Irish American Writers & Artists

October 24, 2013

John Patrick Shanley’s Remarkable O’Neill Award Acceptance Speech

IRT_1014John Patrick Shanley, 2013 Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award Honoree

I love you all. I’m miserable with love for you. I want to move in with you. I want to stay with you until you die. And I want to bury you. I hate you, too.

The paradox. The contradiction. I love ya. I hate ya. In short, did I mention that I’m Irish? What is a man who would blow up the world because he loves it so much? He’s Irish. Why do so many Irish people write?

So they won’t kill you. But that’s obvious. So they won’t kill you and have sex with everybody in your house. That’s why we write, we Irish.

I know I shouldn’t generalize. Stick to what you know they say. Why do I write? Many reasons.


Here’s a story to illustrate.

A family of birds fell in love with a girl and would not let her be. Shehad to live in a birdcage to keep them out. One morning, she left the gate open and the birds got into the cage with her. So she leapt out and shut the door. When you visit her, all seems normal. She is in her chair. Birds chirp in a cage. But when you know the history, what you see is different.

To be a writer is to reveal history. And to make connections, metaphors. A good metaphor is like a trellis to which new ideas can cling and grow; it is a structure that invites life. Sometimes I think to be a writer is like you get to sleep in a glass bed. It’s beautiful, it’s hard, it’s cold, but you get to see down, way down maybe.

Another world.

Thinking about talking today, I was unpacking my head last night, looking for stuff, and I realized that my head was packed all wrong. You know, like at the supermarket. Somebody packed the squishiest stuff at the bottom of my head. My childhood was down under all these marriages and cars and stuff, and it looked… well, it didn’t look good. Why does God put pack childhood at the bottom of the bag? That’s my first question for you.

Not that I’m going to talk about my childhood.

Lucky you.

But let me talk like I write think for a minute because why not?

I write because it is the day after some other day, and as usual I’m looking for the hidden valley or green shoots or code or balcony or question or messenger or bible angel… or you. Maybe I’m a search party looking for you by writing and the letters are falling out of the words like sand into the bottom half of Time, and the window by the desk is broken, and the sweet air is coming in, and is that your scent reimagining everything in my world?

Are you the organizing template that changes how I see the coming hours? Are you the Pilgrim sailing into my Plymouth, mounted on some mottled Pegasus, intent on upending this chaos Life?

The idea of your arrival turns my inner rubble into castles, chapels, walled gardens, ornamental vistas. In short, it is for you, folks, that I bother to become intelligible.

But not yet. A massive dictionary is hurled down by some ineloquent god; it busts open and the language pieces gather around you into poetry and revelation.

We don’t know what role we play, when the day comes looking for its purpose. Me writing is me searching for you.

I should tell you something personal. Sometimes I imagine that I am a horse. I don’t tell anybody when I’m doing this. I just look at people and think: “I am a horse.” It’s very relaxing. You should try it. Let’s all do it for a minute. Think: I am a horse. I am a horse in a folding chair. We are horses hanging out, having cocktails. What’s the problem? Nice, isn’t it, being horses together? Now think of the cricket. The bug. The little cricket. Some say crickets are damned souls asking for another chance at life. So I say to you: Don’t be a cricket. Be a horse. Horses step on critics. I mean, crickets.

I started out as a poet. A poet is like a pearl diver who holds her breath, hoping for a pearl. Fathom after fathom, down she goes. When has she gone too far? When is the pain too much? When does the pursuit of the prize tempt her beyond the mortal line of life itself? I have been writing all my life. My writing was my way of pushing against my reluctance to live. I was writing before I was calling it writing.

At first I thought it was puberty. I told Sister Christopher ‘There’s a piano in my head. If I don’t play it, somebody else will.’

And she hit me.


To ask another question: Eugene O’Neill. Why did he have to be so unhappy? Was that really necessary? Couldn’t he have written those beautiful plays, those strange plays, those sometimes lousy plays, without being just glutted and clogged up and finally wilted with misery?

He was a good dresser. No one can take that away from him. He never wrote a good line they say, but he could wear clothes.

This award I’ve received is named after O’Neill but I’m accepting it anyway. It’s an award, and if I get enough of them, maybe I won’t die. But I will. Damn it. Damn it.

Another story. A man raised by dogs was chasing a car down the street. Somebody stopped him and

asked: “What would happen if you caught that car?” The man replied “Why then I’d be happy.”

I am that man.

That is my affair with language. It is a pursuit. I send my ALL out of my fingers across this world to

you. My tenderness overwhelms my senses in the process. I can’t be otherwise than I am. I’ve thrown away whatever could have protected me. It’s such a reckless thing to truly be yourself. It’s like kneeling and offering your sword to God. I’d just like to say as a central statement that I am no more than a follicle on the face of Eugene O’Neill, and yet I have this award and he is dead.

Let me ask you this? Why is a beautiful woman more beautiful when she is holding a lamb chop? It’s a mystery, perhaps a Catholic mystery.

My mother wanted me to be a priest. What WAS she thinking?

O’Neill, leaning against an elm tree, would say Incest. O’Neill had incest more often than he had

marmalade. Mentally. That’s why he went to sea. To escape the incest.

Why does Conor MacPherson write about ghosts all the time? So that he doesn’t write about incest.

Why does Martin MacDonagh write how awful Irish people are? Because he’s Irish and that’s what we do when we’re not chasing our sisters down the hallways of our unconscious. MacPherson and

MacDonagh also have pianos in their heads that they must play or devils will. I can see it in their pink and blinking eyes.

Why does William Kennedy write about Albany? Nobody  knows.

A pair of Pulitzer & Eugene O'Neill Award winners: John Patrick Shanley and William Kennedy

A pair of Pulitzer & Eugene O’Neill Award winners: John Patrick Shanley and William Kennedy

Rip paper. Spatter ink. Scrawl a word. Screw it to the paper. Stop. Ignore the heart. Ignore the brain. Find the stone you stand upon. Say it all. Then you’re gone. That’s the writer’s way.

Or say nothing. Create a silence as frightening as a black ripped hole of a nightmare. Watch it grow like a dark forest leaning over the road. Walk that road till you yourself turn into a dark river, dangerous to ford. Travel on. The edge of dawn appears like gold abandoned by retreating bandits. A steel grey trout darts in your freezing waters. You emerge from Winter and the Night. The silence you created becomes summer, the trees bear fruit, and THAT’s the writer’s way, too.

You don’t understand everything I’m saying? Relax. You’re not supposed to. Take the ride. I am.


Take what you want. What you leave is more than enough for me. Take everything. Everything will still be there when I need it. Give me everything, why don’t you? You will still be rich. We’re all rich. We own nothing. We lose nothing. We acquire nothing. But we can use our metaphorical minds and memories to remember the sun when the rain falls, the warm when the chill is on us. We can remember Love when no Love is, which is a way of always having

Love. Remember your pleasures like consoling candles that dance on the edge of the dark. Safe? You will never be safe! Find pleasure in peril, or live in an upholstered dream. The love you want you have. The future is an act of imagination, intelligence and hope.

All you have ever been, that is your treasure. Value it. No part of your history is less than precious.

2013 Eugene O'Neill Award Celebra

2013 Eugene O’Neill Award Celebration

Everything you’ve ever wanted is right here, waiting for you to pick it up and use it. NOW.

The largest bell in Notre Dame is named Emmanuel. It weighs almost 13 tons. I sometimes picture myself as the cathedral and this bell within me. It’s immobility is so difficult to overcome. I want to vibrate from my center outward until I am heard. My quiet credo to myself and you: The long journey earns its destination.

To speak straight on for a moment, I have avoided writing about the Irish most of my life. I did this because I wanted to be an American writer, not an Irish American writer. If you’re an Irish American writer, the critics discount 46 percent of your talent as a natural genetic blemish. But now, as my hair goes grey or just goes, I’ve decided it’s time to admit I’m Irish, and to write about the Irish. My father came from Westmeath when he was 24. He’d be a 107 now so it’s good he’s dead or he’d frighten everybody. But

he made it to 95 he did, and a great man he was. Grew up on a farm that’s still in my family. I was just there a couple of months ago. The cows ran away from me.

They saw the city on my face.

My grandmother used to say that Ireland would sink into the sea 7 years before the end of the world, and I think she was right. When Ireland is no more, when the Irish perspective abandons the human experience, I think the end will be upon us. I have Ireland on Google Alert so I will know instantly when Ireland has sunk and the final countdown has begun.

I will immediately chase down as many beautiful women with lamb chops and sheep’s eyes as I can manage, and try to write once more with flame and blood my personal experience of this beautiful life that is so fleeting and so fine.

Thank you for honoring me. I value the boost. My experience of life radiates outward from a central core. It violates my skin like the spokes on a sheriff’s star, exceeds my boundary of flesh, and affects others. Each of you in turn radiate outward as well, and the effects of your good will in this case overstep and crosshatch my personal fire. We are a cosmos, balls of light, and in the case of the Irish, gas. I have always perceived that my individual existence is in part illusory. We are all over each

other, covering and permeating each other with lights and wind and magnetism and spirit. I do not believe I will ever die until everyone of you is dead, and those beyond this room and this time have perished also.

I don’t know what happens after humanity flickers out.

The party’s over I guess. The cumulative effort is accomplished. We will retreat into a dark fist until creation broods anew and takes some other turn. It’s pointless to peer too far down the curving corridors of time. Now is all.

You are benevolent and kindly in this gesture. You honor me for what I have so far done. That is an alright thing to do.

It’s not too serious.

I’m just a schmuck like all of you.

But there is joy and wisdom in honoring any one of us.

We are alive.

We strive.

And, if we are blessed, we create light.

I’m glad my son is here, as well as friends and strangers.

Thank you all!

© John Patrick Shanley


April 24, 2012

Fallen Angel Theatre Company’s 2012 Reading Series is premiering “Airswimming”

Filed under: Events,Theater — by johnleemedia @ 1:45 pm
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For those of who you attended last week’s Salon at The Cell you had the opportunity to hear Aedin Moloney’s brilliant reading of “Molly’s Soliloquy” from James Joyce’sUlysses. Next week, for those of you who missed Aedin, and for those who would like to see and hear her perform, there is another opportunity, and like the Salon, this event is free.
On April 30th, at 7PM, the Fallen Angel Theatre Company’s 2012 Reading Series is premiering Charlotte Jones’ Airswimming at The Irish Repertory Theatre. The play is directed by John Keating and features Aedin and Rachel Pickup, who both recently starred in The Irish Rep’s highly acclaimed production of Dancing at Lughnasa.
For more info and to reserve a seat, here’s the link.

July 14, 2011

Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Irish Repertory Theatre

Filed under: Events,Literature,Theater,Uncategorized — by johnleemedia @ 4:12 pm
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Irish American Writers & Artists to present O’Neill Award to Irish Rep founders at annual event on Oct. 17

The Irish Repertory Theatre has been named the 2011 recipient of the Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award, given annually by the Irish American Writers & Artists, Inc. (IAW&A). Irish Rep founders Charlotte Moore, who is also the company’s artistic director, and Ciarán O’Reilly, producing director, will accept the award at a festive celebration on the evening of Monday. Oct. 17 at the Manhattan Club, just north of the Times Square location where O’Neill was born and one day after the 123rd anniversary of his birth.
Opening its doors in 1988 with Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars, The Irish Rep has consistently pursued its mission to bring works by Irish and Irish American masters and contemporary playwrights to American audiences, to provide a context for understanding the contemporary Irish-American experience, and to encourage the development of new works focusing on the Irish and Irish-American experience.
IAW&A board member T.J. English said, “Irish American Writers and Artists is proud to present its 2011 Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award to Charlotte Moore and Ciarán O’Reilly, the founders of the Irish Repertory Theatre. Together, starting with little more than a shared dream and indefatigable determination, they’ve made the Rep into one of the theatrical community’s most creatively vibrant and artistically significant venues. Along with their brilliant staging of O’Neill’s plays, Charlotte and Ciarán have presented season after season of critically acclaimed productions. With the Rep, they’ve done for Irish theater in New York what Yeats and Lady Gregory did for Dublin with the Abbey. Their contributions to the arts in general and Irish-American culture in particular are immeasurable. They’ve richly earned this award.”

Moore and O’Reilly wrote, “It is an honor pure and simple to be recognized for our work, but to receive an award with Eugene O’Neill in the title is deeply meaningful.” They quoted O’Neill himself to summarize the vision that drives and sustains the Irish Rep: “’The people who succeed and do not push on to a greater failure are the spiritual middle-classers. The man who sets out for the mere attainable should be sentenced to get it–and keep it. Only through the unattainable does man achieve a hope worth living and dying for–and so attain himself.’ In that spirit or perpetual striving, they concluded, “we treasure this award both for the honor it brings and the inspiration it provides.”

On behalf of the board of the Irish Rep, chairperson Ellen McCourt spoke of the “generous, innovative, creative, and oh let’s just say it, brilliant” work that Charlotte and Ciaran have done in bringing the Irish Rep to where it is today. “The Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award,” McCourt said, “is an especially appropriate honor. From the moment they opened their doors with Sean O’Casey’s ‘The Plough and the Stars,’ in 1988, the theatrical community has been continually enriched by a remarkable series of Irish and Irish-American productions. Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal puts it simply when he describes The Irish Repertory Theatre as ‘One of the finest theatre companies in America.’ Ciaran and Charlotte are true heroes as well as great artists. I can’t imagine two worthier recipients of the O’Neill Award.”

In addition to the Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award, the Irish Rep has been honored with the 2007 Jujamcyn Award, a special Drama Desk Award for “Excellence in Presenting Distinguished Irish drama,” and the Lucille Lortel Award for “Outstanding Body of Work.”

The IAW&A annually bestows the Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award on an Irish American writer or artist who has created a body of work that places them among the great artists and entertainers of all time. Playwright Eugene O’Neill embodied the highest level of artistic achievement. With his unparalleled body of work in the theater, he not only won many prestigious awards (including four Pulitzers and a Nobel Prize for Literature), he maintained a level of artistic integrity that set the bar for all to come.

Actor Brian Dennehy was honored with the 2010 O’Neill Award. Novelist William Kennedy accepted the inaugural O’Neill Award in 2009.

O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award Cocktail Reception, will begin at 6.00 pm on Monday, October 17, 2011 at the Manhattan Club, upstairs at Rosie O’Grady’s, 800 7th Avenue at the corner of 52nd St., near Times Square. .

Founded and operated as a non-profit organization, Irish American Writers & Artists, Inc. celebrates the achievements of Irish- American writers and artists, past and present, and works to highlight, energize and encourage Irish Americans working in the arts. IAW&A supports free speech, the rights of immigrants, the equality and dignity of all, and the process of peaceful, positive social change in the U.S., Ireland and around the world.

Founding board members of Irish American Writers and Artists Inc, include writers Peter Quinn, TJ English, Pete Hamill, Malachy McCourt, Mary Pat Kelly, Michael Patrick MacDonald and Celtic singer/songwriter Ashley Davis.

For more information about Irish American Writers and Artists, Inc, go to where on-line ticket sales will begin soon.

For media queries and photo requests, please contact:
John Lee 917-475-6981

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