Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 31, 2013

National Book Award winner, O books editor make TC stop

BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS mdrahos@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Leigh Haber had already decided to spotlight Colum McCann’s latest book in O magazine when Doug Stanton approached her about interviewing McCann on the National Writers Series stage.

“It really was wonderful serendipity,” said Haber, books editor at O, The Oprah Magazine, and the guest host for the June 6 National Writers Series program featuring McCann. The event begins at 7 p.m. at the City Opera House, with doors opening at 6 p.m.

McCann is the Irish-born author of the National Book Award-winning novel “Let the Great World Spin.” His new book, “TransAtlantic,” is set for release June 4 and weaves fact and fiction, history and past in a story that spans 150 years and two continents — North America and Ireland. Real and imagined characters include black American slave Frederick Douglass, who lands in Ireland in 1845 to champion ideas of democracy and freedom; John Alcock and “Teddy” Brown, two young airmen who emerge from World War One in 1919 to pilot the first transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to the west of Ireland; and American senator George Mitchell, who criss-crosses the ocean in 1998 in search of a lasting Irish peace.

Haber said she selected the book to feature in the June issue of O magazine from hundreds of books she receives in galley form every week. The Oprah nod is “huge” in publishing, said National Writers Series co-founder Doug Stanton.

“I think that what connected with us about Colum’s new book is that it has this rare combination of soaring language, a story that’s told like nobody else has told it before, and then being riveted while reading it and coming away being a little transformed by it,” said Haber, who held editorial roles at Chronicle Books, Scribner, Hyperion and Rodale before arriving at O magazine in September. “In this case, I love the idea of Colum being an immigrant, an Irish storyteller, but clearly embracing New York, the U.S. and American history and threading it back to Ireland. I think you can feel that kind of exhilaration of discovering the way to narrate it. The exuberance, that joy, is what we loved about the book.”

A book editor and publicist for most of her career, Haber edited Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” Steve Martin’s “Shopgirl” and Bill Maher’s “New Rules: Polite Musings from a Timid Observer,” among other books. While she’s relatively new at interviewing authors, she said she considers herself a typical reader with typical questions.

“With Colum, it’s why did he have such an interest in George (Mitchell), an ambivalence about Frederick Douglass? I’m also really interested in how he managed to convey in language the feeling of flying, the feeling of being unleashed, the feeling of flight, of letting go,” she said. “In all these years of doing this, I haven’t lost my sense of wonder that someone can write a novel that moves me, is able to keep my attention, to transport me. So I’m always looking for the secret, the magic formula, the recipe. And for every writer that’s different.

“I think what most people want to know about Colum is, ‘How do you do it? How do you come uip with these stories about real life, history, and spin them in ways that are dazzlingly original?’ That’s the gift.”

McCann was born in Dublin in 1965 and began his career as a journalist in The Irish Press. In the early 1980s 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 moved to New York where they live with their three children and where McCann teaches at Hunter College.

The author of six novels and two story collections published in more than 35 languages, McCann has won several major literary prizes including the International Dublin Impac Prize, a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres from the French government and the 2010 Best Foreign Novel Award in China.

Tickets for the National Writers Series program are $20 in advance at 941-8082 or cityoperahouse.org, and $25 at the door. A $38 event ticket includes admission, a pre-signed copy of “TransAtlantic” and a pre-event reception with McCann.

in 1998 an American senator criss-crosses the ocean in search of a lasting Irish peace. Bearing witness to these history-making moments of Frederick Douglass, John Alcock and “Teddy” Brown, and George Mitchell, and braiding the story together into one epic tale, are four generations of women from a matriarchal clan, beginning with Irish housemaid Lily Duggan. In this story of dark and light, men and women, history and past, fiction and fact