Irish author Kevin Barry read two short pieces on April 11, showcasing his talent for humor and vivid description, as the University of Connecticut’s 2017 Gerson Irish Reader.
Barry kept the audience laughing, both through his writing and his off-the-cuff comments.
Barry’s first piece, “Ox Mountain Death Song,” originally featured in The New Yorker, is a grimly comical thriller about a sergeant searching for an alleged killer. Barry read dramatically, overemphasizing the humor, leading to giggles from the audience.
Barry acknowledged his oddball-style of writing, describing “Ox Mountain Death Song” as a “weird Western.”
Barry’s second piece “The Barracks,” is about his home, which is a former police station. Barry said both his home and its rural surroundings in County Sligo, Ireland have influenced his writing.
Barry said he loved the old station when he first saw it, despite its dismal appearance.
“There was a leaking chimney… There was a half-acre of Japanese knotweed and a general air of drizzle,” Barry read. “We had the offer down inside five minutes.”
Barry longingly described his previous homes in cities before moving into “the barracks.”
Barry fondly recalled a time he was almost hit by a double decker bus while crossing the street in London, as well as his colorful experiences with neighbors while living in Santa Barbara.
“A Mexican dwarf lady used to sell crack and crystal meth from a pickup truck in the parking lot and she would throw me a jaunty little wink each day as I passed by,” Barry read. “Strange, the lovely poignancy the years have given that flirtation.”
Barry has received many awards, including the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for his novel “City of Bohane” and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature for his collection of short stories, “There Are Little Kingdoms.”
When his accolades were listed before his appearance, Barry wasted no opportunity to make another joke.
“Some writers grow very shy and bashful when they hear such nice things being said about them and all their awards listed. I could listen to it for the night,” Barry said, making the audience laugh for the first of many times.
Sixth-semester students Cassidy Allen and Kaylee Thurlow attended the reading as part of class and said they were fans of Barry’s writing.
Thurlow praised Barry’s symbolism and said it drew her into his writing.
“I’m really interested in his symbolism. He has these really interesting objects throughout [his writing]… I’m interested to see how that comes to be,” Thurlow said.
Allen said Barry’s writing makes ordinary events interesting.
“He comes up with such unique situations but they take place in such normal settings,” Allen said.
Allen also said Barry’s use of nostalgia in his writing interests her.
During the question-and-answer session, Barry was asked about his use of nostalgia. Barry said he thinks nostalgia particularly affects the Irish.
“[Nostalgia is] an inability to escape from the past and to escape, often, from the imaginative glories of our own youths,” Barry said. “It’s such a powerful element in human life, in our interactions with our places and each other.”
Still, while enlightening audience members about his writing, Barry still could not help himself from making a joke.
When an audience member said a question was raised in her short story class about Barry’s writing, he said the question should be, “What’s wrong with him?”
Schae Beaudoin is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.