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Frank McCourt's Last Words and Other Highlights From Colum McCann's 'Readings and Conversations' Talk in Boise

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- National Book Award-winning author Colum McCann spoke at The Egyptian Theatre Nov. 16 as part of The Cabin's Readings and Conversations series. -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • National Book Award-winning author Colum McCann spoke at The Egyptian Theatre Nov. 16 as part of The Cabin's Readings and Conversations series.
National Book Award-winning author Colum McCann has a macabre memento from fellow Irishman and Angela's Ashes author Frank McCourt.

"I have Frank McCourt's last words hanging on my wall," McCann told a packed Egyptian Theatre on Nov. 16.

McCann was in Boise as part of The Cabin' Readings and Conversations series, which brings literary luminaries to the City of Trees. Cabin Executive Director Kurt Zwolfer described McCann as "a storyteller," which might be an understatement. McCann's tale about McCourt's last days and the writer's last words—"And in the morning, all will be forgiven"—was just one of them.

McCann also read from his award-winning novel, Let the Great World Spin (which he said was "a novel about 9/11 that doesn't once mention 9/11"), and most recent collection of short stories, Thirteen Ways of Looking, from the Wallace Stevens poem, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird."

Personal accounts, however, were McCann's most engaging, from his reminiscences about his Dublin journalist father whose love of growing roses took him all over the world, to his first incursion into Idaho in the late 1980s on a bicycle after being jailed in Jackson, Wyo., for saying less-than-flattering things about then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

"I had been delicately over-served in a million-dollar bar," McCann said to laughter from the crowd.

He also recounted how, before his Egyptian Theatre appearance, he'd spent the day visiting a creative writing class at Boise High School and a creative writing program at the Ada County Juvenile Detention Center, where he was able to spend one-on-one time with at-risk youths. He said they asked him a total of 63 questions.

"I was very heartened by everything I saw today," he said.

Young people are at the center of McCann' work with the nonprofit he founded, Narrative 4, which "exchanges" stories between youths all over the world. In 2015, he said, the organization facilitated 25,000 such exchanges, which he said builds empathy between cultures. This year, Narrative 4 is on track to facilitate 100,000 exchanges.

"We want to now turn empathy into action," he said.

McCann told the audience he has little patience for the "cynics sitting in the corner of the room," and that literature and storytelling are fundamentally optimistic activities.

"I refuse to kowtow to despair," he said.

Before retiring to the lobby, where McCann signed copies of his books with Gaelic salutations, he talked about the role of creatives in America's current political climate. Writers, he said, have long been working from what he described as a "reckless inner need." A Trump presidency, he said, will be a shot in the arm to protest and idealist literature.

"There has to be some form of rage—there has to be some form of social engagement," McCann said.