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Column McCann Wins 2009 National Book Award

Famed writer Colum McCann / Photo by Seamus Kearney

By Kara Rota and Anne Thompson, Contributors
December / January 2010

Colum McCann’s newest novel, ‘Let the Great World Spin,’ was announced November 18 as the winner of the 2009 National Book Award for Fiction during a black-tie ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City.

In his personal history and in his writing, he is a man of many different places. McCann is an Irish writer, born in Dublin, partly educated in Texas and Japan, who has been a New York resident for over fifteen years.

He has never confined his writing or his life to one cultural sphere. Perhaps the best we can do is to call him a citizen of the world, someone willing to find emotional connections everywhere. It is appropriate, therefore, that his award-winning novel takes on the worldwide and yet emphatically located question of 9/11.

‘Let the Great World Spin’ is set around Phillipe Petit’s August 1974 tightrope walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center. It is about “many stories that fit into other stories” that become the story of the city of New York.

McCann says, “There’s hardly a line in the novel about 9/11, but it’s everywhere if the reader wants it to be.” Each of McCann’s previous novels dealt with distinct and different countries and cultures.

‘The Dancer’ focused on the career and life of Rudolf Nureyev, the Soviet-born ballet phenomenon. ‘Zoli’ told the story of a young woman of the Slovakian Roma (or Gypsies). Songdogs made its way across Spain, Mexico, the United States and Ireland.

This year, the National Book Foundation also highlighted winners from the past six decades, allowing the public to vote on a selection of previous award winning fiction books. Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Stories, winner of the 1972 National Book Award, was honored as The Best of the National Book Awards Fiction.

Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture and Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland are among the 156 novels that have been nominated for the 2010 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, which is accompanied by a 100,000-euro prize.

Barry’s 2009 Costa prizewinning novel was nominated by libraries in Ireland, the UK, the Czech Republic, South Africa, and the U.S., while O’Neill’s Man Booker Prize long-listed book was nominated by libraries in Ireland, Austria, South Africa and the U.S. Northern Ireland writers David Park, for The Truth Commissioner, and Deirdre Madden, for Molly Fox’s Birthday, also earned nominations. The short list for the IMPAC award will be announced in April 2010.

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