Saturday, March 16, 2019
March 16-17, 2019: Irish American Literature
[March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday that is apparently a far bigger deal in the U.S. than in Ireland. So this week I’ve AmericanStudied a handful of famous Irish American cultural figures, leading up to this post on some wonderful Irish American literary voices!]
On five books that can tell us a lot (individually, but even more so in combination) about the Irish American experience:
1) James Farrell’s Studs Lonigan trilogy (1932-1935): Farrell’s three Chicago-set Studs Lonigan novels are among the best representations not only of the Irish immigrant and early 20th century urban experience, but of the Great Depression’s effects on working class American families and identities.
2) Mary Doyle Curran, The Parish and the Hill (1948): Curran’s autobiographical novel traces, through the memories of its first-person narrator, three generations of an Irish American family with eloquence and power as they move between Kerry County in Ireland, an Irish neighborhood in a western Massachusetts mill town, and a gentrified Anglo community in that same setting.
3) James Carroll, American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War that Came Between Us (1996): Carroll’s narrative of family, spirituality, and Vietnam is as reflective and honest as any memoir I’ve read, and reveals both the multi-generational fault lines that comprised much of the late 20th century and the continuing impacts of Irish identity and experience on American individual and communal life.
4) Michael Patrick MacDonald, All Souls: A Family Story from Southie (1999): There’s a reason MacDonald’s book was at one time (and may still be) being made by director Ron Shelton into a film—this is a deeply compelling story of one family’s tragic and yet inspiring experiences within the world of South Boston in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, and of MacDonald’s attempt to turn those experiences into inspiring activism.
5) Kathleen Donohue, Ashes of Fiery Weather (2016): I wanted to include one more recent book that I haven’t had a chance to read yet on this list, and Donohue’s acclaimed debut novel is the one. Focusing on four generations of New York City firefighters, with a particular emphasis on the women in the family, Donohue’s book sounds like it combines elements from all these prior works, while very much moving into the 21st century as well (the last generation deal, of course, with 9/11 and its aftermaths). Sounds like a book we should all read to continue building our Irish American library!
Next series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think? Other Irish American authors or works you’d highlight?