Mining the rich reality of experience

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Colum McCann is story hoarder. The Irish-born McCann (author of the celebrated Let The Great World Spin) moved to the United States some thirty years ago and set off touring around the continent on a bicycle, dreaming of Kerouac and collecting tales from the rich back roads, small towns and highways of America. His journey took him across the country’s south, down to Mexico and over the Colorado Rockies, from Amish to Native American communities and everywhere in between.

In a June 26 interview with NPR’s Neal Conan, McCann discussed his inveterate restlessness and fascination with the lives and stories of others. Though McCann writes fiction, he insists that the drama, suspense and emotion forged in his work all issue from the rich reality of experience. McCann specializes in finding the extraordinary in the ordinary—in “realizing what work goes into…the small moments of everyone’s anonymous little corners.” Some of McCann’s stories are drawn from his own adventures, but more often they are the products of the practiced art of inhabiting another’s experience.

Photo Credit

McCann. (Photo credit: Brandon Bourke)

Its importance cannot be understated. Says McCann, “I think one of the biggest political failures and the biggest social failures over the past few years has been the failure of empathy, not being able to look at the other person down the street. And we sit inside, we draw the curtains, we close down, we put on the plasma television, and we say, we are the important ones. And really, what’s important is what’s happening down the road. And if we can understand what’s happening to others, then we can finely, sort of understand what’s happening to ourselves because there’s really loneliness in not being able to tell your story.…we all want to be meaningful.”