Callanan, Liam

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Married; children: two daughters. Education: Yale University, B.A.; Georgetown University, M.A., 1993; George Mason University, M.F.A.


Home—Alexandria, VA. Office—Georgetown University, 37th and O St. NW, Washington, DC 20001. Agent—Wendy Sherman Associates, Inc., 450 Seventh Ave., Suite 3004, New York, NY 10123.


Writer and teacher. Worked variously at corporate jobs; Georgetown University, School of Summer and Continuing Education, Washington, DC, creative writing instructor, 1993—. Contributor of audio pieces to National Public Radio.


The Cloud Atlas (novel), Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor to periodicals, including Slate, New York Times Book Review, Washington Post Magazine, Forbes, FYI, Parents, Crab Orchard Review, Writers Chronicle, failbetter, and Phoebe.


Another novel; short fiction and nonfiction pieces.


Writer Liam Callanan draws energy from his varied activities, which include teaching creative writing, reading works on National Public Radio, and writing reviews for several periodicals. When one day he chanced to pick up a "cloud atlas" in the government documents room at the George Mason University library, he thought at first that he was holding a book about government efforts to map clouds—a fanciful and futile effort—rather than what it really was, a field guide to different kinds of clouds. The book sparked the idea for his first novel, The Cloud Atlas, which is based on a footnote of World War II history, the Japanese military's use of air balloons to carry explosives across the Pacific Ocean to land on American soil. The American soil on which they landed was Alaska, making it the setting for this "remarkable first novel," as Library Journal's Christine Perkins described it. When Callanan looked further, he discovered Robert Mikesh's nonfiction study, Japan's World War II Balloon Bomb Attacks on North America, which contained maps of where the Japanese bombs had landed. "That was when I really started thinking about writing this subject," Callanan recalled to Greg Langlois in Blue & Gray Online. "My imagination had just started flowing from there." Callanan's copious research on the topic involved visiting the Air and Space Museum archives, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the army's Ordnance Museum, all in nearby Washington, D.C. To evoke a sense of place, he watched Alaskan Web cams, listened to Alaskan radio stations broadcast over the Internet, and finally, using money from the publisher's advance, took a trip to Alaska to check his facts and impressions. Callanan's diligence paid off, for as Jonathan Kiefer, reviewing the novel for the New York Times commented, "Callanan wears the burdens of historical fiction with ease."

The Cloud Atlas describes the activities of Louis Belk, who early in the novel is a young sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps with the job of disposing of the Japanese balloons and their incendiary cargoes. While in the North, Belk must also deal with an abusive superior officer and a beautiful half-Yup'ik, half-Russian prostitute. By novel's end, Belk has become a Roman Catholic priest interested in native shamanism; he recounts the tale in a series of flashbacks. In "Belk's offbeat, lyrical narration," as a Publishers Weekly reviewer described it, the priest reminisces about his life to a dying Eskimo shaman under his care. The character-driven quality of the novel elicited positive comment from reviewers. For example, Booklist contributor Kaite Mediatore found both the characters and plot to be "alluring," and Entertainment Weekly's Alynda Wheat commented that Callanan's use of imagery and interior voice "beautifully convey Belk's sense of dislocation and fear." While the latter reviewer wished for more action in the plot, a Kirkus Reviews contributor differed, noting that "Callanan's complex plot tightens neatly." The reviewer even found echoes of Michael Ondaatje's acclaimed novel The English Patient in The Cloud Atlas. According to the Kirkus Reviews critic, Callanan's debut is a "haunting story," a view shared by the Publishers Weekly critic, who called The Cloud Atlas "atmospheric and moving" as well as "impressively assured."



Booklist, December 15, 2003, Kaite Mediatore, review of The Cloud Atlas, p. 725.

Entertainment Weekly, February 13, 2004, Alynda Wheat, review of The Cloud Atlas, p. 75.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2003, review of The Cloud Atlas, p. 1409.

Library Journal, March 1, 2004, Christine Perkins, review of The Cloud Atlas, p. 107.

New York Times Book Review, March 7, 2004, Jonathan Kiefer, review of The Cloud Atlas, p. 16.

Publishers Weekly, December 15, 2003, review of The Cloud Atlas, p. 51.

United States Naval Institute Proceedings, April, 2004, Richard Seamon, review of The Cloud Atlas, p. 86.


Blue & Gray Online, (August 8, 2004), Greg Langlois, "Continual Education."

FWOMP Interview, (August 8, 2004), Byron Merritt, "Interview with Liam Callanan."

Liam Callanan Web site, (August 9, 2004).*

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