The annual Tom Wolfe Weekend Seminar is sponsored by the W&L Class of 1951 in honor of its classmate Tom Wolfe. Last year’s program featured New York Times columnist David Brooks, who focused on the topic “Political and Social Values in the Facebook Era.” This year’s seminar will feature award-winning novelist Colum McCann, author of the highly acclaimed novel Let the Great World Spin. McCann’s fiction has been published in 30 languages and has appeared in The New Yorker, Paris Review, Granta, The Atlantic Monthly, GQ, Bomb and other places. A true internationalist, he has written for numerous publications including The New York Times, the Irish Times, Die Zeit, La Republicca, Paris Match, the Guardian, the Times, and the Independent.
When Colum McCann won the National Book Award in 2009 for Let the Great World Spin, it marked the culmination of several years of outstanding creative work. He had already published four fine novels and two collections of stories and had earned a reputation as a fiction writer of quality and talent. But Let the Great World Spin reveals a new level of power and plentitude in McCann’s writing. Focusing on the intertwining stories of several very different characters, ranging from an Irish monastic to a New York prostitute, the novel opens with the image of Philipe Petit’s illicit high-wire walk between the Twin Towers, one-quarter of a mile above the ground. From this image, all the ideas, metaphors, symbols, and characters in the novel spiral outward. Ultimately, McCann has said, the tightrope image “disappears from sight altogether, and the thing that holds the novel together is the very low tightrope of human intention that we all negotiate.” McCann draws on his Irish heritage as well as his New York savvy to craft a magnificent 21st-century novel that is a remarkable evocation of place, history, and human character.
Joining McCann in the program are Marc Conner of the English department and Jonathan Eastwood of the sociology department, who will discuss Let the Great World Spin from varying perspectives, first as a literary masterpiece—what fellow novelist Frank McCourt called “a heartbreaking symphony of a novel”—and, second, as a lens onto contemporary society. Of particular interest will be questions central to the novel: how the destinies of ordinary people in any society are interwoven, how even the most individualistic urban Americans are shaped by irresistible social and economic forces, and how, in the hands of a skilled storyteller, even the most mundane characters possess magic and grace.