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All-New "Irish Writers in America" Coming to CUNY TV

Colum McCann and Conan O'Brien Head First Episode

Colum McCann

A galaxy of 23 great contemporary writers share intimate thoughts about writing, creativity, and the influences of being Irish or Irish-American in a new 13-part television series, IRISH WRITERS IN AMERICA.

The leading contemporary Irish and Irish-American authors of fiction, memoir, journalism, poetry, humor and drama who are profiled in individual 12-15 minute interview segments are (in alphabetical order) John Banville, Kevin Barry, Jimmy Breslin, Billy Collins, Roddy Doyle, Jennifer Egan, Anne Enright, Mannix Flynn, Pete Hamill, Mary Beth Keane, William Kennedy, Dennis Lehane, Kenneth Lonergan, Colum McCann, Malachy McCourt, Alice McDermott, Paul Muldoon, Conan O’Brien, Edna O’Brien, Joseph O’Neill, John Patrick Shanley, Colm Tóibín, and Enda Walsh. Many read short excerpts from their work.

Produced by CUNY TV, the City University of New York television station, this special television event will premiere Friday, November 22 (2013) on CUNY TV’s digital Ch. 25.3 in the NY metro area, and cable channels 75 (Time Warner and Cablevision/Optimum), 77 (RCN), and 30 (Verizon) in NYC. Each program will air five times every weekend, and will also be available for viewing on this web site.

Each episode will air Fridays at 9am, 2pm, and 8pm; Saturdays at 7pm; Sundays at 8:30am; and will be archived for viewing anytime at In addition, the CUNY TV website will feature “web extras” of additional material not in the episodes. CUNY TV is also live-streamed for mobile, tablet and desktop viewing on

Premiere Episode

Conan O'Brien

The premiere features, in interview order, National Book Award winner (for “Let the Great World Spin”) Colum McCann and Emmy-winning television writer Conan O’Brien, who offer candid perspectives on their careers, their families, their craft, and being Irish.

On Writing

• “The great lie is that the writer knows what he or she is doing,” says McCann. “It’s not true. You write towards what you want to know.”

• “Anyone who tells you they love writing is a liar – or a bad writer,” says O’Brien.

On Being Irish

• “It’s very complicated: I come here, I live here, I want to be accepted on my own terms, yet I want to own my Irish-ness too,” says McCann. “But I do react increasingly against the sort of ‘diddly-idle’ culture that wants to make it something simple and nostalgic.”

• O’Brien jokes that his all-Irish genes are such that he could have “grown up in Antarctica” and he’d still be “talking like a Leprechaun, thinking of weird things, wasting everyone’s time, being passive-aggressive, and getting depressed frequently … and having too much to drink.”

On Family

• “Would you rather be creative or happy?” asks O’Brien. “That’s the age-old question. … For most of my life I’d say I’d rather be really creative, I’d rather do good work than be happy – and then you get married and you have kids, and I have little kids, and you start to think, ‘I only get one life, and I’d like to be happy.’”

• “I don’t want to draw attention to the writer’s life over the family life; in fact, if I were given the choice I would always go with my family life,” says McCann. “Although writing sustains me, language sustains me ... my kids sustain me even more. They sort of scaffold me even more, my wife and family at home.”

Jennifer Egan

A year-and-a-half in the making and shot in HD on a variety of locations that include homes, work spaces, rooftops and apartments, IRISH WRITERS IN AMERICA seeks to curate an immediate, intimate experience for the viewer, removing the narrator or any other intermediary between artist and audience.

Before embarking on the interviews, Kovetz and Associate Producer Mac Barrett read every book by each of the writers. By series’ end, it was over 200 in all. Most interviews began with the question, “Do you think of yourself as an Irish writer?” From that point on, topics shifted with the writers, although themes emerged, such as immigration and exile, creativity, family, praise and criticism, fame and success, the need to write, and observations about craft, among many others.

Colm Tóibín

“CUNY TV is honored to present these treasured writers,” said CUNY TV Executive Director Robert Isaacson. “We hope lovers of literature – indeed, all those engaged in any creative endeavor – will enjoy these glimpses into each writer’s world and gain a deeper appreciation of their gifts.”

The episodes will be broadcast in the following order:

1. Colum McCann - Conan O'Brien Nov. 22, 23, 24
2. Jennifer Egan - Colm Tóibín Nov. 29, 30, Dec. 1
3. Dennis Lehane - John Banville Dec. 6, 7, 8
4. Roddy Doyle - Enda Walsh Dec. 13, 14, 15
5. Anne Enright Dec. 20, 21, 22
6. Edna O’Brien – Mannix Flynn Dec. 27, 28, 29
7. Billy Collins - Paul Muldoon Jan. 3, 4, 5
8. Malachy McCourt – Joseph O’Neill Jan. 10, 11, 12
9. Alice McDermott Jan. 17, 18, 19
10. William Kennedy - Pete Hamill Jan. 24, 25, 26
11. Kevin Barry - Mary Beth Keane Jan. 31, Feb. 1, 2
12. John Patrick Shanley – Kenneth Lonergan Feb. 7, 8, 9
13. Jimmy Breslin Feb. 14, 15, 16

Dennis Lehane

The inspiration for IRISH WRITERS IN AMERICA came from the success of CUNY TV’s 2003 series, Black Writers in America, hosted by Ossie Davis, that premiered locally and then was distributed to national public television stations.

Producer/Director: Lisa Beth Kovetz. Associate producer: Mac Barrett. Cinematographer: Kalin Ivanov. Editor: Darren E. Ryan. Executive Producer: Robert S. Isaacson.

Alice McDermott