March 31, 2009 | Leave a Comment
In the spirit of another great favorite of mine, Knockemstiff, Abramo’s Gift is a story of a certain time and a certain place. It was a pleasure interviewing Donald Greco. More from Amazon.com:
It’s 1918, and Youngstown, Ohio, is brewing with social unrest as Italian and Irish immigrants vie for living space and low-paying jobs in the local steel mills. Amidst the discord, Abramo Cardone arrives from Italy hoping to escape the pain of his wife and child’s deaths. His uncle secures him a job at the steel mill, where he tries to bury his loneliness in work. Instead, he attracts the attention of two Irish men, one who wants to give him a leg up and one who wants to tear him down. In the thick of the violent power struggle that develops, Abramo is offered a wonderful gift-but he’ll have to fight to claim it.
About the Author
Donald Greco, an Irish-Italian, grew up in Youngstown and has lived in Ohio all his life. His novels are about ordinary people with extraordinary stories. The rich history and culture surrounding Ohio’s steel valley inspired Abramo’s Gift.
March 30, 2009 | Leave a Comment
I enjoyed speaking with Dr. Allan Hamilton immensely, about spirituality and medicine — two topics not often mixed in polite company!
More from www.allanhamilton.com
Experience the Spiritual Side of Surgery:
Dr. Hamilton’s book, entitled The Scalpel and the Soul: Encounters with Surgery, the Supernatural, and the Healing Power of Hope is published by the Tarcher Division of Penguin Publishing, USA. The hard cover edition was published in March, 2008 and the paperback edition in April, 2009.
Based on thirty years experience as Harvard-educated brain surgeon, The Scalpel and the Soul: Encounters with Surgery, the Supernatural, and the Healing Power of Hope tells the stories behind remarkable patients and the moral and spiritual lessons they can teach everyone. In this book, Dr. Hamilton shares a rare glimpse of how the spiritual and the supernatural manifest themselves even in the high-tech world of 21st century intensive care units or operating rooms.
The soul often needs more than an Intensive Care Unit can provide:
The Scalpel and the Soul explores how premonition, superstition, hope and faith not only become factors in how patients feel, but can change the outcomes as well. The stories within this book validate the spiritual manifestations physicians see every day. The tales empower patients to voice their spiritual needs in medical situations. When the life is threatened, the soul can exert mysterious powers. Embracing that knowledge can help anyone, patient or caregiver, to cope with difficult and challenging times.
The paper back edition will be released in April 3, 2009. You can order now at ordered from Amazon.com, BarnesnadNoble.com, Borders, and all local, independent bookstores.
March 29, 2009 | Leave a Comment
Dr. Kent: Welcome to Sound Authors! It’s a beautiful day out here in New York, still a little bit crisp in the air but there’s just a hint of spring coming around the corner. We have three authors on the show today and one musician; I’m excited about it. My first guest will be Dr. Allan Hamilton and his books called The Scalpel and the Soul and I’ve got a guy on who wrote a book called Abramo’s Gift – it’s a beautiful novel by Donald Greco. My third guest on the show is the youngest brother of the McCourt family. Of course there’s Frank and Maliki and this is Alphie McCourt. His book is called A Long Stones Throw, a beautiful memoir. At the end of the show I’ve got some musicians coming on as always and James Reams is joining me today with his band the Barn Stormers. So without further ado, my first guest on the show, Dr. Allan Hamilton, the writer of The Scalpel and the Soul. . Welcome to the show.
Dr. Hamilton: Thank you for having me Dr. Kent.
Dr. Kent: This is such an interesting issue. My father is a doctor and I know quite a bit about doctors just from hanging around them all my life and it’s not something you hear about too often, the soul.
Dr. Hamilton: Well it sort of one of our its we don’t feel comfortable sometimes talking about and one of the reasons that I actually tackled the topic was I went into my training and the first part of my career as a surgeon very unprepared if you will for some of the spiritual challenges and emotional challenges my patients were going to face and as you watch that process, it gradually begins to reflect on your own life and your own values and I thought that sort of took me by surprise if you will.
Dr. Kent: It’s really an experience that just about everyone has in society at one point. Being there, thinking about the scalpel and the soul as it were. In the emergency room waiting area, waiting for a family member to come out, this and that. It really is an emotional place, the hospital.
Dr. Hamilton: It is kind of a crucible and for many people it’s going to represent not just the moment of tremendous threat but also a potential challenge and even spiritual transformation. Many patients will come through a severe illness or major surgery and will have focused for them what their values really are, what they want their legacy to be and in many cases a lot of my brain tumor patients, cancer patients really have crystallized what they want their lives to be about and the purpose of their lives.
Dr. Kent: Here’s a question you might not get all the time but I have a curiosity about the word scalpel. It’s a word that came up on the campaign trail by both candidates this last year and I think we have a serious fear of that device, the scalpel and its only certain people that we trust with that and we trust them with our lives.
Dr. Hamilton: The scalpel is an interesting symbol. First off if you think about it, it really is a knife, like any other knife and yet its held with a completely different kind of grip and one of the most difficult things for young surgeons to learn is basically the way of wielding that scalpel so it actually is cutting tissue the way you want. And that when you cross that threshold, it’s really as if the scalpel suddenly has become a part of your hand, of your fingers. It’s no longer just an instrument but it carries a very special significance and you know it’s the knife that’s used in healing but still has a lot of the connotations of a knife. I always say surgery is only a few steps away from murder.
Dr. Kent: Wow. That’s a great statement, and a terrifying statement. Now, we have such a stigma attached to doctors these days. What’s your take on that? In the world of people who say I’m going to sue my doctor and this and that, there’s a real trust issue and it really does come down to there’s a fine line between murder and surgery. A lot of people think, go ahead.
Dr. Hamilton: Well I think you’re right. I think first off I think there’s a spiritual crisis going on in the midst of the whole medical health system. Medical adverse events, which is our fancy word for mistakes, errors, are the fourth leading cause of death now in the United States. Five times more people die a year from medical adverse events than those that die on the highways in America. So the publics trust in terms of public trust, the healthcare industry is right behind the food handling industry and the nuclear waste industry; we’re third.
So we really have lost the publics trust and one of the reasons is we’ve gotten farther and farther removed from the patient and the immediate relationship and sense of a partnership and the sense of being if you will united with the goal of healing. I think patients are gradually starting to feel more and more estranged. If you watch video tapes and do a study, the average time from when a surgeon walks in the room to the time the surgeon walks out with a signed consent for surgery is seven and a half minutes. So in 7-1/2 minutes you go from meeting a complete stranger to putting your life in their hands and asking people to trust a system like that I think is asking an awful lot. There’s almost no other situation in the world where we come up against that asked of us.
Dr. Kent: What’s interesting is that you talk about directly on your website, which is allanhamilton.com, there’s the soul often needs more than an intensive care unit can provide and I’ve experienced times in the intensive care unit visiting a family member and its not a place that; its an emergency place, its keeping people alive and its not a pleasant place to be. Where does the soul belong in that?
Dr. Hamilton: Well I’ll give you a very good example. I was just with a group of residents and we were next to a little boy in the ICU after surgery for a tumor. It really was an important point to remind the residents to step away from the patient’s room and the family and the immediate area if they wanted to have a discussion about certain things. My feeling was I don’t want the patient hearing a word here or a word there that has very significant connotations. I think you need to be aware that there’s an awful lot of stress in that ICU and we don’t want to add to it we want to actually address some of those emotional demands and that’s why I think we tend to look at the body in the ICU and often forget how desperate the soul is for support at the same time.
Dr. Kent: You are a neurosurgeon and I find it fascinating that someone who deals so much with a concrete part of a human beings body in such a sensitive area also thinks about the soul and a spiritual side to things. How does the physical tactile part of things connect up with the other side?
Dr. Hamilton: I think there’s a disconnect. I think one of the reasons I got so interested is because you’re working on the brain and because yes its an organ but it is a mind, it is the personality, it is the entire life experience, the values, you know, love and its all there and yet you’re just looking at an organ and at the same time very aware that the whole integrity of a person is in that organ. You can’t see it, you can’t see what love is, you can’t see where altruism and sacrifice and hard work or fear are; you don’t see that when you’re working on it, you just know that its there and you have to be aware that this is in some ways you’re inside a temple. It isn’t like any other organ. If you take somebody’s piece of bowel out or even fix their heart, you’re not changing the fundamental character of the person and yet with this surgery we can actually end up doing that or removing speech or you can confuse sending somebody up so their completely confused or have no memory. I think it makes you feel as if you’re far more connected with something beyond just the anatomy and the physical.
Dr. Kent: So let’s talk about the book itself, The Scalpel and the Soul. Its done very well and being carried by The One Spirit Book Club at Borders among other things and now why did you decide to write a trade publication? This is certainly not written for a medical journal, it’s a wonderful read. What did you want people to take away from it?
Dr. Hamilton: Well I think it’s a conversation because on one hand as I explained earlier, people aren’t talking to us and training us as physicians that we’re going to be dealing with it and at the same time you have a huge number of patients and a growing number of patients who say no, I’m not just a body with a disease I’m a human being with a soul and a heart and that has to be addressed at the same time so I think what you have is one group of people who want to open up a dialogue with their physician and I think the other thing is you have a group of physicians who are saying why cant we even have a conversation about this?
Why can’t we all know that miracles are happening every day? We all have had patients where we’ve said this patient isn’t going to survive another week and yet they say I have to wait another four months for my son to come back from Iraq so I can say goodbye and they do it. If this is just a process, how does all that happen? How did they summon the emotional strength, the spiritual strength, the will to impose their needs over a biologic mechanistic process so they could reach closure with their loved ones. That’s really what’s miraculous and that’s where you want to have the conversation between physician and patient.
Dr. Kent: How has the reaction been from your colleagues in your community? The books done very well and I’m sure many a doctor has picked this up.
Dr. Hamilton: Well surgeons, which I’m one, we’re the arch-conservative, the republicans of the medical world so I’ve had a lot of colleagues who’ve said you’ve been a surgeon 30 years, you’ve been chairman of the surgical department, how could you have sat down and written a book about spirituality like this? I’ve gotten very good reactions from the younger doctors, they give me a lot of hope because they say we’re glad somebody’s talking about this and made the subject no longer taboo. Then you have the intermediate group; I had a colleague going up in an elevator with me I’ve known for 20 years and he was saying I cant believe this book you wrote about spirituality and then he walked out of the elevator, turns around and says to me on the other hand I always know when something bad has happened to my children even before the phone rings. I said, so you have a sense of being connected to something beyond yourself and he says yeah. I said, well that’s what the books about. So I think its run the gamut.
Dr. Kent: Wow, well it’s such a fascinating title and with your background especially fascinating and I encourage everybody to go out and pick this up. The Scalpel and the Soul and of course this is available from the Reading Group at Borders, the One Spirit Book Club. What are you working on now?
Dr. Hamilton: I’m actually working on another book about spirituality and our connection with animals so that’s the second book.
Dr. Kent: I got to say I can’t wait to read that one. I’ve got a great connection with my golden retriever so.
Dr. Hamilton: Yeah.
Dr. Kent: Well thank you so much for being on the show, this has been fascinating and we can find out more about Dr. Allan Hamilton on his website, www.allanhamilton.com and everywhere books are sold. Thank you so much for chatting with us.
Dr. Hamilton: Thank you it’s been a pleasure.
Dr. Kent: My next guest on the show is a fellow named Donald Greco and we’re going to talk to him in a minute about his novel called Abramo’s Gift. Come on back for that.
March 28, 2009 | Leave a Comment
Dr. Kent: Welcome back to Sound Authors! My next guest on the show is the author of a book called Abramo’s Gift. His name is Donald Greco and welcome to the show!
Donald Greco: Thank you; I’m glad to be here.
Dr. Kent: Tell me a little about this book. Its 1918 and you’re in Youngstown, Ohio. Tell us about the setting of this book.
Donald Greco: All right. Well, an Italian immigrant, the young man, and all the turmoil that was going on at that time; he lost his wife and child in one of the skirmishes that happened over there. So he came to Youngstown Ohio where his uncle lived and his uncle got him a job in one of the steel mills. The whole story is about his adapting to American life and to work life and a city that was at the time against the Italians.
Dr. Kent: What inspired you to turn this into a novel? It’s done quite well.
Donald Greco: Well thank you. My mother was Irish and my father was Italian and that was a big ethnic rivalry in the early part of the 20th century because the Irish had gotten here many years before the Italians and when the Italians came in, many of the mills used to make the Italians underbid the Irish people who were working in the mills. So if an Irishman was working in a mill for $3.00 a day lets say, they’d tell an Italian he could have the job if he could work for $2.00 a day. Then they would fire the Irish guy and hire the Italian guy.
Needless to say, that caused a great deal of animosity and hostility because all those people were trying to feed their families and just make a go of it in this country. My mom and dad when they got married in 1940 it was quite a scandal that an Irishman was marrying an Italian. In fact, my mother, one of her uncles told my mother that she would forever be the black sheep of the family for marrying an Italian. Of course, they’re both gone now, they both died within the last five years. They lived a very happy married life for all that time.
Dr. Kent: Things have changed a whole lot since then. We’re going through a similar economic crisis that we saw in the late 20s and early 30s but times have really changed since then. Paint that picture of the way the world was for these characters you created.
Donald Greco: Okay; when they were living at that time around 1920, first of all there were no social agencies for these people. If you didn’t work, you didn’t eat and you could starve. Things were desperate and also people didn’t live as long in those days as they do today and so it was a tough life that they had because they worked hard in the mills. The mills were dangerous, dirty places but yet, having said all that, today when an Irishman would marry an Italian, if they’re you know how they put brides pictures in the papers; no one cares, it probably doesn’t raise anybody’s interest that an Irishman and Italian are getting married. Same thing would go for say a Lebanese and a German or a Slovak and a Jew. Its one of the great success stories of the 20th century that starting with the very difficult lives that all those people, all those European immigrants had in this country, they found a way to live together and not only did they live together but they intermarried, raise families together and really put a wonderful imprint on this country.
Dr. Kent: You’re background is very interesting. You have a PhD and you were a mathematics professor for many years. What brought you around to Abramo’s Gift?
Donald Greco: Well, all my life I was interested in good stories and when I was a little boy my father and I, the one thing we used to do together more than anything else. My dad used to go up to the local social club on Saturday and they’d play cards and so on and then he’d come home, he’d make it home around 3:00 every Saturday and he and I would drive up to a local library branch that we had. We’d go in there and he’d get his books from the adult side and I’d get my books from the child side and we would talk about the kinds of stories. He would ask me as I was reading the books did I like the story? What kind of story was it?
He was always interested in good stories. He himself loved a great story and he read most of the great classic novels that have been written and I kind of grew up with that. I’ve always liked to write but I have to learn a living and was pretty good at math so I started at a math teacher many years ago and I stayed with it. I earned my living as a mathematics professor but the great love of my life was writing. So I would do that on the side very quietly without anybody knowing it and I produced this novel here is the fourth one that I have written. I’m working on another one now but the other three have not been published. This is the first one to be published.
Dr. Kent: What do you hope people can take away from this book? It’s about some deep culture that we don’t really have around anymore. People like to escape from the world when they read a novel.
Donald Greco: I would like the think when they read my story anyhow; they realize that there are some important things in life besides possessions and besides wealth and so on. I think the most important thing is the existence of a family and the love that exists within that family and how that love sustains everybody that it touches. I think that’s the story that I would like people to remember; that even in difficult times, under difficult circumstances, if people really were part of a loving family it would help get them through. Also that there were people in the story are very what you would call great people but they are very ordinary people. You could be great and yet be ordinary.
Dr. Kent: Wow; well we’ve been speaking with Donald Greco the author of Abramo’s Gift. It’s a beautiful novel from the cover on through. It brings you into another world and I really appreciate you chatting with me today and we can find out more on the web I’m sure. Where can we go to see more?
Donald Greco: I’m in the process right now of developing a website. I naively thought all I had to do is write a book and a good story and everything would take care of itself but I have been interviewed by gracious people like yourself and I realize now that I need a website. So I talked to some young genius and he’s going to put one together for me. Right now I don’t have one. The book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble but as far as a website, I don’t have it yet.
Dr. Kent: We’ll check you out on Amazon; Abramo’s Gift. Thank you so much for chatting with us about this great novel.
Donald Greco: You’re welcome, thanks Kent.
Dr. Kent: My next guest is going to be Alphie McCourt. He is the author of A Long Stones Throw. He’s the younger brother of the famous McCourt Brothers Frank and Maliki. This is a beautiful memoir to add to his family’s legacy. So we’re going to talk to him in just a minute. Come on back for that.
March 27, 2009 | Leave a Comment
Dr. Kent: Welcome back to Sound Authors! Its my great honor to have as my next guest on the show the great memoirs of Alphie McCourt of the well known McCourt family; Frank McCourt, Malachy McCourt and Alphie McCourt, all memoirs and all successful at that. Welcome to the show Alphie McCourt.
Alphie McCourt: Thank you!
Dr. Kent: It’s a book called A Long Stones Throw, give me in a nutshell where this book starts, where it finishes and what it does in between.
Alphie McCourt: It starts in New York City then I spend some time on between the two borders of Canada and the united states because of a glitch in my Visa and it comes back to New York and then carries on to my time in the Army and time on the east side of Manhattan and then I go back to Ireland and come back again and spend some time in California before coming back to new York and settling in New York.
Dr. Kent: Talk about New York City at that time. It was a different place.
Alphie McCourt: It was a different place. New York in the 1960s, the united states in the 1960s, was a different place in my own view I think it was probably the last period of real prosperity in the united states when people were free to develop and articulate even to protest the causes. Of course it was a very turbulent time for everyone and for me personally being in my 20s it was a turbulent time.
Dr. Kent: I’m so intrigued by your whole family. I’ve now read books by your brother Frank, Maliki and by you now. How did you all become so gifted in story telling, in writing?
Alphie McCourt: Well Frank has been writing all his life. I think he wrote his first book Ashes to Ashes under various titles. I think he probably wrote it three times before he spent his life writing that book and he has been writing all of his life. He has the real gift of writing. Maliki has a different style of all the others, entirely spontaneous. He has a gift of writing and the gift of talking. He can as I said turn the world on its ear. He has a great sense of the absurd. As for myself, I’ve been reading more than writing bits and pieces all my life, but I’ve always wrote a lot. My mother was a great reader and my father was conscious of sound and story always. So I guess it comes, whatever it is, comes from the parents.
Dr. Kent: And we in this country, we love Irish culture and I don’t know what it is exactly about it. Maybe it’s some of the absurd things that we hear, the wild stories, some of the beautiful culture and music. Why do Americans feel so obsessed about Ireland?
Alphie McCourt: Well I think the Irish have a way, the best of the Irish have a way of taking everything seriously and taking nothing seriously and they think that’s the only way you can really survive and get through. If you take everything seriously you’re done for and if you take nothing seriously then you’ll last. So I think you have to find the path and always have some perspective. It is said about Irish people that we have a great sense of tragedy and a great sense of [inaudible] that an Irish, I cant quote it exactly but the saying is “In times of great joy an Irishman is consoled by the fact that around the corner lurks great tragedy.” That verse is a consolation in times of great joy, you know because we all lurk, we all have the guilt you know. If you have great joy you know that somewhere down the line you have to pay.
Dr. Kent: That’s true; we always want the one and the other. We want the dark and the light. So tell us about in this book A Long Stones Throw you talk about your early childhood and some of the difficulties. Talk about your struggles.
Alphie McCourt: It was peculiar the way we grew up because I described it to someone recently because we were white people among white people, Irish people among Irish people and more or less Catholics among Catholics. Why even so, we were essentially excluded. We were looked down upon and regarded with contempt. I suppose if we have lived on [inaudible] Drive we would have had enough to eat and we could’ve just melded in but the fact that we lived in a large town in a small city, I guess we were early in the genteel life what they call it inner city children. We were they and they were we and our we stunk because we were not clean enough we weren’t respectable. And that was the stigma. You can endure hunger and deprivation and all of that, but the stigma is a terrible thing. Plus the fact that our father was as I said, our father who worked in England and left and never came back, never kept in contact, never hardly wrote or sent money or anything else. If we had contact with my father we would’ve been better off but with no contact with the father, the stigma of poverty combined with the stigma of no father was horrendous.
Dr. Kent: Now you have so many themes running through your book, including that one of course and then also you have Christianity, you have sports, all of these things and then you have New York. You have a different, this grammatically different culture. How did all of these worlds collide in your youth and young adulthood?
Alphie McCourt: It was a very difficult adjustment in the sense that I was not an ordinary immigrant because the ordinary immigrant are not English speaking so the Irish have had the advantage of being English speaking so you kind of have one foot in the door, but its though to get in the door because you still have the you know, you can tell by looking at you still and you have the accent and you have a certain bearing which stamps you as an immigrant. Plus the fact that I was the only one of my family to go through high school, secondary school. So that opened certain doors for me. I had the opportunity here to go to the university and all that but I could never seem to buckle down to it.
I never really got into it, I don’t know why and I don’t attempt to analyze it. Its just the way it turned out, I couldn’t commit myself to that kind of academic endeavor. I guess I was hungry for the excitement of New York and hungry for the glamour of New York. They used to tell us when we were kids that presumption is the expectation of salvation without taking the means necessary to obtain it. that’s a very weighty statement so I guess I was looking to have the glamour to have whatever you’re supposed to have without really doing the work necessary to obtain it. Plus I think I felt overshadowed. I have three brothers, my brother Michael is one who lives in San Francisco and a formidable character in his own right. It’s agreed that probably he’s the best storyteller in the whole family. He hasn’t written a book and probably never will, he doesn’t have to. So I guess I felt somewhat overshadowed by the brothers.
Dr. Kent: As the youngest of the brothers, did you get doted on by your mother?
Alphie McCourt: While things improved once Frank came over here and went in the Army and they do the allotment when you give up your pay and the government matches it with an equal amount of money, so our situation improved. Maliki did the same when he came and Michael did the same so I guess from age 12 on it was more or less better off.
Dr. Kent: That’s something I remember very well from your brother Frank McCourt’s biography where he talked about visiting home. He would send the money home and then he talked about visiting home. What was it like to have your big brother be in a foreign land and talk about the military and all of this?
Alphie McCourt: Frank is ten years older so when he would come home I guess I was about 14 and he was 24 so I was still looking up to him and America was and still is I think the promised land, where dreams come true, and having him come home and having Maliki come home and Michael come home in the splendid uniforms all striped and well scrubbed and clean and well fed and all of that, it was tremendous because this was still the 1950s and it was still shall we say the American century for America was the promised land. I couldn’t get enough of them when they came home because they represented, it was a kind of generosity and a love about them when they came home. It wasn’t to be found in our limited 1960s.
Dr. Kent: You also detail in your book some personal struggles with alcohol and I guess my question about that is I hear so much about Ireland and so much of it revolves around alcohol. What’s your experience with that and how have you come out on top?
Alphie McCourt: I remember the 1980s I think we did a survey in Europe about alcohol consumption and I think the Irish came in number five after the French, Germans, Italians and such, so we were lower down the scale when we got to consumption, but maybe when we drink we become more demonstrative, more inclined to drink and sing and dance and fight or whatever and maybe we tend not to drink moderately – two or three drinks. You know what they say, you tend to carry on once you start and I was like that. Once I started I carried on, it didn’t mean I drink every day or two days, but when you begin to measure the amount that you drink, then you know that you’re in trouble with it.
The pub is the place, the pub is the social center so ideally the men, and when I was growing up would go there at night for a couple pints and that was about it, but when you come over here the bar is different even though they call it a pub. You can stay there 12 hours. In New York the bars are open until 4:00 in the morning so you can really spend your whole life, it’s very easy. There’s a fellowship there you might not find outside and its very tempting once you get into it, you get stuck with it. There used to be that show on TV about it.
Dr. Kent: Well I love this discussion because like so many others as I said before one I’m fascinated by just your voice, by the Irish accent, I’m fascinated by your childhood in Limerick and about this pub. There’s so much mystery surrounding it. What’s the response been to your book and what was the response, do you remember the first response of your brothers’ book. What was it like when he hit it big?
Alphie McCourt: About Frank’s book?
Dr. Kent: Yeah, and it’s come way down to your book since.
Alphie McCourt: Yeah its funny how it’s all developed in the course of its now I think 12 years; it’s like we’ve gone around the world. When Ashes to Ashes came out it was kind of a whirlwind because we brothers all went together to Ireland for the launching and then in 1996 and then in 1997 Frank was awarded by the university of Limerick so we went back to Limerick and oh man it was enormous, they had a three story book store there. People were going around getting all of us to sign the books. There was some resentment among some people because of my mother [inaudible] but he told the truth and you can’t dispute that. Because people didn’t want to see their native place, our town to be depicted as a place of which it was at that time of misery and begrudgery and all the rest of it. That’s the way it was, he told the truth.
Dr. Kent: It seems as if all three of you tell the truth very well in your books. Continue to tell me the story of how your memoir came about.
Alphie McCourt: Of course when Frank’s book was number one, Ashes to Ashes, his came about and my brother Maliki came out with his book A Monk Swimming so every child in the street was asking me when is your book coming out? I would say next year or now they would say are you writing a book and I would say sure I am isn’t everyone? Everyone writes a book these days. So time passed and well I began to get the idea maybe I should articulate my own memory and my own point of view and try to establish my own place in the family. So did, I went away for four days to Pennsylvania to seclusion as the grandiose calls it. I was in this small house for four days and shut myself off from everyone and every thing and I wrote half of it in four days. That was the childhood part, the growing up part. That was the easy part, it just flowed out, I enjoyed it and I enjoyed writing it and I enjoyed reading it. The second part was more difficult, it took only a few years.
Dr. Kent: I recall hearing your brother Frank McCourt speaks once he read from his book, Teacher Man. He talked about it being a brutal process to write that book, he said it took him three years. It’s a very difficult thing to pull these memoirs out. It’s not like writing fiction.
Alphie McCourt: No and people ask me and maybe asked him I don’t know, if I kept a diary or a journal and I didn’t and people are in disbelief so while in parts of it I may be a bit fanciful even there I think its permitted but there’s such a theory now about memoirs that you have to tell the absolute truth and nothing but the truth, I think there is nothing wrong with a little embroidery as long as you stick essentially. You don’t introduce so called facts that are not facts. I think it can be factual without being dull because if you just present the facts then it’s very dull. You have to present in such a way and put a flair mark and some little bit of embroidery around it as far as dialogue and what people say. Essentially you can remember what people said, you can certainly remember the tone of what people said and present it that way and I think in most of my life I have anchors in which I can hang the hats of my memory and each of those pegs prompts another memory and gives me a context on which I can expand.
Dr. Kent: Has this been a good experience for you? Writing this book and having this new platform?
Alphie McCourt: It has been because as I said to someone there’s many things in my life went unfinished, many things I didn’t finish. I don’t know if this is true of most people or if I’m only conscious of it, so there’s a number of things I didn’t finish but I’m very happy that I finished this book A Long Stones Throw and that its published and its there and some people have read it and loved it. Some people are moderately cheerful about it and I haven’t met anyone who hated it. Mind you three different women have told me it was an all nighter because they stayed up all night reading it. I don’t know what that means but they say it.
Dr. Kent: You are like your brothers, masterful in weaving the tragic in with the comic. What you were talking about in Ireland when the good things happen you say well it’s good to know that the tragedy’s around the corner. Talk to close this out here about this duality in Irish literature, especially McCourt literature of the humor and the tragedy.
Alphie McCourt: It probably has a lot to do with the weather! You know when its raining that there must be sunshine somewhere not too far behind. We grew up in the rain so we always anticipate the sunshine and when we do get a little sun there’s an absolute certainty that the rain is not far behind and I found as a kind of sideline I find there’s a very stable appetite for our growing up and in my own book one third of it takes place in Ireland, two thirds of it takes place in the united states and yet when it comes down to destruction I’m always back in Limerick and I kind of hope that people will see me in Canada, in new York, and see me in my couple of years in the Army and couple years in California so its not an entirely one dimension of life. On the other hand, people are curious, they want to know. They really want to understand so I have to entertain and humor peoples desire to understand. I can’t explain it, no one can explain all we can do is lay it out, illuminate it as best we can and let people draw their own conclusions. But I’ve spent some years in the united states, I spent 19 years in Ireland, so that gives you some idea of my own perspective.
Dr. Kent: Of course in a similar fascination that we have in this country with Ireland, there’s the great fascination with new York city, especially new York city of the 60s, new York city as it developed; the skyline as well as the culture and so much the center of American culture and you were right in the middle of a lot of that.
Alphie McCourt: I was! The late 60s was a time as I said before, the last period of great prosperity but also a massive unrest. We didn’t know whether we were coming or going here. Between everybody’s right were being asserted at that time. African American rights, women’s rights, gay rights and everything else; plus we had the Vietnam War and all of that and the big conflict between college students on the one hand protesting the war and construction workers on the other hand wearing the emblem of the stars and stripes. I saw a couple of incidents where I saw things really blow up. The 70s of course was probably the worst time in the city when we went into economic depression in the 70s but we got through that too. New York is very resilient, they said in the 1980s that the rest of the country went down very quickly. In 1987 New York went down very slowly. Then the country came back very quickly and we came back very slowly but we always come back.
Dr. Kent: As my last question for you here, we don’t have much time left, but I want to ask you something that surprised you in the writing of this book, something that came out that you didn’t expect.
Alphie McCourt: Oh! That’s a big question. I think probably the extent of my own wanderings kind of surprised me. I had never thought about it that much and when I looked at it all I find that so much of my life I stood outside, I didn’t enter in, that I wanted to be kind of in it but not around it. I spent a lot of my life looking askance and that’s an uncomfortable position but I guess at some point I adopted it. I had a very early experience with politics when I was young, 16, 17, 18 and I think maybe it soured me on any kind of orthodoxy and caused me to look askance. It doesn’t say that I’m cold, uncompassionate; I’m none of those things but kind of at the core Yates’ epitaph cast a cold eye on life on death all men ask why. I think I did too much of that.
Dr. Kent: Its fascinating speaking with you and the wonderful thing about a memoir is we can all speak with Alphie McCourt by reading his memoir and getting inside his life story going from limerick New York and many other places on the way. The book starts out in fact between Canada and the United States. What an honor it’s been chatting with Alphie McCourt. The book is called A Long Stones Throw. We can find out about that on the web at sterling and Ross website and its available just about everywhere. Thank you so much for chatting with me today.
Alphie McCourt: And thank you very much, it’s been a pleasure, I enjoyed it.
Dr. Kent: We’ve been speaking with Alphie McCourt, author of A Long Stone’s Throw and what a pleasure that’s been. My next guest on the show will be a musician. His name is James Reams and we’re going to listen to a track that’s very timely from his album. It’s called Troubled Times. This is fun music; his band is called the Barnstormers. So listen to this track and then we’ll chat with James Reams for a bit after that.