Alice McDermott Hits Homerun at Marymount
Manhattan College Writing Center
“Somewhere in the Bronx, only 20 minutes or so from the cemetery,” read Lewis Burke Frumkes, director of Marymount Manhattan College’s much praised writing center the other night to a packed house. He was standing before a wildly enthusiastic audience explaining that he was quoting from a book that the Philadelphia Inquirer called “Alice McDermott’s astoundingly beautiful novel about the persistence of love, the perseverance of grief, and all but unbearable loneliness.” That book, Charming Billy, continued Frumkes, went on to win the national book award in 1998.
Most of McDermott’s novels in fact have been nominated for major awards. Frumkes added that he remembered reading Child Of My Heart a second time two years after he had first read it and being totally enthralled all over again. “Alice,” he went on, “has that power over readers. Sorceress-like she draws you into her tales easily, then forces you to look at her characters and yourself through a variety of lenses until you understand both the character and yourself in new ways.” “Great writers,” he said, “are able to do this. It is like magic, it happens but you are not quite sure how it happened.”
McDermott was the fourth and final speaker for the fantastic “Irish Voices” series that Tina Flaherty and Frumkes cooked up this fall through the writing center and which Flaherty funded to the tune of $100,000. The other speakers were Mary and Carol Higgins Clark, Edna O’Brien who flew over from London for the occasion, Nuala O’Faolin, and Alice McDermott. Next fall they intend to have the men, either Irish or maybe Italian writers.
McDermott, charming like Billy himself, recalled speaking once to another crowd where someone asked her if the novel in question was about her family. But before she could answer, she said, a woman on the other side of the room blurted out, “no it’s about mine.” and the audience roared. During the question and answer period McDermott became serious and said that she is very interested in what we all seek in life she said, what kinds of happiness we hope to achieve, what kinds of redemption. Frumkes, clearly pleased with the warm reaction to the final irish voices speaker, thanked everyone for coming including a group that had driven up from Pennsylvania just to hear McDermott and promised more wonderful fare in the coming months.
The writing center, on East 71st, continues to offer the city unique cultural and intellectual events he said proudly. Frumkes teased the audience with highlights from the new winter/spring brochure. There is the best-selling author series, which begins this month and will feature the great suspense novelist Joseph Finder January 17th, Walter Mosley, February 19th, Adam Gopnik, March 5th and Donald Westlake, May 5th. All the events he said are free but the center will also offer paying events such as a special panel called “The Secrets Behind Getting Published” on February 27th which will showcase important editors from The New Yorker magazine, The New York Times, as well as Adam Moss, the editor in chief of New Yorkmagazine. As if this were not enough he titillated the audience with a course called “Literary Erotica,” taught by Daphne Merkin, a stand-up comedy course taught by Carolyn Brown, and a history of American classical music taught by the music critic, Barrymore Scherer. For more information or to register, call 212-774-4810 or 212-774-0789.#