Sarah Montague, Senior Producer, Selected Shorts
Sarah Montague is in her seventeenth year as producer of the fiction series Selected Shorts for WNYC.
Comparisons are invidious, but Hugo Hamilton is clearly a successor to the late Frank McCourt, author of the celebrated “Angela’s Ashes,” in the tradition of Irish memoir.
Hamilton read from his book, “The Speckled People,” as part of the PEN World Voices Festival on May 3. The event was held at Ireland House, a handsome mews building off Washington Square Park that is home to NYU’s Irish studies department. Hamilton was introduced by John Waters, head of the university’s Irish literature program.
In the competitive world of memoir writing, a bizarre childhood is almost de rigueur. But Hamilton’s was even more bizarre than most. His father was an ardent Irish nationalist, married to a German woman. In protest against what he viewed as the British “occupation” of his country, he refused to allow any English to be spoken in his home. As a result, Hamilton grew up as a virtual émigré in his own country, speaking primarily Celtic and German.
The two languages also came to delineate the very different temperaments of his parents — an angry, pessimistic father and a nurturing mother with a sense of humor. To further complicate matters, Hamilton and his siblings still had to go to the local school in his English-speaking community, so that life was “a daily form of emigration.”
As if to emphasize the polyglot nature of the PEN festival, the evening at Ireland House included a discussion between Hamilton and the Basque philosopher Fernando Savater, who spoke through a translator.
Click on the link above to hear Hugo Hamilton comment on and read from “The Speckled People.”
Hamilton on not speaking English at home: "The feeling we had was that we weren’t in the right country somehow."
Hamilton on writing memoirs: "As a child, you collect very strong memories. As an adult, you go back and reclaim your own story."
Hamilton, recalling what his mother said about baking and life: "If you bake a cake in anger, it will taste of nothing."