Five Questions for Belinda McKeon
Name: Belinda McKeon
1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?
I grew up on a small farm in Co. Longford in the Irish midlands. I moved to Dublin to go to university, and after that, I began to work as a freelance journalist in the city. Visting New York in 2004 made me realize that I wanted to live there for a while – I loved the city from the first day I experienced it – and we moved there in 2005. We live in Brooklyn. But we go back to Ireland often. The two places don’t seem that far apart.
2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?
I was lucky enough to discover the fiction of the Irish writer John McGahern when I was a teenager, and it taught me lessons – lessons I’m still learning – about language and care and rhythm – and restraint, most of all about restraint. His novel Amongst Women will probably always be my tuning fork (to use another notion I learned from him). There have been – so far – many other influences, many of them gleaned during the years I went to the theatre almost nightly as part of my work as an arts writer with the Irish Times: for example, companies like Druid and Rough Magic, and their visionary productions of classic and modern plays. I admire the paintings of Hughie O’Donoghue, in all their richness and their sorrow, and similarly, the photographs of Willie Doherty. Tacita Dean’s short film on the poet Michael Hamburger is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I love the opening scene of Silent Light by Carlos Reygadas. And recently, I was struck by the quiet beauty of two very different collections of images: the rediscovered, century-old color photographs of Russia by Prokudin-Gorsky, and Denny Renshaw’s shots of the BQE, which makes a racket just blocks from my door.
3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?
I’m not very patient. I want to get everything done now. I’d like to be able to take things slowly and enjoy the way there.
4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.
To make a living, I write, some of which is journalism, and I curate arts events, including two poetry festivals, one in Dublin, one in New York. A typical day involves me telling myself I’m not going to check email first thing, I’m going to write instead, and then I usually go ahead and check email anyway. Because a lot of my work is still connected to Ireland, the time difference can sometimes make mornings a bit of a rush; by the time I get to my desk, the working day is halfway through in Ireland, and deadlines don’t change just because of time zones. Then in the afternoon, I write for a few hours. At the moment, I’m working on the edits of my first novel and doing embryonic work on a second one. At this stage, because I really don’t trust myself not to fall into the email/google rabbithole, I’m back to writing longhand again. I have a good room in which to work at home, but if I can get myself out and into the New York Public Library on 42nd Street, all the better. I like the atmosphere in the Rose Reading Room a lot. Or maybe it’s the smell of wood polish I like. Maybe they’re the same thing.
5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?
See above. Email sometimes wins. But seriously, I have been very lucky. I get to write for most of the day. I know that’s not something to take for granted.
Graham & Frost, Irish writer Belinda McKeon’s eviscerating drama of three men who clash at a corner restaurant in Italian Williamsburg, will be playing Thursday, September 16 – Sunday, October 3, 2010.
Part of the 1st Irish Theatre Festival, Graham & Frost reflects the festival’s mission of sharing the work of Ireland’s prominent artists with New York audiences. Award-winning writer Belinda McKeon, a celebrated figure on the Irish arts scene, is currently under commission with the Abbey Theatre. Her first novel, Solace, is due out in the US and UK in 2011.
[Photo by Miles Lowry]