24 Hours in the Big Apple

The 2nd UL Frank McCourt Summer School in Creative Writing will take place this June. One of the contributors Professor Eoin Devereux writes about 24 hours in the Big Apple…




Jetlagged and sleep-deprived, I go for a walk around Chinatown.  Even at this early hour, the streets are bustling with activity.   Bulk deliveries of rice, prawns, chicken and onions are being off-loaded into the Chinese supermarkets and restaurants. I plough on and walk the length of the Bowery.  


My relationship with cities is primarily through music and New York is no exception.  As I walk past Joey Ramone Street and the remains of the legendary CBGBs club, I can hear a mixtape of Blondie, Talking Heads and the New York Dolls in my head.  


Walking back to the hotel, I notice how the morning sky is framed by the brooding presence of Brooklyn Bridge. Built between 1870 and 1883, the bridge brings to mind my maternal Grandmother Brigid who worked in Brooklyn between 1916 and 1918 as a housemaid. 




Ever the organiser, I arrange to meet with my UL colleagues Sarah Moore, Donal Ryan and Mary O’Malley in the hotel foyer. We jump into a taxi on Division Street.  I chat to our African taxi driver and ask him who he thinks will win the US Presidential Election.  He replies ruefully that Trump will probably have the edge on Clinton.  A prophetic answer, which would be repeated numerous times by other taxi drivers over the next few days. 


My colleagues and I are heading out for a working breakfast ahead of the inaugural UL Frank McCourt Summer School in Creative Writing at NYU.   Our taxi journey takes us through Lafayette Street.  Although it is nearly six months since the death of David Bowie the street’s most famous resident, flowers and fan notes are still left at the door of his apartment on a daily basis. 


Our destination is The Grey Dog Diner on Union Square.   The Grey Dog is a million miles away from the many homogenized (think Starbucks) cafes in New York City. The coffee is great and the ‘challenging’ breakfasts are second to none. It will become our breakfast base for the next three days.  



The Creative Writing Summer School is now well under way. Today’s classes are being held in a beautiful NYU mews building called the Deutsches Haus.  Over 60 students are taking part. The classes, led by Sarah Moore, Donal Ryan, Mary O’Malley and Giles Foden are greeted with great enthusiasm and energy.  When the classes are over, our volunteers from the MA in Creative Writing help us re-arrange the main lecture space for this evening’s reading.  Mary O’Malley reads two poems - 'Uileann' and ' Teaching 'The Dead' at Villanova' from her latest collection ‘Playing The Octopus.’   Martin Hayes of The Gloaming accompanies Joseph O’Connor who reads from his beautiful novel ‘Ghostlight.’ Although it is a balmy July evening in New York, the music and spoken word transports us back to a melancholy 1907 Dublin where Molly Allgood has fallen in love with John Millington Synge.  



Having slept just for a few hours, the jetlag (and coffee) has me awake again.  I decide to do some more work on my lecture.   On Sunday, I am due to speak about Oscar Wilde and Morrissey.  My talk will focus on the ambiguities evident in their national, political, class and sexual identities.  As I write, I remember that it was in New York where the world’s first ‘celebrity’ publically declared his genius.  His first US lecture took place in front of a capacity crowd in Union Square.  I imagine what Wilde would now make of New York.  He would, I conclude, be energized by a city, which in spite of its many challenges remains a place of edginess and creativity.   I think also of the next few days of the Summer School.  The students and lecturers will have the opportunity to read from their creative works.  The mixture of fledging and established writers will make for an interesting mix and will culminate in an Open Mic Session at the famed McSorley’s Tavern on East 7th Street on Sunday Morning.  I don’t know if Oscar Wilde ever visited McSorleys, but I do know that when we gather there we will be in the company of the spirits of the many writers like E.E. Cummings, Woodie Guthrie and Frank McCourt who passed through its solid doors. 



Professor Eoin Devereux is Assistant Dean for Research in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, UL.  His short story ‘Mrs Flood’ was published in Number Eleven Magazine in November 2016.  A paperback edition of his co-edited book (with Aileen Dillane and Martin J. Power) David Bowie: Critical Perspectives has just been published. 


Bookings and Further Details From:  http://frankmccourt.ulfoundation.com/

Details/informal enquiries: ULNY@ul.ie   Press Queries: joseph.oconnor@ul.ie or eoin.devereux@ul.ie