The thought that there’s a carpenter in Queens who could be the next Sean O’Casey, or a waitress in Staten Island with the unrecognized talent of an Edna O’Brien, is the reason I agreed to serve as president of the Irish American Writers and Artists.
God knows I had enough on my plate, but raw talent has always fascinated me – particularly when it hasn’t had the good fortune to be nourished by an expensive education.
O’Casey and O’Brien acquired their chops in the ivy league university of hard knocks, and the passion that oozes from their work is a direct result of difficult life experiences.
The people who read and perform at the twice-monthly IAWA salons arrive directly from their workplaces; you can almost witness them morph into writers and artists as they shuffle through the door of The Cell on 23rd Street or Bar Thalia on Upper Broadway, Manhattan. To watch them strut off stage to applause, their eyes sparkling, their creative energies renewed, is a joy to behold.
IAWA is a proudly progressive organization. We formed in 2008 as a direct response to the suggestion that Irish-Americans would not support an African-American presidential candidate. So much for that archaic notion!
By the same token we’re non-sectarian, non-partisan and we accept members from all nationalities, creeds, and walks of life. In seven years, under the leadership of Presidents Peter Quinn and TJ English, we have helped save St. Brigid’s Famine Church, raised over $100,000 for victims of the Haitian earthquake, and inaugurated The Frank McCourt Literary Prize to be given annually to a high school student who shows a flair for creative writing.
We also seek to instill in our members the idea that their work is of value; that it’s not to be bartered away for a monetary pittance or a bucketful of digital “likes.”
This is one of those do-or-die times for the arts. Musicians have already lost the battle for meaningful copyright control; technology and general avarice have stranded us in a nowhere land – for who buys CDs anymore, who even legally downloads when you can pay Spotify $9.99 per month for access to a universe of music?
The likelihood is that most artists will eventually suffer the same fate; still there is strength in numbers and, at the least, these issues are being raised by IAWA and occasionally solutions are offered.
Whether you are an artist or someone interested in the arts you can become a member. It costs less than a buck a week to join IAWA, and for that you are guaranteed an outlet for your creative work, be it literature, drama, music, poetry or some personal amalgam of these disciplines.
Every salon is free to the public; you can audit to your heart’s content. It’s our privilege to give back something of value to New York and any of the other cities we hold salons in.
We fund our programs by throwing a hooley every year in honor of the great Irish-American playwright, Eugene O’Neill, at which we present an award for a lifetime of artistic achievement. The honoree on Oct. 19th at The Manhattan Club/Rosie O’Grady’s will be Patricia Harty, a founder and co-publisher of Irish-America Magazine.
Trish is the first Irish born woman to receive the O’Neill award. She arrived in this country from her native Tipperary with little but a dream; over a thirty-year period she has turned that dream into a superb magazine that successfully fuses the often incompatible worlds of Ireland and Irish-America.
The O’Neill Award night is considered one of the social events of the year, where well known writers, artists, actors, musicians and dignitaries rub shoulders with would-be Sean O’Caseys, Edna O’Briens, Van Morrisons, and Liam Neesons.
Perhaps, you’ll come. One thing you can be certain of – you’ll be welcome. And if not, then maybe we’ll see you at one of our salons in New York City or around the country. Remember - it’s never too late to become an Irish American writer or artist.
The 2015 IAWA Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award Benefit & Cocktail Party - Monday, October 19, 2015, 6:00 to 9:00 pm The Manhattan Club (upstairs at Rosie O’Grady’s) 800 7th Ave. (52nd St), Manhattan - open bar & hors d'oeuvres Tickets: or at the door.