Introduction Colum McCann and the Aesthetics of Redemption
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At the beginning of the RTÉ Arts Lives documentary, ‘Colum McCann – Becoming a New Yorker’ (2009), Colum McCann asks, selfconsciously, why anyone would want to follow him around with a camera and make a film about his life as a resident of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The newly inaugurated winner of the prestigious National Book Award, 2009, is unsure as to why a permanent and public televisual narrative record, with him as the central topic, would be of interest to a broad audience. Yet, this is only true if we consider McCann’s National Book Award triumph as a kind of departure point and if we treat of McCann as a bolting ingénue to the world of contemporary literary fiction. When, in fact, it is the culmination, thus far, of a virtuoso writing career, which has garnered widespread acclaim, a generous haul of literary prizes, and secured a faculty position on the creative writing programme at CUNY’s Hunter College, alongside Peter Carey and Nathan Englander. The weight of McCann’s 2009 award cannot be underestimated, given the pedigree of previous recipients such as: Cormac McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, E. Annie Proulx, John Barth, and E.L. Doctorow. The National Book Award can be added to a host of achievements by McCann, numbered among which are: the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature (1994), for Fishing the Sloe-Black River; two Sunday Tribune Hennessy Literary Awards (1995), for his story, ‘Tresses’; a Pushcart Prize (1997), for his story ‘As Kingfishers Catch Fire’; the Princess Grace Memorial Literary Prize (2000); a nomination in 1995 and a short-listing in 2000 for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize for Songdogs and This Side of Brightness respectively; and in 2003 he was Esquire’s ‘Writer of the Year’. More recently, McCann has been inducted into the Hennessy Literary Hall of Fame and, in 2009, he became a member of Aosdána and was granted a French Chevalier des arts et lettres by the French government. In light of these and other distinctions, McCann’s querying of his selection as a subject for an RTÉ Arts Lives feature seems excessively modest.