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About Colum

Colum McCann > Featured > About Colum

Short bio

Colum McCann is the author of seven novels, three collections of stories and two works of non-fiction. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, he has been the recipient of many international honours, including the U.S National Book Award, the International Dublin Literary Prize, a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres from the French government, election to the Irish arts academy, several European awards, the 2010 Best Foreign Novel Award in China, and an Oscar nomination. In 2017 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts.  His work has been published in over 40 languages.  He is the President and co-founder of the non-profit global story exchange organisation, Narrative 4. He is the Thomas Hunter Writer in Residence in Hunter College, in New York, where he lives with his wife Allison and their family.  His most recent novel, Apeirogon, became an immediate New York Times best-seller and won several major international awards.  His first major non-fiction book, American Mother, will be published in January 2024.

Extended Bio

Colum McCann is the award-winning author of seven novels and three collections of short stories. His most recent novel, Apeirogon became an instant international bestseller and has already won several significant international awards including the Prix Montluc, the Elle Prize, the Jewish National Book Award in the United States, as well as being short-listed for the Dublin Literary Award, the Orwell Prize, the Dalkey Book Prize, the German Peace Prize and the Greggor von Rezzori Prize.  It was also long-listed for the Booker Prize.  Movie rights to Apeirogon were bought by Steven Speilberg’s Amblin company.   The novel was a New York Times best-seller and, despite being launched just as Covid upturned the world, it hit the lists in Canada, Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Spain and Italy.   The book has already been translated into several languages, including Arabic and a forthcoming edition in Hebrew.

“Let the Great World Spin” was published in 2009 and won worldwide acclaim, including The 2009 National Book Award in the U.S, the 2010 Best Foreign Novel Award in China, the International Impac Award 2011, a literary award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and several other major international literary prizes.

Let the Great World Spin became a best-seller on four continents.  His novel TransAtlantic was also an international sensation and became an immediate New York Times best-seller on its release in 2013.  It too garnered several international awards, including the Mondello Citta de Palermo Prize in Italy.

McCann’s fiction has been published in over 40 languages and has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, Paris Review, Granta, The Atlantic Monthly, GQ, Tin House, Bomb and several other places. He has written for numerous publications including The New York Times, the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, Die Zeit, La Republicca, Paris Match, the Guardian, the Times and the Independent.

McCann is an international artist. Born in Ireland, he has travelled extensively around the world. He and his wife Allison lived in Japan for eighteen months. He currently lives in New York City, where he holds dual Irish and American citizenship. He is a member of the Irish Academy, Aosdana, and was awarded a Chevalier des arts et lettres by the French government in fall 2009 (making him one of a exclusive number of foreign artists recognised in France for their literary contributions: other recipients have included Salman Rushdie, Phillip Gourevitch and Julian Barnes).

In 2017 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

The territory of McCann’s work is international in scope and geography – his topics have ranged from homeless people in the subway tunnels of New York, to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, to the effects of 9/11, to a poetic examination of the life and culture of the Roma in Europe. He is known as a writer of style and substance, hailed by critics and readers alike. Among his major influences are Michael Ondaatje, John Berger, Don DeLillo, E.L Doctorow, Toni Morrison, Edna O’Brien and the Irish novelist Benedict Kiely. McCann is known a “poetic realist” and a “literary risk-taker,” a writer who is known to tackle the dark in order to get through to the light – “any sort of light, however compromised” – on the far side.

McCann is very active in New York and Irish-based charities  – in particular organizations such as the global charity Narrative 4 (narrative4.com) which he co-founded with Lisa Consiglio in June 2013, along with several other founding artists.  Much of his current teaching is through the Artists Network at Narrative 4, where he visits high schools along with fellow artists Ishmael Beah, Lila Azam Zanganeh, Ru Freeman, Marlon James and Terry Tempest Williams. The work of Narrative 4 has expanded around the world and can now be found in 21 countries with almost a million stories exchanged between young people around the world, as well as the development of several significant civic engagement projects in South Africa, Kentucky, Ireland and the Bronx.  (narrative4.com)

He is also involved with other non-profits including the Irish Arts Centre, The Irish Repertory Theatre, Origin Theater, PEN, the New York Public Library, Art for Amnesty, the Norman Mailer Colony, and Roddy Doyle’s Fighting Words.

“Let the Great World Spin” received unprecedented international recognition on its release in 2009. McCann was awarded the Deauville Festival Literary Prize; the Ambassador Award; the inaugural Medici Book Club prize; Amazon.Com’s “Book of the Year,” 2010; the 2010 NAIBA “Book of the Year,” given by independent book-sellers, and he was the overall winner of the Grinzane Award in Italy. The book was short-listed for several other awards including Irish Novel of the Year. In 2010 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

The film rights for “Let the Great World Spin” were bought by J.J Abrams, the highly acclaimed director and creator of “Lost.” McCann is currently adapting the screenplay along with Abrams. It is not McCann’s first foray into film — his short film “Everything in this Country Must,” directed by Gary McKendry, was nominated for an Academy Award Oscar in 2005.

In 2003 Colum was named Esquire magazine’s Writer of the Year for their “Best and Brightest” issue. Other awards and honors include a Pushcart Prize, the Rooney Prize, the Hennessy Award for Irish Literature, the Irish Independent Hughes and Hughes/Sunday Independent Novel of the Year 2003, and the inaugural 2002 Ireland Fund of Monaco Princess Grace Memorial Literary Award.

“I believe in the democracy of story-telling,” said McCann in an interview. “I love the fact that our stories can cross all sorts of borders and boundaries. I feel humbled by the notion that I’m even a small part of the literary experience. I grew up in a house, in a city, in a country shaped by books. I don’t know of a greater privilege than being allowed to tell a story, or to listen to a story. They’re the only thing we have that can trump life itself.”

McCann was born in Dublin in 1965 and began his career as a journalist in The Irish Press. In the early 1980’s he took a bicycle across North America and then worked as a wilderness guide in a program for juvenile delinquents in Texas. After a year and a half in Japan, he and his wife Allison moved to New York where they currently live with their three children, Isabella, John Michael and Christian.

McCann taught in Hunter College in New York, in the Creative Writing program, with fellow novelists Peter Carey and Tea Obreht.  The program is considered one of the finest in the country: only six students are accepted each year.  Students who have graduated from the program include National Book Award Winner Phil Klay, Jessica Soffer, Scott Cheshire, Bill Cheng, Vanessa Manko, Jason Porter, Lauren Holmes, Gabriel Packard, Alex Gilvarry, Kaitlyn Greenidge, Victoria Brown, Sunil Yapa and several others who have launched successful literary careers.  in 2021 he became the Thomas Hunter Writer in Residence.

He is the co-founder of Narrative 4, a global non-profit (narrative4.com).  Led by artists, educators, students and community activists (including Lisa Consiglio, Terry Tempest Williams, Ishmael Beah, Rob Spillman, Lila Azam Zanganeh, Greg Khalil, Assaf Gavron, Tyler Cabot, Colm Mac Con Iomaire, Sting and several others), Narrative 4 brings young people together from all over the world to “walk in one another’s shoes.”  “It’s an act of radical empathy,” says McCann.  “You tell my story and I’ll tell yours.  We’ve had incredible results from all over the world.  From Newtown, Connecticut to  Belfast to Kentucky to Tampico, Mexico.  From gang-land kids in Chicago to the streets of Limerick.  What story-telling does is that it increases the lungs of the world.  After the exchanges, these young people go back into their communities and begin to alter their worlds from the ground up.  We’re looking to develop a generation of truly empathetic leaders.”

“Thirteen Ways of Looking” was published in October 2015.  It consists of a novella and three short stories.  Esquire magazine published the short story “Treaty” in its summer fiction issue.  The short story “Sh’khol” was published in Zoetrope and has already been awarded a Pushcart Prize and was selected for Best American Short Stories 2015.

“Letters to a Young Writer” was published in 2017.

Apeirogon was published in February 2020 by Random House to immediate international acclaim.

His forthcoming non-fiction account of the life of Diane Foley, American Mother, will be published in 2024.  He is also at work on a novel, Twist, due in 2025.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Eagle