The Irish are coming | AspenTimes.com

The Irish are coming

Stewart Oksenhorn

After 28 years, the Aspen Writers’ Foundation has decided to put a regional dialect into its annual summer festival. Beginning this year, the Writers’ Foundation’s Summer Words Lit Fest initiates the World of Words program, with the literature of a different country receiving a focused celebration each summer.And the first country to be so honored is Ireland. Summer Words 2005, set for June 26-30, will bring some 11 Irish writers, headed by memoirist Frank McCourt (see below), to Aspen for readings, talks and social events. This year’s festival will also feature the introduction of the Aspen Prize for Literature, with an award of $10,000 split among attending writers, poet Paul Muldoon and novelist Edna O’Brien; and the first gala dinner, honoring McCourt, author of “Angela’s Ashes.” All events will be held in the Hotel Jerome.Also scheduled to participate in Summer Words 2005 are Polly Devlin, author of “All of Us There”; Patrick McCabe, author of “Breakfast on Pluto”; and Colum McCann, winner of the Irish Novel of the Year award.The Irish emphasis began with Denise O’Kelly, a writer, radio critic and lecturer on the literature of her native Ireland. Last year, while living in New York, O’Kelly organized a celebration at New York University of the 122nd birthday of Irish icon James Joyce. (Last year also marked the 100th anniversary of the 1904 setting of Joyce’s “Ulysses,” said to be the most widely read book ever. Avoiding the rush, O’Kelly opted to observe Joyce’s February birthday, rather than Blooms Day, the typical Joycean bash on June 16.) Browsing the Internet after the successful event, O’Kelly came across the Aspen Writers’ Foundation website, which impressed her.”I sensed that great care had gone into selecting the speakers, because of all the Pulitzer Prize winners they had here,” O’Kelly said. She began discussions with Aspen Writers’ Foundation Lisa Consiglio, who visited O’Kelly in New York. Consiglio was inspired by the idea of a festival devoted to the writings of contemporary Irish authors, and O’Kelly found herself in Aspen, with the self-appointed title of Irish literature consultant to the Summer Words Lit Fest.O’Kelly remains happily staggered by the reception, from New York to Aspen, for Irish literature. “They have a surprising appreciation for Irish literature in America and especially in New York,” said O’Kelly, whose jobs in New York include lecturing at NYU and translating at the United Nations. “As an Irishman, you’re always surprised by that appreciation because we’re a tiny, tiny country. And we have such modesty – you can’t assume coming to a hub like New York that your culture will be celebrated above all the others.”I was amazed by the interest in New York. It didn’t matter if you were Ukrainian, you appreciated Irish literature.”O’Kelly speculates that it is the combination of rough circumstances historically and an optimistic outlook that has made the writing of Ireland so respected.”They transmute life’s griefs, and bring it out in the end in a way that can enlighten,” she said.For further information on the Aspen Writers’ Foundation and Summer Words 2005, call 925-3122, or go to http://www.aspenwriters.org.Change in plans; the other McCourt comingThe Aspen Writers’ Foundation has announced a change in the program for its upcoming Aspen Summer Words Literary Festival. Frank McCourt, who was scheduled to be celebrated at the Gala Dinner on June 29, will not be able to attend because of a medical emergency. Filling in will be McCourt’s brother, Malachy McCourt, an actor, playwright, comedian and international best-selling author.”Frank thought that I was gettin’ too big a head and that the atmosphere in Aspen, which is rarefied, would reduce me to size,” said Malachy McCourt, who co-wrote the play “A Couple of Blaguards” with his brother. “His first thought for an ebullient Irish replacement was Henry Kissinger, but he wasn’t available.”McCourt will participate in the Irish Author Salon on June 30, as well as headlining the Gala Dinner.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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