By Brendan Costello Jr.
Photos by W. Jay Wanczyk

The Irish American Writers & Artists October Salon rounded out a very busy month for the organization (following the Oct. 2nd tribute to Sinéad O’Connor and the Oct. 16th. Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award event honoring Dan Barry). The Straus Room of The Ellington restaurant, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, was the setting for this convivial gathering, and the  multi-talented IAW&A member Maureen Hossbacher hosted a vibrant lineup of talent on the crisp autumn night.

Natalie H. Rogers started the evening off with a lively and amusing excerpt from her memoir, Too Much of a Good Thing: The Act of a Desperate Woman. Her reading concerned the emotional roller coaster around whether or not to have breast reduction surgery. Her witty, sometimes spicy words were enhanced by her skill as a reader and public speaker. In fact, Natalie is the author Talkpower :The Mind Body Way To Speak Without Fear. You can find out all about it at her website.

Next up, making his debut appearance at an IAW&A Salon was musician Vincent Cross. He’s an critically acclaimed Irish singer/songwriter known for his Irish song poetry that draws from various traditional folk idioms and ancient myths. His evocative songs included one about the eyes of his father, and another about James “The Rooster” Corcoran, an ancestor of Vincent. It turns out that “The Rooster” was a gang leader who formed a squatters’ colony on Manhattan’s East Side in the mid-1800s, and before he sang, Vincent related the process of research into family folklore that led to the creation of an entire album about him. You can find out more about Vincent, including upcoming gigs and purchase his music at his website.

From memoir to music, the evening proceeded to a theatrical scene. Award winning playwright, actor and director Martin Alvin performed a scene from his stage play The Right Pair of Eyes.    In this scene, an ambitious young actress Liz (portrayed by actress Pamela Joy), struggling to get ahead in the world of theater, seeks the help of a reclusive old actor, Jack Maguire (portrayed by Martin Alvin). Martin had presented a monologue at an earlier salon, and this scene showed his performance ability with a partner, and his ability to write humor, to be every bit as compelling as his first performance.


The first half concluded with Terese Svoboda, author of 21 books of fiction, poetry, biography, translation and memoir.  She has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize , the Iowa Poetry Prize & Emily Dickinson Award, among many, many others, and this was her first appearance at an IAW&A Salon. She read a passage about an “Irish Princess,” based on a story told to her by her mother. The story, told with crackling prose and poetic imagery, was set in New York City in the mid-1800s, with horse cart drivers and a food taster for a mid-level gangster. At the intermission, Ms. Svoboda signed copies of her most recent novel, Dog On Fire, and has two books forthcoming in early 2024. Find out more at her website.

Following a brief intermission, another reader made her Salon debut: Kathleen McKitty Harris read a funny yet warmly sentimental memoir about her family history, told by the addresses where they lived as she grew up. The locales were primarily in Queens, but each location had a story or set of stories. Kathleen’s work has also appeared in many places, including Creative Nonfiction, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus and The New York Times. Kathleen has also been a featured storyteller on The Moth Podcast and Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater.  A fifth generation native New Yorker, she now resides in New Jersey where she hosts a reading series in her backyard. Visit her website to find out more.

Speaking of getting around, cab driver and IAW&A board member John McDonagh hit the stage, just back from touring his one-man show “Off the Meter – On the Record” around Ireland. He performed a part of the show, telling about how in1983, he helped get a Christmas greeting to prisoners in Northern Ireland on the big screen in Times Square (at the time there was only one fully electronic billboard), which led to a media kerfuffle that even involved Irish and British diplomats. “Off the Meter – On the Record” has played around Ireland and in the states, including the Irish Rep and numerous places around the NYC area. His hilarious adventures from 40 years driving a yellow cab in NY has even made it to The Moth storytelling series. John is also the producer of the weekly radio show – Radio Free Eireann – on WBAI Sunday mornings from 11 to noon.

The October 23rd Salon fell a week before Halloween, and IAW&A member and frequent Salon presenter Gordon Gilbert brought the energy of the season to the night. Taking the stage in a cape worthy of Lugosi, Gordon embodied the psyche of an East Village vampire with a harrowing thirst for blood, and more…. Gordon Gilbert is a proud denizen of the West Village (still vampire-free, apparently) and has hosted spoken word events around the City. He’s also the author the play Monologues from the Old Folks Home.

Rounding out the night, singer-songwriter, actor, playwright and Salon regular John Skocik presented a few songs, with his usual sly humor couched in melodic rock tunes. The seasonally-appropriate “Cemetery” explored the connection between romance and morbidity; “Bible Study” delivered an ironic critique of rigid religious morality  (“what’s so wrong w/ adultery, if I love you and you love me”), and the more sweetly sincere “Pocket Dream” that rounded out the night perfectly.

Irish American Writers and Artists has an upcoming salon at the New York Irish Center in Long Island City on Sunday, Nov. 19 at 1:00pm, and a Humor/Holiday Salon on Dec. 20 at the cell theatre in Manhattan. Watch this site for more information – hope to see you there!