 30% discount with coupon code ABF20 through October 24th. Click here to order.



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