I Met Colum McCann at Printers Row Lit Fest And It Was Awesome
Last Saturday, my sister Safiya and I visited the lovely Printers Row Lit Fest, the Chicago Tribune's annual literary street fair. The Fest gets its name from the eponymous neighborhood, which was once home to numerous printers and publishers. While the book-packed tents, food trucks and general atmosphere surrounding the area were attractive, there was another reason I visited Printers Row this year: Colum McCann.
If you read my recent post on his new book TransAtlantic, you'll be unsurprised to find that I am a bit of a McCann fangirl. That Saturday, as I took the 3 bus down Michigan Avenue, my expectations soared. McCann was to discuss Narrative4, a non-profit organization he launched that day. He was joined by Mexican-American author Luis Alberto Urrea, local youth activist Charles Miles and rockstar/honorary committee member Sting. The four of them chatted on stage at the beautiful Auditorium Theatre on Congress Parkway. They discussed their plan to use story exchanges in order to affect social change. McCann said he wanted to create a "United Nations of decency." I liked that.
Before this event, I wasn't sure if I wanted to see McCann in person. Sometimes it's better to leave the people you admire in your imagination. But once he started reading a story written by a wrongfully incarcerated man about that experience, once his Irish accent mingled with that American tale, I was glad. That feeling remained as Sting thrilled the crowd with an a capella rendition of a song from a play he is writing. And Safiya and I were stunned by Miles' performance—and it can be called only that—of a 17-year-old Chicago boy's slam poem about violence in the city. Though the 90-minute event was of course about Narrative4, its partnerships with publications such as Esquire and people such as Junot Diaz, it was also about stories, and how powerful and wonderful they are.
For example: One of Narrative4's first story exchanges will partner high school students from Newtown, Connecticut, with some from Chicago, Illinois. Those teenagers will undoubtedly exchange stories about their brushes with violence, then turn around to retell them to their peers. Wouldn't you love to be a fly on that wall?
This is all to say that my hesitation surrounding seeing a writing hero in person was unfounded. Luckily, the man who is so excellent on paper was also captivating in person.
After the event, Safiya and I queued up for the book signing. I had my copy of Let The Great WorldSpinand was oddly nervous about talking to him. When we finally made it to the table, I became overly chirpy, potentially manic in my excitement. And then! Colum McCann complimented my name.
Listen. When someone you're borderline obsessed with compliments your name, there may be no better thing. Yes, he signed my book and chatted a little, but of course the only thing I can think about is how I introduced myself and he liked what I said. Call me crazy.
Leave a comment: Who do you fangirl (or fanboy) over?
My Week in Reading
- McCann's contribution to Narrative4's How To Be A Man collaboration with Esquire is available free online here.
- Aaaaand a Colum McCann interview. I'm sure you're shocked that I'm sharing this. (The Rumpus)
- How the turtle got its shell. Spoiler: Evolution! (PopSci)
- You probably already know this, but pop/soda is really bad for you. (Fast CoExist)
- Do grammar police arrest the imagination? (The Guardian)
My Week in Cooking
Unremarkable. We're traveling a bit this week and next so there's been a lot of dipping into our freezer and eating out in the interim. I hate grocery shopping before vacation, only to find out everything's gone back when we return.
Until next time,
Photos via @Paper_Plates_ on Instagram.