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The Art of Being Irish in Hell's Kitchen cover

  • eBook Edition
    • 978-1-03-917697-3
    • epub, pdf files
  • Paperback Edition
    • 978-1-03-917695-9
    • 6.0 x 9.0 inches
    • Black & White interior
    • 270 pages
  • Hardcover Edition
    • 978-1-03-917696-6
    • 6.0 x 9.0 inches
    • Black & White interior
    • 270 pages
  • Keywords
    • Irish American,
    • An Claidheamh Soluis,
    • Irish Arts Center,
    • Brian Heron,
    • New York,
    • cultural history,
    • 1970s

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The Art of Being Irish in Hell's Kitchen
A Memoir of the Organizing of the Irish Arts Center in New York City 1972-78
by James F. Olwell

Amid the turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s—an era that included the Black Civil Rights movement, the war in Vietnam, and the Troubles in Northern Ireland—young Irish Americans in New York began to question what it meant to be Irish in America. Led by Irish revolutionary socialist Brian Heron, these young people discarded outdated stereotypes and created an inclusive space to explore, celebrate, and share their culture. Thus was born An Claidheamh Soluis, the Irish Arts Center, an organization that is still going strong fifty years later. As an early organizer and director of the Irish Arts Center, James F. Olwell recounts how this premier cultural institution came to be. Beginning with his own experiences growing up Irish American in the Bronx, Olwell describes how Irish Americans grew to reclaim their cultural identity and share their art, traditions, and language through the Irish Arts Center. Olwell combines his personal experiences with extensive interviews and broader historical context to bring the story of the 1970s Irish Arts Center to life. Well researched and replete with funny, moving, and thoughtful anecdotes, The Art of Being Irish in Hell’s Kitchen is an essential cultural history of the Irish American community in New York. Pull up a chair and enjoy the tale. All are welcome here.

"…An exciting and worthwhile read for anyone interested in the rise of Irish culture in New York, community organizing, and transforming ethnic politics from the grassroots up. The book chronicles…the self-discovery of a young Irish American community organizer’s authenticity by immersing himself in Irish culture, history and politics while on the streets of New York City. His journey and that of his colleagues, co-conspirators and imaginative visionaries sought to bring life to authentic Irish culture and , indeed, did so. A captivating , often humorous first-hand account of how young people , seeking to assert their authenticity within the American mosaic, can transform communities through their own doing." —Dr. Jim Torczyner, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, McGill University "Blessed with the Irish gift for storytelling, Olwell is a rockling fine seannachie…whose story is for people interested in the power of cultural renewal and personal commitment to shape the future rather than merely accept it. …the seeds they planted have bloomed into a gleaming $60 million dollar Irish Arts Center …" —Peter Quinn , Author of ‘’Cross Bronx: A Writing Life’’

James F. Olwell photo

James F. Olwell is an Irish American writer and retired community organizer from the Bronx who lives in Montreal. An early organizer of the Irish Arts Center, Olwell served as its second director and was instrumental in obtaining the Hell’s Kitchen building that served as the Center’s home for more than thirty years. A Canadian since 1980, he worked as a professional community organizer with the Québec Health Care system, helping citizens create organizations and services that served their needs. In 2013, he was made a member of the Société des Grands Citoyens of the Borough of Côtes-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de Grâce. In Montréal, he cofounded an Irish theatre company, Theatre Saoirse, and created a radio show on Irish culture, Gan Focal Ar Bith/Without a Word. He cofounded the 2 Susans Poetry Circle and SpeakUp: The Montreal Interactive Poetry Exchange. He is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Crossings (Iron Rabbit Bindery) and Pensions (Snow Press).


James F. Olwell
Elaine Kalman Naves

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