What: Colum McCann speaks at Author! Author!

When: 7 p.m. Feb. 21

Where: Riverhouse on the Deschutes convention center, 2850 NW Rippling River Court, Bend

Cost: $30 general admission or $80 preferred seating (includes a private author reception)

Contact: dplfoundation.org or 541-312-1027

When author Colum McCann sits down to write a novel or short story, he’s never quite sure where each literary journey might take him.

“I don’t have anything plotted out when I sit down to write,” McCann said. “I just go by the seat of my pants. I know it works for some writers, but plotting it out would be boring to me. I must write like I’m an adventurer or a tourist on a journey where you don’t exactly know where you’re going. That’s part of the excitement and the challenge and the terror of it.”

That writing process may be an extension of McCann’s intrepid approach to life in general. In 1986, at the age of 21, he left his native Ireland for the U.S. and spent almost two years riding a bicycle across the country. That meandering 7,000 mile journey inspired by Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” took McCann through Central Oregon where the author will return for the first time in 32 years on Feb. 21 when he is the featured speaker in the third installment of Deschutes Public Library Foundation’s 2018-19 Author! Author! series in Bend.

After completing his bicycle odyssey, McCann went on to live in Texas while attending the University of Texas in Austin, then lived and taught English in Japan for 18 months before settling in New York City with his wife in 1994. He now teaches writing in the Master of Fine Arts program at Hunter College and continues to travel the world for both work and pleasure, with frequent trips back to Ireland.

“Essentially I’ve been on the go and traveling around the world in different guises for a long, long time,” McCann said. “If you put a gun to my head and said who are you and where are you from, I’d say I’m from Ireland, secondly from New York and thirdly who knows? I’m an international mongrel.”

Rather than following the much touted credo to “write what you know,” McCann prefers learning and writing about the “other.” Even after living in the U.S. for more than 30 years, the author views the social fabric of America (and beyond) through the eyes of an immigrant and world traveler. That, along with his empathy for those living on the margins of society, informs much of his writing and he often uses journeys and the search for identity as the basis for the structure or plots of his stories.

McCann began his writing career as a journalist in Ireland, where he won a journalist of the year award for a series on battered women in Dublin. But he dreamed of writing fiction and moved to the U.S. to broaden his horizons and provide inspiration for his work. Among his writing idols were his father, Sean McCann, who was also a journalist and published 28 books, and American beat writers such as Kerouac, Richard Brautigan and Gary Snyder. McCann’s first collection of short stories, “Fishing the Sloe-black River,” was published in 1994, and he has since published two more story collections and six novels.

McCann’s most recent work was the 2015 story collection, “Thirteen Ways of Looking,” which won a Pushcart Prize. But it was his fifth novel published in 2009, “Let the Great World Spin,” that launched him into elite literary circles when it won the National Book Award for fiction and numerous other U.S. and international honors. It is narrated from the viewpoints of several disparate characters in New York City who witness tightrope walker Philippe Petite’s breathtaking high wire walk between the World Trade Center’s twin towers in August 1974. Most of the central characters are exiles: from their native countries, from mainstream society or exiled emotionally from those around them. Over the course of the novel, McCann’s gradually expanding narrative reveals how all the characters are interconnected.

“It is really a 9/11 allegory and a metaphor about the grace we can find through grief,” McCann said.

While “Let the Great World Spin,” is hailed as an American masterpiece, McCann acknowledges that his Irish roots give him an outsider’s perspective that may provide him with unique insights to the city of New York, the characters and their situations. However, he feels every author brings their own vision to each story.

“Everybody has a different angle whether you’re born in Oregon, Ireland, Australia or Texas,” McCann said. “Every single writer has a different take and a different consciousness. You just take on the topic and hope that in the end, you shift people and let them perceive the world differently.”

The author’s bestselling 2013 novel, “TransAtlantic,” is underpinned by three famous historical journeys between North America and Ireland, separated by 150 years: the first attempted nonstop trans-Atlantic flight in 1919 by aviators Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown; the 1845 visit to Ireland by abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass during an international tour to promote his biography; and the 1998 crossing from New York to Belfast by Senator George Mitchell to broker a peace settlement in Northern Ireland. These well-known episodes are interwoven with the fictional journeys of several women caught up in the same events.

“I wanted to write about Ireland and the peace process,” McCann said. “I’ve always been interested in the notion that time ticks within time and that the present has been so deeply influenced by the past. I started looking back at all these different journeys and asked, ‘if there was something linking them together, what would it be?’ And it was families — essentially of strong women.”

It was that interest in the centuries-long history of religious and social conflict in Northern Ireland that led McCann to the premise for his new novel, which will be released early in 2020. He had just been to the post office to mail the first draft of the manuscript to his editor when he spoke to GO! Magazine. McCann described the upcoming novel as a story set in Israel and Palestine about two men who have each lost their daughters in the conflict there.

“What I was interested in was the peace process in Ireland, and then, I turned my attention to the Middle East,” McCann said. “I wondered, if we could do it in Ireland after 800 years, could they do it there, too?”

At his Author! Author! presentation in Bend, McCann plans to discuss the writing life and the value of storytelling. He says he loves getting out and meeting his readers (especially after finishing a long writing project) and is also looking forward to sampling some Oregon beer.

Now aged 53 and an acclaimed writer and busy college professor, philanthropist and father, McCann’s wanderlust and inherent curiosity haven’t diminished.

“You know, I’d like to take that bicycle journey again now and see how things have changed,” he said.

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