A Tribute to Nuala O’Faolain

June 24, 2008

Four years ago I was fortunate enough to travel to Ireland. Unlike many foreigners who visit the Emerald Isle, I wasn’t there to conduct business, meet up with long-lost relatives or search for my “Irish roots.”

The trip was almost a last-minute decision; it was 2004, the year the Republican Party decided to hold their national convention in New York City. As local authorities issued dire predictions about the chaos and congestion that would accompany the event, I opted to leave town and skip the whole mess. Tickets to Dublin were cheap and available, so I flew there shortly before the convention began and didn’t return to New York until it was over and the protesters and politicos had all gone home.

While I was in Dublin, I met a woman who gave me a copy of a book entitled Are You Somebody? and urged me to read it. That was my introduction to Irish author Nuala O’Faolain (pronounced new-lah oh-fway-lawn), who died a few weeks ago. Tonight I attended a tribute to the famously brilliant and cantankerous author at the main branch of the New York Public Library.

The room was packed with friends, colleagues and admirers who came from as far away as Ireland to honor the woman who said, in one of her last interviews, “I’m not nice or anything — I’m not getting nicer. I’m sour and difficult you know….I think look how comfortably I am dying, I have friends and family, I am in this wonderful country, I have money, there is nothing much wrong with me except dying….I kinda hoped there was some kind of way of fading away, that you lay on your bed and you were really a nice person and everyone came and said goodbye and wept and you wept and you meant it.”

A Tribute To Nuala O’Faolain

Tue Jun-24 at 7:00PM

The New York Public Library
Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street
NY, NY 10018
(Enter on 42nd St)

Friends and fellow Irish writers of Nuala O’Faolain, who died in Dublin on May 9, will gather to pay tribute to one of Ireland’s best-loved writers.

Internationally known for her searing memoir, Are You Somebody, as well as her acclaimed first novel, My Dream of You, O’Faolain was widely respected in Ireland as an award-winning television producer, journalist, and columnist for The Irish Times before her memoir caused a sensation on its publication in 1999. Her unblinking, unsentimental description of an impoverished Irish childhood that struck a cord with readers world-wide became a New York Times bestseller.

Frank McCourt, Paul Muldoon, Fintan O’Toole, Polly Devlin, Julie Grau, Sheridan Hay, John Low-Beer, and others will honor Nuala O’Faolain’s life with reminiscence, traditional music, and readings from her work.

Special live musical performance by vocalist Susan McKeown, guitarist Eamon O’Leary, fiddler Dana Lyn, and piper Ivan Goff. During March 2005, McKeown appeared with O’Faolain at LIVE from the NYPL.

About Nuala O’Faolain
Nuala O’Faolain is the author of Are You Somebody, My Dream of You, Almost There, and The Story of Chicago May. Her first memoir is often seen as a feminine, and feminist, counterpart to Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. “A lot of us suffered in the Ireland of my day,” she later said. “We came out of a culture where women were utterly powerless and children had no value. If you were hit at school you were hit at home for being hit at school. The only education a lot of us got was in neglect and being unloved.”

And yet, O’Faolain’s humanity softened her observations and her humor was irresistible. Despite being a well-known opinion columnist, a television and radio commentator, and bona fide celebrity, her work often chronicled her own sense of personal failure. She turned her vulnerability into a strength that enabled her to empathize with ordinary people’s fears and hopes. Her opinion column developed from a broadly feminist commentary to a narrative that spanned all aspects of the human condition. Her memoirs touched many readers, who responded by sending her hundreds of letters with their own tales of unhappiness and failed family life.

A resident of Manhattan for the past seven years, O’Faolain ascribed her affinity for the city to her experience growing up one of nine children. “When you live in the middle of mayhem for so long, you grow to need mayhem to construct peace within it.” As Maura Casey wrote in an Appreciation in the New York Times: “Although her mortal life has ended, her words, her sympathy and insights, are here. Her writing helped her legions of readers believe in her and in the validity of their own experiences.”

About Polly Devlin
Polly Devlin is an author, journalist, broadcaster, filmmaker, and conservationist. In 1994 she was awarded an OBE for services to literature. She has been a columnist for the New Statesman, features editor for Vogue, and had her own page in the Evening Standard. She has published eight books, including a memoir. All of Us There, a novel, Dora, a guidebook to Dublin, and, most recently, A Year in the Life of an English Meadow.

About Julie Grau
Julie Grau is Senior Vice President and Publisher of Speigel & Grau, a division of Random House. Previously she was Vice President and Publisher of Riverhead Books, where she edited Nuala O’Faolain’s novel, My Dream of You, her memoir, Almost There, and her work of biography, The Story of Chicago May.

About Sheridan Hay
Sheridan Hay is a novelist, editor, and teacher. She met Nuala O’Faolain in 1999 and remained a close friend until her death.

About John Low-Beer
John Low-Beer and Nuala O’Faolain met in 2002 and registered as domestic partners a year later. An attorney for the City of New York and a former professor of sociology, Low-Beer lives in Brooklyn with his daughter, Anna.

About Frank McCourt
Frank McCourt received the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award for his memoir Angela’s Ashes. He is also the author of ‘Tis and Teacher Man, both international bestsellers. McCourt appeared with O’Faolain and others for “Silence, Exile and Cunning: What’s So Irish About That Anyway” on March 15, 2005, at LIVE from the NYPL.

About Paul Muldoon
Paul Muldoon teaches at Princeton University and is an Honorary Professor in the School of English at the University of St Andrews. He held the chair of Professor of Poetry at Oxford University five years and he is an Honorary Fellow of Hertford College, Oxford University. In 2003 he won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry and in 2007, he became poetry editor of The New Yorker.

About Fintan O’Toole
Fintan O’Toole is a literary critic, historical writer, and political commentator. He is known for his commentary on a remarkably wide-ranging number of subjects—cultural, historical, political, social and economic. O’Toole has written for the Irish Times since 1988 and was drama critic for the New York Daily News from 1997 to 2001. He is the author of more than ten books.

frank mccourt 2
Frank McCourt after the tribute (taken with borrowed camera)

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Frank McCourt inside the NYPL (taken with borrowed camera)

Are You Somebody?
My Dreams of You
Independent.ie: Nuala O’ Faolain interview: ‘I don’t want more time.”
New York Times: Nuala O’Faolain, 68, Irish Memoirist, Is Dead
Eircom.net: Poets, writers and musicians in Stateside tribute to much-loved figure
Huffington Post: A Tribute to Irish Writer Nuala O’Faolain

Amazing Things Are Happening Here

June 20, 2008

More from the archives.

This enormous translucent banner hangs across three glass and steel pedestrian bridges at New York-Presbyterian Hospital on Fort Washington Avenue. The bridges allow people (and materials) to move from one building to another without going outside.

Click on the photo for a larger view and you’ll see visitors, students and employees using the glassed-in walkways at this massive teaching hospital in Upper Manhattan.

Amazing Things Are Happening Here

New York-Presbyterian Hospital

Rector Gate

June 17, 2008

More from the archive.

Several large pieces of public art are installed along the Esplanade in Battery Park City, where they stand under the watchful eyes of the doormen at the surrounding luxury apartment buildings. If you go to see the installations, you should expect the uniformed men to scrutinize you carefully, as they consider the art to be “theirs.”

This one, Rector Gate, forms a 50 foot high archway at the intersection of Rector Place and the Esplanade. Built by R.M. Fischer in 1989, Rector Gate is made of stainless steel, bronze, and granite and is illuminated at night. The artist is said to have drawn his inspiration from the past and future and included elements from skyscrapers and science fiction.

The gate

The sides look like enormous cheese graters

From here, you can see across the Hudson River

The top seems to be a combination radio tower, weather vane & weapon

Looking through the gate to New Jersey

Top of the sculpture

Looking up

Birds have built nests in the light fixture

Battery Park City
Rector Gate
Sandra Gering Gallery: R.M. Fisher
Culture Now: Battery Park City Map

Pink Blossoms

June 15, 2008

More from the archives.

These delicate pink flowers were blooming on a shrub in front of an undistinguished brick apartment building on Brooklyn Bridge Boulevard.

Branch with blossoms

Close up of flowers

Blossom and buds

Excuse Me, Miss, There’s Something on Your Shoulder …

June 13, 2008

More from the archives.

This young tourist, spotted outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, happily shows off the colorful tattoos that peep out above her tank top.

Her shoulder and upper arm are covered with hibiscus blossoms. On her back, the red-clad figure on the left is 1950s porn icon Bettie Page. On the right, in green, is a demure Marilyn Monroe.

On 5th Avenue in front of the Met

Hibiscus flowers on her shoulder

Bettie and Marilyn in the back

A Brooklyn Safari

June 12, 2008

The tale of their origins begins in the late 1960s when a crate, in transit from South America to points unknown, was opened at JFK airport. Depending on the person telling the story, you might hear that the crate was damaged in an unexplained, unspecified accident, or that a ring of thieves, working inside the airport, forced it open. Either way, the story ends on a dramatic note, with the cargo of little green parrots escaping and rapidly flying away.

The fact is, though, the fugitive flock didn’t get very far. As they soared in the skies above Brooklyn, the birds known as Quaker parrots (or monk parrots) looked down, liked what they saw, and landed. With easy access to food, shelter, and water, the feathered immigrants found a new home and flourished.

Today, the birds have set up small colonies in other parts of the Northeast, but live primarily in two locations near the center of the borough: Brooklyn College and Green-Wood Cemetery, where their nests safely rest atop the enormous, Gothic gate.

If you’d like to visit them, join Brooklyn parrot expert Steve Baldwin on one of his Brooklyn Wild Parrot Safaris.

Hanging with other Brooklyn “boids”

On the sidewalk near Brooklyn College

Perched on a fence at Brooklyn College

The birds blend in with the leaves

The neighbors have a great view

On the fence around Brooklyn College

Nests on the gate at Green-Wood Cemetery

Birds at Green-Wood Cemetery

Atop the gate at Green-Wood Cemetery

Pretty bird!

BrooklynParrots.com: A Web Site About the Wild Parrots of Brooklyn
Gowanus Lounge: Brooklyn Parrot Poaching
Monk Parakeets
at Brooklyn College: Invaders from the South?

Smoking and Smiling

June 8, 2008

More from the archives.

Two summers ago, I saw this woman taking a cigarette break on the boardwalk at Coney Island. When she saw the camera pointed in her direction, she struck a classically coquettish pose.



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