Ireland has more esteemed scribes per square mile (or kilometer) than any other country.
The following Top Ten list includes writers of Irish extraction who were born on American soil.
1. F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald had Irish blood from both sides and at least one grandparent who grew up in the old country.
Though his most famous novel was The Great Gatsby, his most autobiographical novel was Tender is the Night, in which a promising shrink falls for his dreamiest schizophrenic ; a poignant romance ensues, one ultimately ruinous to the MD’s career, as the would-be Freud becomes a jaded caretaker.
Fitzgerald had to assume a caretaker role for his ever-more-troubled wife, Zelda, who met an appalling fate within a flame-engulfed psych ward.
He also had to contend with his own self-destructive impulses, and once said of himself: “drunk at 20, wrecked at 30, dead at 40.”
He wasn’t far off.
2. Margaret Mitchell
Margaret Mitchell’s mother was a suffragist of Irish-Catholic ancestry. When the mother fell casualty to the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak, young Mitchell left college and headed back home to Atlanta.
She eventually launched a weekly column at the prominent Atlanta Journal, where she refined the art of character study. She also found a husband who took care of her when she severely broke her ankle.
While she was bedridden, the husband kept bringing home more and more historical books; finally he told her: “Why don’t you write your own?”
Mitchell took these words to heart, soon embarking on the manuscript which would become the legendary Gone with the Wind.
3. Jack London
Jack London’s father was an Irish-American astrologer; his mother was a music teacher who “claimed to channel the spirit of an Indian chief.” He left home at a young age and tried his hand at being an “oyster pirate.”
Eventually he became a full-blown drifter. Geographically speaking, he made it pretty far. Records show him serving time for vagrancy at a county jail in Buffalo, New York.
Though these penniless travels were bad for his health, they proved great for his adventurous fiction, such as novels The Call of the Wild and White Fang.
Like no other writer, London could explore parallels in the violence among wild animals and the violence among humans.
4. Flannery O’ Connor
Flannery O’ Connor was a Georgia native with the viewpoint of being a devout Catholic intellectual in the predominately Protestant “Bible Belt.”
This region would be captured in much of O’Connor’s fiction, and she is now seen as a pioneer of the Southern Gothic style. Racial issues of the South are a persistent element in her work, as are characters with severe moral deficiencies and characters who have scant clue about the tragedy in store for them.
Though O’Connor had a good moral character, her physical state was always quite troubled. She succumbed to the effects of lupus at age 39. When first diagnosed, doctors had given her five years. She lasted fourteen.
5. William Faulkner
William Faulkner was a Mississippi native who became a pellet-gun-toting frat boy. More mature years would see a prolific output of novels, many in the “stream-of-consciousness” style employed by James Joyce.
Faulkner was a notorious drinker who could, more or less, remain sober while writing. But upon completing a work, he would binge his way to a staggering oblivion.
Details of Faulkner’s Irish background are pretty scarce. He is, however, classified as an Irish-American writer.
Despite winning a Nobel Prize, he wasn’t always in the best of moods. There is an account of admiring visitors setting foot on his property, and the famous old writer greeting them with a shotgun.
Eugene O’Neill a.k.a. “America’s Shakespeare,” was the son of well-known stage actor James O’Neill, and much of his childhood was spent shifting from hotel to hotel.
Young O’Neill took to writing plays while committed to a sanatorium for tuberculosis. He went on to become a Nobel Prize winning dramatist.
Increasingly debilitated by a virulent mix of alcoholism and Parkinson’s disease, O’Neill wrote only two plays during his last two decades.
At age 65, he succumbed to Parkinson’s ravaging effects on a fourth-floor room of Boston’s old Kenmore Square Hotel Sheraton, nowadays a B.U. dorm where kids chug beers and recharge their iPods in the very same room where “America’s Shakespeare” exhaled for the last time.
7. Henry James
Henry James was the grandson of Irish immigrant and real-estate mogul William James, who owned an immense amount of upstate New York. William James’ business acumen greatly benefited several following generations who, spared the frantic struggle for bread, could at any time plunge into scholarly pursuits of limited earning potential.
Henry James would eventually relocate to the U.K.; much of his writing involves a humorous juxtaposition of European and American cultures, such as found in his most famous work, The Ambassadors.
A full-blooded Irishman James was not. But, thanks to his paternal grandfather, there was some Celt in him – perhaps just enough to work its magic and show that even a few drops of Emerald blood can make a writer first-rate.
8. Ken Kesey
Ken Kesey earned some extra cash by partaking in a government funded experiment, which entailed the ingestion of LSD. During some of these trips, he had hallucinations of an American-Indian sweeping the floors of a mental hospital.
This narcotic vision, among others, formed the basis for the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The book’s success would put Kesey at the forefront of Sixties counterculture.
Though finding information about his Irish background has seemed a rather difficult task, he is indeed categorized as an Irish-American writer. Furthermore, Maureen Dezell’s book, Irish America:
Coming into Clover, tells of how Ken Kesey, along with psychedelic high-priest Timothy Leary, was among the “New Irish” who, in the 1960s, came to San Francisco and joined its longstanding history of “political and cultural dissent.”
9. David Crockett
David Crockett was of Scots-Irish and Anglo-Irish descent; his paternal heritage could be traced back to 17th-century French exiles who settled in Ireland.
Though he found success in both military and political venues, Crockett would also turn his energies to literature. In 1834 he released the autobiography A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett. The writer then headed east to promote his book.
Crockett’s book tour would prove detrimental to his political career; he was voted out of office, at which point he told his constituents: “You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.”
When he wasn’t being too defiant, the man could self-promote with the best of them: “I am David Crockett…half-horse, half-alligator, a little touched with the snapping turtle…can wade the Mississippi, leap the Ohio, and ride upon a streak of lightning…my father can whip any man in Kentucky, and I can lick my father.”
10. Vincent O’Sullivan
Vincent O’Sullivan was born in New York City in 1868. He was the son of Kerry native Eugene O’Sullivan, who worked in the coffee business and made a large sum of money during the U.S. Civil War. Though details of Vincent’s upbringing are vague, it is clear that, by 1892, he had crossed the pond and matriculated at Oxford University.
When the father died, young O’Sullivan inherited a fortune, dropped out of school, and embarked on the writing life. In the 1890s he was a promising member of the London literary community.
But the 1890s would be his best decade. Later years would see a dissipation of his fortune and writing career.
Perhaps writer Robert Aickman said it best of O’Sullivan’s demise: “He found himself ruined, wrote his last book under terrible conditions, and, dying in Paris, ended anonymously in the common pit for the cadavers of paupers.”
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