Author Colum McCann Visits Queens College

I left my Biology lecture early to head to the beautiful music building, the Samuel J. and Ethel Lefrak Concert Hall, on September 24. The program had already begun and I silently entered and walked up to the top right section. The impressive 487-seat recital hall at Queens College was mostly full, but not with students. The audience was made up of adults, mostly senior citizens. I felt like I was in the social hall at my grandmother’s retirement community in Florida. My only inkling that I was still in school was the usher who waved to me, a guy I knew from my poetry class. The audience was captivated, as I was, by the conversation on stage between WNYC talk-show host Leonard Lopate and award-winning writer Colum McCann.

McCann Photo by Bourke
Colum McCann. Photo courtesy of The Book Stall.

Renowned author of  Let the Great World Spin, winner of the 2009 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction and the 2011 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, Colum McCann was discussing his newest book, Transatlantic. The New York Times praised “McCann’s musically patterned new novel,” which is a tribute to his hometown in Ireland, as “an act of grace and transcendence.”  Whether you just completed the novel, or in my case, had not yet cracked its spine, the dialogue between Lopate, a Brooklyn-based talk show host and skilled interviewer, and McCann proved to be more interesting than any of my other lectures.

With his clear Irish accent, McCann spoke eloquently about his new book, the power of words and storytelling, and his experiences in Ireland and all over the world that influence his writing. He referenced his past works, to which the audience smiled in recognition, and (without consent of his editor) gingerly revealed that his next book would be a collection of short stories. A question-and-answer session followed, giving time for the starstruck readers to ask questions about particular characters and stories, and an opportunity to express their appreciation and respect to the author.

McCann's newest book, Transatlantic. Photo courtesy of Goodreads.
McCann’s newest book, Transatlantic. Photo courtesy of Goodreads.

I truly enjoyed my experience at this reading, because I love Let the Great World Spin and admire McCann’s poetic way of writing intricate and insightful novels about New York City and its uniquely complex society. Seeing the artist behind the work added another level of understanding to his novels and where his brilliant stories come from.

But as I looked around the hall, I was surprised, or merely disappointed, by the poor student turnout. Do college students want to read novels for the simple sake of reading, enjoying and maybe learning, anymore? Is Colum McCann a known author to today’s students? I am by no means a huge reader (who has time?) but I respect decent literature and contemporary writers.

The program was certainly well-advertised, but perhaps we have become blind to the countless postings of academic enrichment. Are we too busy with our own schoolwork or rather spend our time out of school when we are not mandated to be there?  Is another moment in a lecture utterly unthinkable? I ask my peers and myself these questions in wonderment why we barely attend the fantastic programs Queens offers. After this positive experience, I encourage us to all think about attending a few more of these events.

I am glad that Queens College reaches out to the greater community, inviting citizens to interesting educational events, which they clearly enjoy. People now have the opportunity to enter a college campus for a night of academia or culture. I appreciate the community-oriented events but regret the fact that so many students are not involved. Queens College should continue to welcome neighbors, while students should pay more attention to these events and enjoy the academics, culture and arts that exist outside the classroom.

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