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Fiction writer Colm Tóibín to read


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Irish fiction writer Colm Tóibín can’t be found writing a draft on a laptop. He composes his ideas longhand before they ever reach a computer screen.

“I still write the way I always wrote,” he said.

The author will give a lecture about his latest novel, Brooklyn, at 8 p.m. today in Van Allen Hall Lecture Room 2. The reading is part of the Ida Beam visiting professor series and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Admission is free.

“The Ida Beam lecture series is designed to give departments an opportunity to bring in people who are the absolute top of their field,” said Lan Samantha Chang, the director of the Writers’ Workshop.

Brooklyn is centered on themes of exile, emigration, and immigration. The novel explores the experiences of a young woman who leaves Ireland for the United States and finds a place to live in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“It is the whole idea about the first years about being away from home and being homesick,” Tóibín said. “The time when you don’t fully participate in where you have arrived.”

Inspiration for the novel came from a story he heard from a friend of his mother’s when he was a young boy of around 12. He overheard the woman telling his mother about her daughter, who had gone to Brooklyn. The story was not about what happened when the daughter was away but what she told her mother when she came home. He said the story stuck with him.

“[The book] is really the foundation of America,” he said. “Everyone who is in America is from somewhere else.”

Tóibín shares his stories not only on the pages of books but with live audiences as well.

He is working on a book of stories titled The Empty Family as well as a play that will open in Ireland’s Dublin Theater. The play needs a name and cast, but the script is written.

For Tóibín, observing an audience’s reaction contrasts with writing a novel, because in a theater he can tell what viewers are thinking as they interpret his work.

This is also why he does readings like the one tonight, because, he said, it is such a public experience. Interacting with audiences in such places as Iowa City is a manner in which he can discover what his readers are thinking.

“It’s as old as the hills to arrive in a place, so people who may not have read your book have a chance to see what they think about you,” Tóibín said.

Chang said she is looking forward to the lecture, noting she had hoped to see a reading by Tóibín since she took the Workshop position in 2006.

“He is deeply admired by all writers,” she said. “In my mind, he is a perfect choice for the series.”

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