Arts & Culture
6:23 am
Wed March 5, 2014

ACLA Now Boarding for TransAtlantic Flight

National Book Award winner Colum McCann will speak to Pittsburgh-area high school students Monday as featured author for the Allegheny County Library Association (ACLA)'s 2014 "One Book, One Community" program.

Colum McCann
Credit Brendan Bourke

McCann will appear at Woodland Hills High School to discuss his 2013 novel TransAtlantic, which combines historical research with fictional elements in a story that spans centuries, continents, and multiple generations of characters.

The talk will also be attended remotely via videoconference by students from several other local schools, who will have the opportunity to ask questions and interact with the speaker. Additionally, video from the event will be available via live stream.

"That's going to be picked up by all of the libraries in Allegheny County, of which there are over 70 locations throughout the county," ACLA Community Partnerships Coordinator Terri Blanchette said. Those viewing the stream will not be able to speak directly to McCann, but are encouraged to post their questions via Twitter, using the hashtag #columlive.

The book's organizing concept -- and its primary thematic preoccupation -- is a series of historic crossings between Ireland and North America: abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass's 1845 voyage to Dublin; the first transatlantic airplane flight by two British pilots in 1919; and U.S. Senator George Mitchell's diplomatic mission to Belfast, where the former Majority Leader brokered the 1998 Good Friday Accords. These historical narratives, interspersed with those of wholly invented characters, serve as vehicle for a wide-ranging meditation on political violence, human rights, and technological change. The result is a hopeful take on globalization as an opportunity for people to make common cause across national, ideological, ethnic, and generational boundaries.

"[TransAtlantic] is about spanning large gaps," Blanchette said. "That's kind of what this programming is directed at, closing the gap between these age groups and bringing everybody together to discuss."

The Irish-born McCann is himself an apt figure for the spirit of internationalism the novel evokes. Raised in Dublin and educated in Texas, he now lives and teaches writing in New York, which provided the setting for his celebrated 2009 novel Let The Great World Spin. Pittsburgh is also a spiritual home of sorts for McCann, who received the Rooney Award for Irish Literature from former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney, and has considered himself a Steeler ever since.

"It's kind of a fun connection," Blanchette said. "It's part of a thing that everybody in Pittsburgh knows already: that the Steelers are an international thing."

ACLA coordinated with Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures to bring McCann to town for the talk at Woodland Hills, which will be followed by a special evening lecture at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland. One Book, One Community events around TransAtlantic are planned through the summer and fall. 90.5 WESA is a media sponsor for One Book, One Community.