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Kennedy to Accept Eugene O'Neill Award from Irish American Writers and Artists Oct. 16
October 7, 2009
William Kennedy, founder and executive director of the New York State Writers Institute at the University at Albany. (Photos Mark Schmidt)
Author Peter Quinn once said that Pulitzer Prize-winner William Kennedy brings to life the "universal human experience seen through the lens of one culture." That culture is uniquely Irish-American.
It will indeed be a good day for the Irish on Oct. 16, when Kennedy accepts the first Eugene O'Neill Lifetime Achievement Award in Manhattan from the Irish American Writers & Artists (IAW&A). Oct. 16 is O'Neill's birthday. Founder and Executive Director of the New York State Writers Institute at the University at Albany, Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Ironweed.
Quinn, the president of IAW&A, said, "Bill Kennedy was a natural for this award. Along with Eugene O'Neill, Bill has succeeded as nobody else in giving expression to the yin and yang of the Irish-American soul, shanty and lace curtain, criminal and respectable."
Quinn said Kennedy's Albany Cycle of novels has taken its place in the canon of world literature with work that illuminates the comic cadences, tragic contradictions and rich complexities of the Irish-American saga.
"I never made plans to be Irish, and I never thought of myself as an Irish-American writer. Just a writer was how I saw it. But after getting this award I'm now irrevocably confirmed as both," said Kennedy. "I'm abundantly grateful to the Irish American Writers & Artists for singling out my work, and the fact that Eugene O'Neill's illustrious name goes with it is magical. He was one of my heroes when I began as a writer, and he still is today. His work shines with a perpetual light, as the Irish say in church. This is a wonderful honor."
William Kennedy at the University at Albany, where he is on the English department faculty.
The late Frank McCourt once said of Kennedy: "He was writing, he was writing about Albany, he was writing about a place he knew. You know, the inevitable comparison: He was doing for Albany what Joyce did for Dublin. I think that did something for me."
At one time, there was not a great deal of Irish-American fiction available on library bookshelves. "You know it was Bill who, I think, really changed that," said Quinn at a 1999 Associated Writing Program event held in Albany in Kennedy's honor. "A hundred and fifty years after this tremendous disjuncture in Irish history, he began to describe this people and give them dignity and weight – not just doing what Joyce had done for Dublin, recreating Dublin, but saying, life lived by working people in places like Albany, they're important. They can be important."
Actor Matt Dillon, writer/director John Patrick Shanley, writer Malachy McCourt and other special guests will read from the works of O'Neill and Kennedy. New York Times journalist Dan Barry will present the award to Kennedy. The reception, which will include a performance by Celtic singer Ashley Davis, will start at 6 p.m. at the Manhattan Club, upstairs at Rosie O'Grady's, 800 7th Avenue at the corner of 52nd St., near Times Square. Tickets may be purchased online at www.oneillaward.org. Advance purchase is recommended.
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