Tag-Archive for ◊ honorary degree ◊

Author:
• Friday, September 27th, 2013

Luanne Rice, the eldest of three daughters, was born in 1955 in New Britain, Connecticut into an Irish catholic family. Her father was a typewriter salesman and her mother an English teacher.

After finishing high school education, Rice studied History of Art at Connecticut College but wasn’t able to continue her studies further because her father’s grave illness obliged her to seek work.

Rice’s first poem was published in The Hartford Courant newspaper when she was just eleven years old and her first short story in American Girl Magazine at the early age of fifteen.

Luanne’s debut novel, Angels All Over Town, was published in 1985. Since then, writing became a full time job for her. She is a prolific writer with her novels having been translated into several languages and some of them made into films, TV mini-series and theatre productions. She is the New York Times’ best selling author.

Rice is a dedicated ecologist and a nature lover. She has written essays on migrating birds, oceans and offshore drilling. She is also devoted to helping women victims of domestic violence. In 2002 she received an honorary degree as Bachelor of Humane Letters from Connecticut College.

Rice travelled all over France and elsewhere in Europe when she lived in Paris for two years. After her mother died from a brain tumour, she returned to France and made a pilgrimage to the Camargue. She was bewitched by the green marshes and the magical landscape which inspired her to write her novel Light of the Moon.

She now lives with her second husband between New York, Old Lyme (Connecticut) and Southern California.

After grieving the loss of her mother and a long, unhappy love relationship with her colleague, Ian Stewart, Susannah Connoly, the Connecticut based skilled anthropologist, is encouraged by her mentor, Helen Oakes, to take two weeks holiday in Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer in the French Camargue. Going to this part of the world would also fulfil the wish of Susannah’s deceased mother who wanted her to visit Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer in order to see Saint Sarah’s shrine which was responsible for her birth. Susannah’s mother was yearning to have a child after many years of marriage. Her wish came true after visiting Saint Sarah and praying to her.

The story of Light of the Moon is set in this stunningly beautiful part of the south of France, la Camargue, with its lush marshes, wild white horses and wild black bulls. The author even takes her readers for an underwater dive into a unique prehistoric sea cave at Cap Morgiou (Marseille), which was discovered in 1991 by the French professional diver, Henri Cosquer.

With her painstaking attention to detail, describing the splendid surroundings of this part of France, the author transports her readers there. One can smell the salty marshes, hear the Mistral wind blowing, feel drenched by the heavy rain and under the spell of a charmingly romantic silvery moon. In this novel, nature is an important well portrayed character.

Another interesting theme developed in the novel are the historical traditions and beliefs of the Romany and Gypsy people and their devotion to their mythic patron saint, Sarah (Sara-la-Kali). Every 24th of May they come from everywhere to Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer to venerate their patron saint and have a great celebration with school children carrying a banner in the procession, while “the band would play and the equestrian team would ride in formation”.

The chosen setting for the novel is magnificent and the history of Romany and gypsy communities is interesting but unfortunately, the author didn’t expand more on the subject despite the length of the novel. Same for the characters who are not well developed. Regrettably, the romance between Susannah and the handsome Grey Dempsey, the American journalist who became a ranch owner after marrying an attractive gypsy, is mawkish, unoriginal and contrived. Some passages are monotonously repetitive which creates boredom and a sense of déjà-vu.

Alas, despite the ground being fertile, the harvest has failed to deliver.

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Author:
• Friday, April 27th, 2012

Colum MacCann was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1965 and studied journalism in the former College of Commerce in Rathmines, now the Dublin Institute of Technology. He obtained a BA degree from the University of Texas and was awarded an honorary degree by the Dublin Institute Of Technology. Starting as a journalist, he worked for The Irish Press, The New York Times, The Times, La Repubblica, Die Zeit, The Guardian and the Independent. He now teaches Creative Writing at City University of New York’s Hunter College.

In 2005 he was nominated for an Oscar for his short film, Everything In This Country Must.
He received the Hennessy Award for Irish Literature and the Ireland Fund of Monaco Princess Grace Memorial Literary Award.

In 2009 he was the National Book Award Winner for his novel, Let The Great World Spin.
In 2011 he received the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and in 2010 the Ambassador Book Award.
He was awarded the French Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2010.

He now lives with his wife and three children in New York.

Colum MacCann has written two collections of short stories and five novels to date which have been translated into thirty languages:
Fishing The Sloe-Black River 1994
Songdogs 1995
This Side Of Brightness 1998
Everything In This Country Must 2000
Dancer 2003
Zoli 2006
Let The Great World Spin 2009

Colum MacCann masterfully inter-connects the everyday life of people living in New York City in the seventies and makes one story out of what seems to be a series of short stories.

Let The Great World Spin starts with the genuine, illegal stunt of the French funambulist, Philippe Petit. Petit manages to successfully cross the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers in Manhattan on his tightrope at a tremendous height in August 1974, to the amazement and apprehension mixed with suspense of the onlookers down below in the street. This event forms the backbone and recurrent theme of the story, since each one of the characters has something meaningful happening on that memorable day and maybe they were also leading a “tightrope walk” kind of life.

Nobody knew in August 1974, one year after the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers were completed and functioning, at a time when U.S. soldiers were returning home from Vietnam, that in September 2001, the world’s attention would be focused on the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers with horror, panic and fear after their attack and tragic destruction. No one could have guessed either, that American soldiers would be sent to fight another war, this time in Iraq followed by Afghanistan, as an act of revenge instead of seeking other means for putting things right.

As MacCann puts it, referring to the tightrope walker, Philippe Petit: “The tightrope walk was an act of creation that seemed to stand in direct defiance to the act of destruction twenty seven years later.” A stunning contrast.

Colum MacCann depicts with great empathy, the suffering, loneliness, expectation and hopes of the various characters in his novel, in order to give his readers a sort of a kaleidoscopic picture of The Big Apple and its inhabitants in those years. A picturesque illustration of New York City which is described as an important character in the story in such an authentic way that one feels catapulted there among all these people.

There is the Irish monk, Corrigan, who wishes to live an ascetic life and likes to believe that he is a soul saviour but finds it difficult to reach a compromise between his beliefs and reality. He he has a good deal of compassion for the prostitutes working in his neighbourhood, the Bronx and actively tries to defend them. He seems to be at a loss about how to deal with his love of Adelita, the Guatemalan nurse, and his spiritual commitment to celibacy in the Catholic Church

Ciaran, his two years elder brother, has a completely different character. His view on life is dissimilar to his sibling and he tries, but never succeeds, in convincing his younger brother to change his ways. Ciaran ends up marrying the artist, Lara, who feels guilty after being involved with Blaine, her driver and now ex-husband, in the fatal car accident that kills Corrigan and his passenger, the young prostitute, Jazzlyn.

Then there is Claire and her husband, judge Solomon Sonderberg, who live on Park Avenue, an expensive area in New York and who are trying, each one in his own way, to deal with their grieving over the loss of their only child, Joshua, who died in an explosion in a coffee shop in Vietnam while being there as an American recruit.

In one of his interviews, Colum MacCann mentions that in his novel it all starts with the “angel” like figure in the sky, seen as a speck of dust to the people standing many meters below. Before the author goes down to explore the core of the city, where he tries to capture the voices of the New Yorkers, the ordinary people in the street “find what is meaningful for the human heart… Find joy and redemption” through the interesting different characters. People who form the heart and soul of this big metropolis.

The image of redemption is portrayed in the adoption of Jazzlin’s little twin girls by Gloria, meaning the end of the prostitution legacy of their mother and grandmother. Colum MacCann says in a conversation with Nathan Englander, the American author: “When two little girls emerge from a Bronx housing complex and get rescued by strangers. That, for me, is the core image of the novel. That’s the moment when the towers get built back up… It’s important to say that this is my own emotional response to 9/11”. McCann projects his optimism through his characters, by implying that there is always light at the end of a dark tunnel.

When asked which character he likes most, he says Tillie, the thirty eight year old black American prostitute granny from the Bronx but especially the Irish priest, Corrigan.

A very well constructed novel, like a spider’s web, where everything connects. The characters are painted with extreme authenticity. They all have the vulnerability in common and whether rich, humble or destitute, each one in his own way shares with the other, the need for love and recognition.

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