Irish American Writers & Artists

January 19, 2012

A Big Night at “Salon at The Cell”

by Charles Hale

Tuesday evening’s IAW&A’s Salon at The Cell began with newly elected Irish American Writers and Artists’ president, TJ English, whose best seller, The Savage City,  is now available in paperback, thanking the members and friends in attendance for making the Salon the success it has become.

Following TJ, the talented writer, John Kearns, who has presented poetry, a novel in progress and scenes from his plays at prior Salons, read a segment from his first novel,  The World, in which the main character, known as “The Youth,” stands on a bridge over a littered stream and receives his vocation to be a writer. After this experience, the character becomes known as “The Artist.” 

Maura Mulligan, whose book, Call of the Lark,will be published on May 10, the anniversary of her arrival in the United States from Ireland, read from a novel in progress. The main character works as a teacher in the NYC Department of Education. She is confronted with a problem–unwanted, unprofessional attention from the principal of the school–that she’s never had to deal with.  The question is, how will she deal with this sexual harassment? Given Maura’s wonderful facility for words, as evidenced by her past readings from Call of the Lark, I anxiously await the development of this new work. 

New IAW&A member Tom Phelan read a gripping selection from his latest novel, Nailer, in which a former inmate of the Irish industrial schools sets out to achieve justice for himself and his murdered brother. I hope Tom comes back and continues reading from this extraordinary work. 

Tom Mahon, who read the first half of his story “Outcasts,” at a recent Thalia Care Salon, followed Pat with the second half of his story.  Tom explained how he’d written the story two years ago of a husband and wife from the husband’s point of view, but on rewriting realized that the wife’s ongoing dance with formidable demons really made it her story.  

I closed the out the first half of the evening with a video John Coakley’s White Wings, which examines how poor immigrants lived in New York City during  the late nineteenth century and the jobs they were  forced to take in order to put food on the table. 

Martha Pinson opened the second half of the program with a short film that she directed called It’s Not Saturday, in which a NY teenager finds himself the head of his family, which includes a sick grandma and a little brother. When he begins panhandling with his saxophone  we discover the power of his music to contribute not only to his family but to the city as well. Past IAW&A president and co-founder, Peter Quinn was in attendance and of Martha’s film he said, “It is a spare, eloquent, moving piece of filmmaking. Bravo to Martha!”  The film stars alto sax monster, Alex Han, Chase Williams, Linette Hardie, Scott Burik, and Frank Lewallen. The screenplay was written by Annette Beatrice and edited by Will Brook. 

Journalist and playwright, Pat Fenton, took us back to his old neighborhood reading a scene from his play in progress about a lost part of Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, once a teeming, tight-knit, Irish and Italian blue-collar neighborhood that existed near 17th Street and 9th Avenue before Robert Moses drove the Prospect Expressway through the very heart of it in 1953, and divided it forever.

In his play, Fenton intimates the dreams, trials and travails of just ordinary people trying to find the American dream in post WWII Windsor Terrace, among them a cop who really wanted to be a writer, a movie projectionist at the Sanders Theatre whose life is defined by the continuance of movie reels as he waits for the changeover mark, a 9th Avenue pool hustler whose small piece of the American dream, two weeks summer vacation over a Rockaway saloon, Fitzgerald’s, is dangerously gambled one night, and a beautiful dreamer named Janice Joyce who tried to go home again, and almost made it, Irish American stories about an area that was once the hub of one of the greatest, Irish working-class neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

Pat’s characters, their hopes, desires and foibles, and his ability to create a moment in time, show off this wonderful writer’s talents.  

Mark Donnelly read a poem Blue-black Night and Snow, a memory poem about late winter nights as a boy, watching the snow from his bedroom window and praying that school would be canceled the next morning.  I really related to this one. I spent my entire youth praying that school be cancelled for any reason. 

Sarah Fearon read a recent draft of her play Air Rights,which features as its main character, the riotous realtor, Snazzy Peabody. The quintessential New Yorker, Snazzy epitomizes an everything is for sale, New York attitude. If you haven’t seen or heard Sarah–she’s got a great ear for voices–you should.  Very topical, very humorous. 

Last up was multi-talented, Larry Kirwan, who read/acted a chapter from his novel, Rockin’ The Bronx, set in the watershed years of 1980/81 that tracks the lives of four young Irish immigrants in the racially diverse Kingsbridge Road neighborhood.” After Larry’s presentation, Tom Mahon said, “There’s such a thing as performance writing, and it’s counterpart is performance reading.  We just heard both.” Perfectly stated. 

The next Irish American Writers and Artists’ Salon will be at the Thalia Cafe at Symphony Space on W. 95th Street off Broadway, Tuesday, February 7, at  7PM. For more information on joining the IAW&A or presenting at one of the Salons contact me at chashale1@yahoo.com

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