Michael Patrick MacDonald may have moved to Brooklyn, but he’s never totally left his home turf in Boston, which he depicted in his two memoirs “All Souls’’ and “Easter Rising’’ about growing up in a Catholic family of 12 in Southie’s Old Colony project. MacDonald is author-in-residence at Northeastern University, where he teaches two honors classes on writing and social justice each fall. He will return March 7 to appear at a sold-out benefit screening of the new film “Being Flynn’’ at the Kendall Square Cinema.
BOOKS: Any favorite books that you assign your students?
MACDONALD: I always include Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.’’ It was a pretty life-changing book for me to read growing up. There’s the brutality but that’s in a lot of books. What really pulled me into the book is how it makes you empathize with these people you don’t want to. That’s completely genius. I’ve always been drawn too nonfiction. That might not have happened if it weren’t for people like Truman Capote.
BOOKS: Is that what you primarily read yourself?
MACDONALD: I do read a lot of it. Now that I’m teaching, I’m always looking for books for class. For the class I teach on Northern Ireland, it’s difficult to find books on that topic that are published here. One of the best for that class is Bobby Sands’ diary, “One Day in My Life.’’ That was also transformative book for me growing up in Southie. Bernadette Devlin’s memoir, “The Price of My Soul,’’ is another great one I teach in that class that is a personal favorite. At the end of the semester I crash and try to find some fiction. One of the few novels I read over the last year that I really love is “Pigeon English’’ by Stephen Kelman. It’s in the voice of kid in a housing project in London. It’s about young kids who experience a murder in the neighborhood. But I mostly read a lot of history. That can be difficult to get through, and I usually have to read it in doses. Right now I’m reading and loving Gerard O’Neill’s “Rogues and Redeemers,’’ a history of Boston politics. How often are history books page turners? This definitely is.
BOOKS: What kind of history do you read?
MACDONALD: My focus has always been on colonial history beginning in my interest in North Ireland. Then I focused a lot on India, and then Africa. I read fiction about this too. “Things Fall Apart’’ by Chinua Achebe was a big deal for me.
BOOKS: When did you become a serious reader?
MACDONALD: When I got into punk rock. But I wasn’t interested in the kinds of books my punk rock friends said I should be reading, like William Burroughs. Instead my literacy came from bands like The Clash. I’d look up stuff that they referred to in songs. And then Patti Smith would refer to Rimbaud, the French poet, so I would check him out. Before that I read a lot of comic books, before comic books got fancy. We just had Spiderman.
BOOKS: Did the project have a library?
MACDONALD: No, but the Boys’ Club down the street did. It was a great space, quiet, loads of books. That was an amazing place for people in crowded families in a concentrated neighborhood.
BOOKS: Was reading encouraged when you were growing up?
MACDONALD: My mother was going to Suffolk University, and you’d always see her studying. My brother Johnnie would be in the bathroom reading for hours. We only had one bathroom. Everybody would be banging on the door. So there were some influences at home, but go outside the door and it was something to make fun of. I went to Boston Latin School, and I didn’t like book bags. So I’d carry a pile of eight books on my side home. I stopped doing that pretty quickly when I started hearing “Who are you, Einstein?’’ That became my nickname. I wasn’t even reading science books.
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