Colum McCann

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Colum McCann
May 2009 – Lyon, France
May 2009 – Lyon, France
BornColum McCann
(1965-02-28) February 28, 1965 (age 57)
Dublin, Ireland
NationalityIrish, American
Alma materDublin Institute of Technology
GenreLiterary fiction
Literary movementPostmodern literature
Notable worksLet the Great World Spin;
Notable awards

Colum McCann is an Irish writer of literary fiction. He was born in Dublin, Ireland, and now lives in New York. He is a Thomas Hunter Writer in Residence at Hunter College, New York.[1]

McCann's work has been published in over 40 languages,[2] and has appeared in The New York Times, New Yorker, Esquire, Paris Review, The Atlantic Monthly, Granta, as well as other international publications.

McCann is the author of seven novels, including TransAtlantic (2013) and the National Book Award-winning Let the Great World Spin (2009). He has also written three collections of short stories, including Thirteen Ways of Looking, released in October 2015.[3]

Early life[edit]

McCann was born in 1965 in Dublin and studied journalism in the former College of Commerce in Rathmines, which became part of the Dublin Institute of Technology and which became the Technological University Dublin in 2019.[4] He became a reporter for The Irish Press Group, and had his own column and byline in the Evening Press by the age of 21. McCann has said that his time in the Irish newspapers gave him an excellent platform from which to launch a career in fiction.

McCann moved to the United States in 1986 and worked for a short period in Hyannis, Massachusetts. Between 1986 and 1988 he took a bicycle across the United States, travelling more than 12,000 kilometres. "Part of the reason for the trip was simply to expand my lungs emotionally," he said, to come in contact with what he calls "a true democracy of voices."[5] In 1988 he moved to Texas, where he worked as a wilderness educator with juvenile delinquents. He later graduated from the University of Texas at Austin and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. He began writing the stories that later comprised his first collection, Fishing the Sloe-Black River.

Personal life[edit]

McCann and his wife Allison lived in Japan for eighteen months in 1993–94. During this time, he worked on his first collection of stories and taught English part-time as a foreign language. In 1994, they moved to New York, where he, his wife and their three children – Isabella, John Michael, and Christian – still reside.[2]

On 16 June 2009, McCann published a Bloomsday remembrance in The New York Times of his long-deceased grandfather, whom he met only once, and of finding him again in the pages of James Joyce's Ulysses. McCann wrote: "The man whom I had met only once was becoming flesh and blood through the pages of a fiction."[6]

McCann has written about his father, a journalist as well. In his essay "Looking for the Rozziner", first published in Granta magazine, McCann said: "It may have stretched towards parody – bygod the man could handle a shovel, just like his old man – but there was something acute about it, the desire to come home, to push the body in a different direction to the mind, the need to be tired alongside him in whatever small way, the emigrant's desire to root around in the old soil."[7]


McCann, Christy Kelly, Christopher Cahill and Frank McCourt at New York City's Housing Works bookstore for a tribute to the then-recently deceased Irish poet Benedict Kiely

McCann writes in a ninth-floor apartment sitting with a computer device on his lap on the floor of a cupboard with no windows located between "two very tight walls", surrounded by messages written by himself and others.[8]

"I believe in the democracy of storytelling," said McCann in a 2013 interview. "I love the fact that our stories can cross all sorts of borders and boundaries."[9]

"The best writers attempt to become alternative historians," McCann said. "My sense of the Great Depression is guided by the works of Doctorow, for instance. My perception of Dublin in the early 20th century is almost entirely guided by my reading of 'Ulysses.'"[5]

"I think it is our job, as writers, to be epic. Epic and tiny at the same time. If you're going to be a fiction writer, why not take on something that means something," McCann said in an interview.[10] "In doing this, you must understand that within that epic structure it is the tiny story that is possibly more important."

His short story "Everything in this Country Must" was made into a short film directed by Gary McKendry, which in 2005 was nominated for an Academy Award.[11] McCann's 2009 novel Let the Great World Spin is an allegory of 9/11 using the true story of Philippe Petit as a "pull-through metaphor".[2] J. J. Abrams discussed working with McCann to make the novel in to a movie.[12]

His most recent collection of stories, Thirteen Ways of Looking, was released in October 2015, winning a Pushcart Prize.[13] The story "Sh'khol" was included in The Best American Short Stories 2015. The story "What Time is it Now, Where You Are?" was short-listed for the Short Story of the Year 2015.[14] and for the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award 2016.[15]

McCann has spoken at a variety of notable events, including the 2010 Boston College First Year Academic Convocation, about his book Let the Great World Spin.[16][17]

Awards and honours[edit]

McCann has been honoured with numerous awards throughout his career, including a Pushcart Prize, Rooney Prize, Irish Novel of the Year Award and the 2002 Ireland Fund of Monaco Princess Grace Memorial Literary Award, and Esquire Magazine named him "Best and Brightest" young novelist in 2003.[18] He is a member of Aosdána,[19] and was inducted into the Hennessy Literary Awards Hall of Fame in 2005, having been named Hennessy New Irish Writer 15 years earlier.[20]

McCann won the National Book Award in 2009, for Let The Great World Spin.[21] He was also that year honoured as Chevalier des Arts et Lettres by the French government.[22] He has also received the Deauville Festival Literary Prize: the Ambassador Award, the inaugural Medici Book Club Prize[23] and was the overall winner of the Grinzane Award in Italy.[24]

In 2010, Let the Great World Spin was named's "Book of the Year." Additionally, in 2010, McCann received a Guggenheim Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He received a literary award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2011. 15 June 2011 brought the announcement that Let the Great World Spin had won the 2011 International Dublin Literary Award, one of the more lucrative literary awards in the world.[25][26] Afterwards, McCann lauded fellow nominees William Trevor and Yiyun Li, suggesting that either would have been worthy winners instead.[27]

In 2012, the Dublin Institute of Technology gave McCann an honorary degree. In 2013, he received an honorary degree from Queen's University, Belfast. In 2016, he was named a finalist for The Story Prize for Thirteen Ways of Looking.[15]

On 27 July 2020 he was long-listed for the Booker prize for his novel Apeirogon.[28]


In 2012, with a group of other writers, educators and social activists, McCann co-founded Narrative 4, a global nonprofit, on which he sits as board president.[29]Narrative 4's mission is to "harness the power of stories to equip and embolden young adults to improve their lives, communities and the world."[30] "It's like a United Nations for young storytellers," McCann said: "The whole idea behind it is that the one true democracy we have is storytelling. It goes across borders, boundaries, genders, rich, poor—everybody has a story to tell."[31] Narrative 4 works in schools and communities around the world, encouraging young people to tell stories. McCann has said: "I've always wanted to do something beyond the words on the page. To use the writing to engage more on a ground level."[32] Narrative 4 has offices in both New York and in Limerick, Ireland.

Prior to his involvement in Narrative 4, McCann was very active in New York and Irish-based charities, in particular PEN, the American Ireland Fund, the New York Public Library, the Norman Mailer Colony and Roddy Doyle's creative writing centre Fighting Words.



  • Songdogs, Phoenix, 1995. ISBN 1897580282
  • This Side of Brightness, Picador, 1998. ISBN 0312421974
  • Dancer, New York : Picador Modern Classics, 2003. ISBN 9781250051790, OCLC 830020868
  • Zoli, Random House, 2006. ISBN 1400063728
  • Let the Great World Spin, Random House, 2009. ISBN 9781408803226, OCLC 893296551
  • TransAtlantic, Random House, 2013. ISBN 9781400069590, OCLC 852653036
  • Apeirogon, Random House, 2020

Short fiction[edit]

  • The Book of Men. Curated by Colum McCann and the editors of Esquire and Narrative 4 (2013)
Title Year First published Reprinted/collected Notes
"Transatlantic" 2012 "Transatlantic". The New Yorker. 88 (9): 94–103. 16 April 2012. Excerpt from TransAtlantic.

Essays and reporting[edit]

Essay collections[edit]

  • Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice. Harper Collins, 2017. ISBN 9780399590801.[34]


  1. ^ "Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing". Hunter College. Archived from the original on 26 December 2018. Retrieved 11 November 2008.
  2. ^ a b c McCann, Colum. "About Colum McCann". Archived from the original on 15 October 2018. Retrieved 8 December 2009.
  3. ^ Lyall, Sarah (11 October 2015). "Review: Colum McCann's 'Thirteen Ways of Looking,' Stories Linked by Unease". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 9 September 2018. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  4. ^ "Author Colum McCann honoured by DIT". Dublin Institute of Technology. 21 February 2012. Archived from the original on 11 May 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
  5. ^ a b Lovell, Joel (30 May 2013). "Colum McCann's Radical Empathy". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 4 February 2017. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  6. ^ McCann, Colum (16 June 2009). "But Always Meeting Ourselves". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 1 June 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2009.
  7. ^ "Looking for the Rozziner – Colum McCann". Colum McCann. Archived from the original on 15 February 2016. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  8. ^ Lovell, Joel (30 May 2013). "Colum McCann's Radical Empathy". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 7 June 2013. Retrieved 30 May 2013.
  9. ^ "Colum McCann with Gabriel Byrne, 31 January 2018 – Audio". Lannan Podcasts. 31 January 2018. Archived from the original on 17 July 2020. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  10. ^ "Other People's Stories: A Conversation with Colum McCann". 16 July 2014. Archived from the original on 26 June 2017. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  11. ^ "Colum McCann". Penguin Random House. Archived from the original on 23 July 2020. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  12. ^ Rich, Motoko (11 December 2009). "J.J. Abrams Wants to 'Let the Great World Spin'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 29 November 2014. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  13. ^ "Internationally Acclaimed Writer Colum McCann to Read". Department of English, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Archived from the original on 27 April 2017. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  14. ^ "WRITING.IE SHORT STORY OF THE YEAR 2015". Archived from the original on 15 July 2020. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  15. ^ a b "Surl=hortlist: An excerpt from'What Time Is It Now, Where You Are?'". Short Story Award. 2016. Archived from the original on 16 July 2020. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  16. ^ Beecher, Melissa (8 September 2011). "9/11 Novelist to Give Keynote". The Boston College Chronicle. Archived from the original on 8 March 2012. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  17. ^ Goodall, Jackie (20 April 2013). "Colum McCann Interview with Listowel Writers' Week". Listowel Writers' Week. Archived from the original on 15 July 2020. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  18. ^ Miller, Adrienne (1 December 2003). "Best & Brightest – Colum McCann". Esquire. Archived from the original on 15 July 2020. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  19. ^ "Current members - Literature". Aosdána. Archived from the original on 22 January 2015. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  20. ^ "Cheers as McCann enters Hall of Fame". Irish Independent. 1 April 2006. Archived from the original on 29 November 2014. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
  21. ^ "Let the Great World Spin – Winner, National Book Awards 2009 for Fiction". National Book Foundation. 2009. Archived from the original on 15 July 2020. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  22. ^ Pellen, Guénola (28 April 2010). "Colum McCann fait chevalier des Arts et des Lettres à New York". France-Amérique. Archived from the original on 15 July 2020. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  23. ^ Kehe, Marjorie (23 September 2010). "Colum McCann wins the first annual Medici Book Club Prize". The Christian Science Monitor. Archived from the original on 17 July 2020. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  24. ^ "About Colum". Archived from the original on 15 October 2018. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  25. ^ "Colum McCann wins IMPAC Dublin Award". Los Angeles Times. 16 June 2011. Archived from the original on 4 November 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
  26. ^ Bosman, Julie (16 June 2011). "Colum McCann Wins Rich Novel Prize". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 18 June 2011. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
  27. ^ Battersby, Eileen (16 June 2011). "'I decided to write the great Irish novel but couldn't. I wasn't messed-up enough'". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 24 October 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
  28. ^ "The 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction Longlist | the Booker Prizes". Archived from the original on 24 November 2020. Retrieved 16 November 2020.
  29. ^ "Family". Narrative 4. Retrieved 22 June 2022.
  30. ^ "About". Retrieved 22 June 2022. {{cite web}}: Check |archive-url= value (help)CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  31. ^ "Let the Great World Tell Stories: Colum McCann and Esquire Celebrate Narrative 4 Launch". Observer. 4 June 2013. Archived from the original on 8 February 2016. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  32. ^ "Bodega | Interview with Colum McCann". Archived from the original on 6 October 2016. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  33. ^ Short stories unless otherwise noted.
  34. ^ McCann, Colum (4 April 2017). Letters to a young writer : some practical and philosophical advice (First ed.). New York. ISBN 9780399590818. OCLC 981760081.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cardin, Bertrand. Colum McCann's Intertexts: Books Talk to one Another. Cork University Press, 2016.[1]
  • Cusatis, John. Understanding Colum McCann. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2011.
  • Dibbell, Jeremy. "Colum McCann: LibraryThing Author Interview". Library Thing. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
  • Flannery, Eoin. "The Aesthetics of Redemption." Irish Academic Press, 2011.
  • Ingersoll, Earl G, and Mary C. Ingersoll. Conversations with Colum McCann. University Press of Mississippi, 2017.
  • Miceli, Barbara. “Peace, Freedom and Cooperation through the Atlantic Crossing in Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic” in Susanna Nanni and Sabrina Vellucci (ed.) Circolazione di Persone e di idee.Integrazione ed esclusione tra Europa e Americhe, Bordighera Press, 2019, pp. 53–68.

External links[edit]