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Colum McCann

Author of the National Book Award-winning novel Let the Great World Spin

Author Colum McCann: Stories Can Be ‘Muscular’
  • About Colum McCann

    Colum McCann is the internationally bestselling author of the 2009 National Book Award-winning novel Let the Great World Spin. In his collection of short fiction, Thirteen Ways of Looking, McCann charts the territory of chance, and the profound and intimate consequences of even our smallest moments.

    A true literary scholar and international artist, Colum McCann speaks with great passion about the writer’s craft and journey. Born in Ireland, he has traveled extensively around the world. He is a member of the Irish Academy, Aosdana, and was awarded a Chevalier des arts et Lettres by the French government in fall 2009 (making him one of an exclusive number of foreign artists recognized in France for their literary contributions: other recipients have included Paul Auster, Salman Rushdie, and Julian Barnes). The exclusive American Academy honored him with a literary award in May 2011.

    McCann’s fiction has been published in 30 languages and has appeared in The New Yorker, Paris Review, Granta, The Atlantic Monthly, GQ, Bomb and other places. He has written for numerous publications including The New York Times, the Irish Times, Die Zeit, La Repubblica, Paris Match, the Guardian, the Times, and the Independent. His novel Let the Great World Spin (2009) was a bestseller on four continents; in the U.S. it hit the New York Times, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Denver Post, and Los Angeles Times bestseller lists. Previous works include the novels Zoli, Dancer, This Side of BrightnessSongdogs, and TransAtlantic.

    In 2017 McCann published Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice. He currently teaches at the MFA program in Hunter College and lives in New York City.

  • Speaking Topics

    An Evening with Colum McCann

    The Writer's Journey

    From idea to written page, how a novel is born

    Telling stories

    Creating fiction from a historical perspective

    The Writer's Craft

    Creating memorable characters in a specific moment in time

  • Video

  • Praise for Colum McCann


    Colum was excellent with our students blending current events and personal anecdotes during his presentation. Of utmost importance, I have rarely met an author as willing to spend his personal time connecting with our students. Colum is gracious with his time and easy to work with prior to and upon arrival, plus it helps that he is a true literary scholar. Duke was grateful for his work enhancing our summer reading program.

    Duke University

    Praise for Thirteen Ways of Looking

    McCann is a writer of power and subtlety and beauty… The powerful title story loiters in the mind long after you’ve read it…

    Sarah Lyall, The New York Times

    The author of Let the Great World Spin has spent so long illuminating history through fiction that readers can miss the real source of his power: his perfection of sentence, idea, and voice. In this new quartet of stories, all thematically related to a random assault McCann suffered last year, he displays a rare confluence of skill, style, and moral vision.

    New York Magazine

    For the novella and three stories that make up Thirteen Ways of Looking, McCann returns to the present and resorts to more streamlined storytelling, each time following the modern thoughts, fears and exploits of one main fictional character. Despite these changes, all four tales are still recognizably the work of McCann — elegantly composed, emotionally charged and searingly perceptive. [In the title novella,] McCann keeps us entertained with his James Joycean flourishes (Mendelssohn’s stream of consciousness and endless wordplay — ‘let bygods be bygones’) and riveted as the police sift suspects, then close in on their wanted man…Throughout [the four stories], McCann makes us share his characters’ pain and their eventual cathartic release, and he helps us to understand and appreciate that there is ‘A lot of volume in this life. Echoes too.

    Minneapolis Star Tribune

    [T]he novella is an intriguing and suspenseful work. The three short stories that conclude the collection are extraordinary; in the shorter fiction his prose becomes incandescent, charged with the economy and lyricism of poetry. In one story, a mother and her adopted teenage son step into ‘a shaft of light so clear and bright it seemed made of bone.’ This is precise and evocative writing, strengthened by later events in the story that sharpen the analogy's menacing edge. Waves hurrying to shore are ‘long scribbles of white,’ and the unlatched bottom half of a door swings ‘panicky’ in the wind. As in Joyce's Dubliners, the psychological states of characters subtly color the descriptions of their environments, an artful mapping of inner worlds onto external ones.

    Chicago Tribune

    In just three short stories and one novella, McCann weaves the magic that made Let the Great World Spin so acclaimed—especially in one brilliant short piece of metafiction in which the process of writing a story becomes interwoven with the story created.

    Huffington Post

    [McCann] unspools complex and unforgettable stories in this, his first collection in more than a decade…

    The Boston Globe

    The irreducible mystery of human experience ties this small collection together, and in each of these stories McCann explores that theme in some strikingly effective ways….McCann has perfected a method of finely blending his own narration with his characters’ thoughts and dialogue. [The first story] is as fascinating as it is poignant. [The second story] captures the mundane and mysterious aspects of shaping characters from the gray clay of words , placing them in realistic settings and breathing life into their lungs…that he makes the story so emotionally compelling is a sign of his genius… The most remarkable one is [the third story]… caught in the rushing currents of this drama, you know you are reading a little masterpiece…. Only one of the treasures in this collection.

    Ron Charles, The Washington Post
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