WIDOMV 2010 – Part 4 – Irish American Writers and Artists

WIDOMV 2010 = What I Did On My Vacation 2010

Subtitled: Meeting Brian Dennehy and Being accepted into the Irish-American Writer community

Well, this installment of the What I Did On My Vacation series is one of the more awesome things that I have done… When I first got back from this event and shared the pictures on my Facebook account, one of my old neighborhood friends made the comment “I can’t believe a kid from Briggs Avenue was invited to an event like this

And guess what?   I can’t believe it either…

On Monday, October 18th, 2010 I was invited to attend the Irish-American Writers and Artists second annual Eugene O’Neill Award presentation.  This year the award went to acclaimed actor Brian Dennehy for a lifetime of stage and screen achievement in addition to honoring his Irish-American roots.

Now you may ask, how did this kid from Briggs Avenue get invited to this high-falutin’ event?  Well, the easy answer is that I am (a) Irish-American and (b) now a published author (thanks to Lost Boys of the Bronx: The Oral History of the Ducky Boys Gang), so by definition I belong to this group.  But it also helps that super-tremendous-awesome cool guy Larry Kirwan is on the board of directors.

Larry Kirwan is a god among men.   Not only is he the frontman for the Bronx’s own Irish-American rock band Black 47, but he is also an author of multiple books and plays (Rockin’ the Bronx, Green Suede Shoes and Liverpool Fantasy are the most popular).  He is also an on-air personality for SiriusXm’s Celtic Crush Radio show.  I have been a huge fan of Black 47 for many years, but Larry is also one of the nicest people ever, and has been giving me advice about my Ducky Boy project almost since I started it.

So, Larry suggested that I join this prestigious organization, and without question, I did…  And it was one of the best decisions that I could have made.  The proven talent on the board of directors of the IAMWA alone is a list of writing heroes of mine from long before I ever considered being a writer myself.

Larry told me that the annual awards ceremony would be a grand event.  And it did sound great, but I figured all the major authors would be in one section, while the wannabes like me would be in another.  At one point, on the day of the event, I almost talked myself out of going  due to the hassle of a NJ Transit bus ride into NYC, and the worry that it was going to be a “listen to the artists from afar” type event…

But, deep down, I knew I would regret if I didn’t go, so off I went..  And boy, am I glad I did..

In typical James fashion, I made the decision to go at the last minute, and caught the bus that SHOULD have gotten me there with plenty of time according to the bus schedule…  However, I didn’t account for the fact that bus schedule did not account for rush-hour traffic…  I was about 45 minutes late, but luckily the actual awards presentation didn’t start until 8pm – so I was 15 minutes early LOL

Everyone had already staked out their place in the room to get a good view.  Luckily I saw a place against the wall up by the front and grabbed it.  It was almost behind the podium, but beggars can’t be choosers y’know?

The awards presentation went smoothly – Some pretty funny speeches by some VERY talented speakers like Mary Pat Ryan, Peter Quinn, TJ English, and Wiliam Kennedy — Normally I get bored at these things, but their speeches were pretty interesting.   There was a video montage of Brian Dennehy’s career on film and stage and then William Kennedy presented the Eugene O’Neill award to him..   Brian spoke for about 20-30 minutes and you could tell he truly was honored to get the award, and was friendly with many people in the room…

After the presentation, the party began… Surprisingly all the celebrity folk actually mingled with us commoners!   I was kinda shocked at that, but there were a lot of pleasant surprises throughout the night…

I made a beeline for Larry Kirwan since I wanted to thank him for bringing me into the fold… Its always great talking to Larry – he’s just very sincere and personable…  He introduced me to a few people that he knew could help an aspiring author…  And Larry was awesome at telling them about my book…  (Thank you Larry!)

First up was the CEO of the Irish Echo newspaper Mairtin O Muilleoir who was really a nice guy who seemed really interested in my book – I’ve been emailing him back and forth since, and hopefully you’ll see a Ducky Boys article in the Irish Echo – which was a weekly staple in the Hannon house growing up…

Mairtin then introduced me to Michael Patrick MacDonald who wrote “All Souls: A Family Story from Southie” which is one of my favorite books of all-time. I got so excited meeting Michael that I blurted out “I love Southie!” to him… The confused look on his face led me to realize I made a horrible faus pas…  It was so many years since I read the book that I forgot the full name!!  I just always called it “Southie” even tho there is another book with that name out there (that isn’t his!)…  After some awkward explaining on my part, we had a good laugh about it – he thought I meant the section of Boston called Southie…  He was really cool about it and we had a nice conversation about it (And yes, got a picture!).   One of his friends told Michael that Jimmy Breslin (the Daily News legend) was there, and told me to come along and meet him… So i did… Jimmy was swamped with people, and while waiting I saw that another writing icon wasn’t swamped with people, so I politely excused myself.

And walked over to T.J. English, the author of another of my favorite books of all-time “The Westies” – the greatest Irish gangster book ever…  He also wrote the great “Paddy Whacked” about the history of Irish Gangsters.  I introduced myself and was a little more polished in my approach this time…  Got a picture of course and had another great conversation with him for a while, and he really seemed interested in my book on the Ducky Boys (another Irish-American gang that I was sure that many ended up in the Westies, altho I could never find a specific connection to prove it).   I sent TJ a copy of my book a week or two later, and I’m hoping he likes it…

Somehow, I ended up with Larry Kirwan again, and he brought me over to meet William Kennedy.  I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with his work, but he was last years winner of the Eugene O’Neill Award, and a Pulitzer Prize winner…  Very nice man, and when I asked for a picture he got the group shot together with himself, Larry Kirwan, TJ English, and myself together.  A definite highlight of the evening for me…

After a while of “mingling” aimlessly (more like recovering from the shock of all these great authors being so nice), I saw that Malachy McCourt wasn’t swamped… So I asked good ol’ Larry if he could introduce me to him… Larry didn’t even blink, and walked me right over to Malachy, reminding me that he used to work for Malachy back at the Bells of Hell pub in NYC and that they were good friends…  I’m kinda ashamed to admit this, but I don’t really know Malachy’s work..  Sure I knew his brother Frank’s stuff (“Angela’s Ashes”) and Malachy was a big part of that book, but other than seeing Malachy in the news every so often, I didn’t know his stuff…   And I was nervous about that…  But I didn’t need to worry.  Malachy was one of the warmest people I’ve ever met – And remember, I’ve been impressed already by the warmness of a lot of people tonight!

Apparently,  I’m not the only one who knows Frank McCourt’s stuff rather than Malachy’s – Maybe it was the camraderie between Malachy & Larry, but he shared the title of his next book with me…. “I Read Your Brother’s Book” which I thought was hilarious.   We had a great conversation and he really sounded interested in my book and asked me to send him a copy (which I did within days)…  Hopefully something comes of it – or at the very least, he likes it…

Met a few other great people that night that weren’t “celebrities” but were pretty awesome…   Entrepeneurs Brendan Burke and Brian Corrigan, and  aspiring actor Walter Michael DeForest were great…   I found out the next day that I was standing next to Irish Voice columnist Mike Farragher during the entire award presentation without realizing it…  Its funny because I had wanted to meet him in person back when Larry and Mike were putting together a Facebook-like networking site for Irish folk called Celtic Lounge

It was getting late, and the last bus to Scotch Plains was leaving Port Authority soon, so while Malachy and Larry were singing old Irish songs in the pub area, I snuck out and headed home… On the way to Port Authority, I walked thru Times Square… It was around 11pm and Times Square was still crowded! (See pictures)…   Was a weird feeling walking thru the streets this late and it being so bright from the lights that it was like daytime…  Got to the Port Authority, caught my bus with plenty of time to spare, and made it home… A successful evening!!

Its been almost a month since I attended this event… I’ve been busy getting ready for a really cool event –  that was directly caused by my attending the this Irish American Writer and Artists event –

Specifically the “Evening with the Ducky Boys” event that I will be hosting at the Museum for the American Gangster at 80 St Marks Place in the Lower East Side of NYC.   I’ll be posting a blog in the near future, but for now check out Lantern-Media.com for the latest info.

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