National Book Award winner Colum McCann

Colum McCann says he was devastated that Ireland lost out to France in the World Cup but that winning the National Book Award "did make up in some way for the defeat.”

The National Book Award is one of America's most prestigious prizes previously won by writers such as John Updike.

McCann, a Dubliner living in New York, won it for “While the Great World Spins,” about life in New York in 1974.

The book had sold 19,000 copies before on its own, and its sales are now projected in the hundreds of thousands.

McCann had been watching the France/Ireland match before going downtown to attend the prestigious awards ceremony.

“We got out of the subway at Wall Street, and we heard that France had scored,” he told The Irish Times.

McCann refuses to see himself as an exiled writer, saying he left Ireland for New York in order to explore the world.

“We don’t exile ourselves anymore,” he said. “There’s no need for exile. I left
because I was curious – I wanted to see somewhere else and to be somewhere else.”

He paid strong tribute to support for the arts in Ireland and what it helped achieve for him.
“While I do not know all the consequences of the grant I got from the Arts Council in the early 1990s, I know it gave me the best part of a year to do my work of writing short stories and novels,” he said.

“As a younger artist at the time, it was amazing for me to be allowed to be Irish even when I was abroad. Although I was living in New York, I was acknowledged as part of this country’s necessary voice.”

McCann says he is happy about the award but will not let it go to his head.  

“It’s not an Olympics,” he says. “Nobody in the end actually wins anything because the fact is that we have our stories and nobody’s one story is better than anybody else’s story.”