Karl Geary to Read from Novel MONTPELIER PARADE with Live Music at Irish Arts Center
Irish Arts Center will present an evening of words and music celebrating the launch of the acclaimed debut novel, Montpelier Parade (Oct 3).
The vital work of fiction-praised for its nuanced depiction of a socially fraught relationship shaped by the power dynamics of age and class-hails from Karl Geary, an author with an interdisciplinary and community-building background that intersects with IAC's own approach to art and Irish Americanness.
Geary has a robust career as an actor, writer, and co-owner of influential early '90s/'00s New York City music venue Sin-é, and remains the owner of Scratcher, a neighborhood pub in Greenwich Village. Fittingly, this won't be a usual reading, but rather one that uses live music to accentuate the atmosphere, tone, and themes of his novel.
Accompanying the reading are a set of musical responses to Montpelier Parade by New York singer/songwriter Jenna Nicholls and renowned guitarist/David Bowie collaborator Gerry Leonard (another Irish artist who, like Geary, became thoroughly embedded in the late 20th century East Village arts scene).
The event will continue with a conversation between Geary and another artistic polymath, New York actor/poet/playwright/Obie-winner/Pulitzer finalist Dael Orlandersmith; a book signing will conclude the event.
Montpelier Parade is a novel about what Sonny, a 16-year-old working class Irish high schooler in the 1980s, longs for-class mobility, escape, heroism, sex, and love-and how his abstract desires forged by poverty and adolescent masculinity are projected onto a wealthy and beautiful 30-something British woman named Vera. When he's not working at a local butcher shop, falling behind at the grammar school at which he's one of the few students from a working class background, or drinking himself into a stupor, Sonny assists his father in his handyman work. It is on one of these jobs that he first sees and becomes infatuated with Vera, a woman just as mired in a troubled past as she is gilded in the signifiers of privilege-both of which, with his pairing of a savior complex and clear need for escape, contribute to Sonny's attraction to her. The result is an affair replete with uncomfortable complications from the very factors that fuel their desires-namely their disparities in age, cultural education, and class. The novel tells Sonny's story through the second person voice, whose rare directness here propels the reader into the mind of the character.
For the reading at IAC, Geary has selected three passages, each following Sonny in his interactions with a different character. The three chosen sections exhibit a panoramic view of Sonny and a map of his 1980s Dublin life through his relationships: the first, with his only close friend, a high school dropout named Sharon who frantically pursues male affection; the second, with his mother, who spends her days bound by the burdens of caring for seven children; and the third, with Vera. Geary's reading of the first passage will be met with a musical response by Jenna Nicholls, Gerry Leonard Will contribute a response to the second passage, and the two musicians will unite for a response to the third.
Just after, Dael Orlandersmith will moderate the talkback with Geary; beyond both being acclaimed writers whose work boasts a keen sense of location, Orlandersmith and Geary's interests intersect along musical lines: Orlandersmith, herself, contributed to the anthology Here She Comes Now, on groundbreaking women musicians, and rock 'n' roll references abound in her plays.
Geary, who himself grew up in a Dublin home with seven siblings, left Ireland for New York in 1988, at exactly the same age at which Sonny is depicted in Montpelier Parade. "When I left in 1988 the interest rates were, I think, in the mid-20s," Geary describes to Herald Scotland. "It was a rotten time. You had Trinity graduates flipping burgers." Montpelier Parade is not an autobiography, and while Sonny seems very much stuck and isolated by his social conditions, Geary's own story is one involving the luck of finding, and helping foster, a community. New York in the late '80s, he found, "was a very rough time. It was a very dangerous place. The other side of that was it was desperately creative. Tons of artists, poets and musicians. This great clan of lunatics knocking about the place and they were fantastic to be around."
Room for creativity was so abundant that a teen like Geary could-by virtue of vaguely knowing another Irish immigrant who was opening a "shitty little place"-end up co-founding one of the most unassumingly cool, and ultimately legendary small music venues in town. Sin-é, which Geary co-owned with Shane Doyle, was the place where Jeff Buckley got his start (performing there weekly for a year), and it was host to performances by the likes of Sinéad O'Connor, Marianne Faithful, and Allen Ginsberg. Geary's surprising career also saw him acting in Michael Almereyda films like Nadja, Hamlet, and Experimenter; Coney Island Baby, which he also wrote; Ken Loach's Jimmy Hall. He even had a small role on Sex and the City.
If Geary got to fulfill artistic desires through immigration, his book explores the life of a teen from whom a vocabulary of artistic potential-and really any potential outside manual labor-has been withheld, even shunned. Vera, Geary explains in an interview with Irish News, shows Sonny "that the world can be something else-that maybe there's more for him than what society had planned initially." He tells the publication that he was interested in exploring the impact of "cultural poverty" on a teen. In one part of the novel, Sonny "has hidden one of Vera's books strapped under his clothes, he calls it 'an incendiary device'-because ideas are so powerful."
This event will take place on October 3 at 7:30pm at Irish Arts Center (553 West 51st Street). General tickets are $18, and member tickets are $15; they can be purchased at irishartscenter.org, or 866-811-4111.
Karl Geary was born in Dublin, and moved to New York City at age sixteen. He cofounded two East Village institutions: the music venue Sin-é, and later the Scratcher. He has worked as a scriptwriter (Coney Island Baby) and an actor (Michael Almereyda's Hamlet; Ken Loach's Jimmy's Hall), and has adapted and directed Dorothy Parker's story "You Were Perfectly Fine" for the screen. He lives in Glasgow with his wife and daughter.
Founded in 1972, Irish Arts Center is a New York-based arts and cultural center dedicated to projecting a dynamic image of Ireland and Irish America for the 21st century, building community with artists and audiences of all backgrounds, forging and strengthening cross-cultural partnerships, and preserving the evolving stories and traditions of Irish culture for generations to come. Our multi-disciplinary programming is centered around three core areas: performance, including live music, dance, theatre, film, literature, and the humanities; exhibitions, including visual arts presentations and cultural exhibitions that tell the evolving Irish story; and education, with dozens of classes per week in Irish language, history, music, and dance.
Located in New York City, a global capital of arts and culture, Irish Arts Center serves as a dynamic platform for top emerging and established artists. Irish Arts Center will soon begin construction on a new facility to serve our multi-disciplinary program. The New Irish Arts Center will provide the strongest possible gateway for artists to reach into our cultural community and nourish their work; to connect with our partner institution, who help them innovate; and to become visible in The New York City, which enhances their ability to achieve further success elsewhere in the U.S and internationally..
The New Irish Arts Center-a state-of-the-art fusion of their existing tenement in Hell's Kitchen and the repurposed Cybert Tire auto repair shop (founded in 1916) next door-will maintain the original façade of the latter and incorporate it into the dynamic new center in an inviting, community-oriented confluence of the old and new, honoring the architectural and historical life built into the neighborhood. The new center will feature a contemporary, flexible performance space for music, dance, and theatre seating up to 200 (and more for standing events), which will allow for the IAC to bring in a wider range and scale of work; industry-standard back of house and support facilities, such as a suite of four dressing rooms that can connect to studio spaces, to allow artists to seamlessly achieve their vision; a second, intimate performance space-the renovated historic Irish Arts Center theatre-optimized for live music, literature, film, talks, large classes and special events that will embody the organization's multidisciplinary vision; classrooms and studio spaces for community education programs in Irish music, dance, language, history, and the humanities, and for master classes and workshops by visiting and resident artists; technology capability to project the Irish Arts Center experience on the digital platform; a spacious avenue-facing café lobby that will be a hub for artistic, social, and neighborhood engagement, providing a vibrant setting for conversation and interaction between artists and audiences; and a beautiful new courtyard entrance on 51st Street where the historic Irish Arts Center building and the new facility meet. Together, these parts will create a global cultural home for contemporary Ireland and Irish America.