Boston has long been a magnet for Irish immigrants, and it was no different for Dublin-born Colum McCann. Having already been a newspaper columnist in Ireland, he was 21 and determined to write a novel when he arrived in Boston in 1986. McCann (pictured), the keynote speaker on April 30 at Grub Street’s annual Muse and the Marketplace conference for writers, told the Boston chapter of his own life story before moving on to broader concerns.
Speaking from a podium at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, he recalled getting so drunk his first night in Boston that he slept in a doorway. He drove a taxicab on Cape Cod, and by the end of the summer he had written a stack of pages a foot and a half tall. His early attempts to write a novel, he said, were “awful.” One thing that tripped him up, he said, was his happy childhood, “the curse of a novelist,” he called it.
In search of adventure, he set out on bicycle trip that grew to 8,000 miles in 40 states as well as Canada and Mexico. His subsequent writing efforts drew a richer return. “Let the Great World Spin” (Random House), his novel of New York City in the 1970s, won the 2009 National Book Award.
McCann also spoke about a cause dear to his heart: Narrative 4. The nonprofit brings children together to share stories and aims to shatter stereotypes and foster empathy. One effort connected youths from the South Side of Chicago and Sandy Hook, Conn. McCann, president of its advisory board, said Narrative 4 is now active in 10 states. Massachusetts could be next.
History in pieces
A pint-sized sign of Red Sox fandom has a place in city archaeologist Joseph M. Bagley’s new book “A History of Boston in 50 Artifacts” (University Press of New England). Dating to 1912, the pin given out to young fans consists of a baseball face, a body made of catcher’s pads, and arms and legs that look like baseball bats.
Other items include a teacup and saucer made in China and used at the Three Cranes Tavern in Charlestown. The tavern was 135 years old when it was destroyed in the burning of Charlestown on June 17, 1775.
Bagley will speak at the Boston Public Library on Wednesday and at the Massachusetts Historical Society on May 24. Both events begin at 6 p.m. Registration is required for the May 24 talk. Go to www.masshist.org/events or call 617-646-0578.
No wonder Amherst College is the only stop in Massachusetts for the traveling exhibition “First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare.” The book’s owner was 1879 Amherst College graduate Henry Folger, who was such an obsessive and successful collector of Shakespeare’s work that there’s a library in Washington, D.C., devoted to his collection.
The revered First Folio, published seven years after Shakespeare died in 1616, includes 36 Shakespeare plays, 18 of which had never been printed before. If not for this book, Shakespeare’s plays may have been lost to the world.
Folger’s search for it is detailed in the 2015 book “The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio” (Simon and Schuster) by Andrea Mays.
The First Folio will be on display at Amherst’s Mead Art Museum from Monday through Memorial Day. Across town, the Emily Dickinson House Museum will offer an hour-long tour focused on Dickinson’s love of Shakespeare’s work every Sunday in the month starting May 8 and June 19, July 17, and Aug. 21.
■ “Who Rules the World?” by Noam Chomsky (Metropolitan)
■ “The Pier Falls and Other Stories” by Mark Haddon (Doubleday)
■ “LaRose” by Louise Erdrich (Harper)
Pick of the Week
Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn., recommends “The Birds of Opulence” by Crystal Wilkinson (University of Kentucky): “In the little Kentucky town of Opulence, many generations of women gather to experience love and work to conquer madness and family secrets that threaten to strike them down as lightning struck Francine’s late husband.’’
Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com.