McCann, Richard 1949- (Richard J. McCann)

views updated

McCann, Richard 1949- (Richard J. McCann)


Born December 12, 1949, in Cleveland, OH; son of Richard Joseph and Marie Dolores McCann. Education: Virginia Commonwealth University, B.A., 1971; Hollins College, M.A., 1972; University of Iowa, Ph.D., 1984.


Home—Washington, DC. Office—CAS-Literature, Battelle Tompkins-229, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20016. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected]


Teacher and writer. University of Maryland European Division, Heidelberg, Germany, lecturer in film history, 1978-82; Goteborgs Universitet, Goteborg, Sweden, Fulbright lecturer in American studies, 1982- 83; Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, VA, assistant professor of English, 1983-86; George Washington University, Washington, DC, Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington, 1987-88; American University, Washington, DC, professor of literature, 1988—.


Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA (board of trustees), Associated Writing Programs, Transplant Recipients International Organization, American Liver Foundation, PEN/Faulkner Foundation (board of directors and chair of program committee), PEN American Center.


Fine Arts Work Center fellow, Provincetown, MA, 1993; Beatrice Hawley Award, Alice James Books, and Capricorn Poetry Award, Writer's Voice, both 1994, both for Ghost Letters; National Endowment of the Arts creative writing fellowship, 1995; American University Scholar-Teacher of the Year, 2005; San Francisco Bay Times Top Fiction of 2005, finalist, Lambda Literary Award for Debut Fiction, 2005, American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book, 2006, finalist, PEN/Robert Bingham Award, 2006, John C. Zacharis Book Award, 2006, all for Mother of Sorrows; Christopher Isherwood Foundation fellowship, 2006; John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship, 2006.


Mother of Sorrows (stories), Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2005.


(Editor, with Margaret Gibson) Landscape and Distance: Contemporary Poets from Virginia, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 1975.

Dream of the Traveler, Ithaca House (Ithaca, NY), 1976.

Nights of 1990, Warm Spring Press (Harrisburg, PA), 1994.

Ghost Letters, Alice James Books (Farmington, ME), 1994.

(Editor, with Michael Klein) Things Shaped in Passing: More "Poets for Life" Writing from the AIDS Pandemic, Persea Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Contributor to anthologies, including The Penguin Book of Gay Short Stories, edited by David Leavitt and Mark Mitchell, 1995, Best American Essays 2000, edited by Alan Lightman and Robert Atwan, Houghton Mifflin, 2000, and Survival Stories: Memoirs of Crisis, edited by Kathryn Rhett, Doubleday, 1998. Also contributor to magazines, including Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, and Ploughshares.


A poet, writer, and professor, Richard McCann is an active member of the literary world. He has contributed to numerous anthologies and periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly and Esquire. For more than a decade, he co-directed American University's M.F.A. program in creative writing, and has served on the boards of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and the Fine Arts Work Center.

McCann was described by Antioch Review contributor Gail Wronsky as both "refined and raw in his introspections." McCann's poems in Ghost Letters study grief and desire in the era of AIDS. Rafael Campo of Ploughshares thought that the collection's best poems "confront with an unflinching eye" the horrific epidemic and aftermath of AIDS.

"To say AIDS haunts this book is far too much of an understatement," remarked Ulysses D'Aquila in a Lambda Book Report article. Ghost Letters is another contribution to "that steadily growing genre … [called] ‘AIDS literature.’" D'Aquila went on to compare this literary genre to the works of literary greats like Samuel Pepys and Daniel Defoe, reacting to the bubonic plague of centuries past.

In 2005, McCann published Mother of Sorrows, a collection of prose that relates the story of a boy struggling to grow up and deal with his sexual identity in the 1950s. The stories span almost two decades of time, beginning with the narrator telling how he would sneak into his mother's closet to try on her clothing. Experiences like that are fraught with happiness and guilt, and the narrator struggles to discover who he is. As the boy continues to grow up, his brother Davis, who has partaken in more traditional "male" activities up until this point, reveals that he is gay, while the narrator continues to hide his homosexuality. Overall, critics responded positively to McCann's first book-length foray into fiction. Many enjoyed McCann's intimate portrayal of the narrator's family life. The author "captures the nuances of bonding," observed Whitney Scott in a review for Booklist. Others felt that the story was easy to read and had a compelling storyline. Mother of Sorrows "has surprising momentum," wrote New York Times Book Review contributor Mark Kamine.

McCann once told CA: "For the past fifteen years my work—whether in fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction—has derived from autobiographical explorations of the meaning and experience of the body, particularly the sexual body and the body in illness."

More recently, McCann added: "I wanted to be an actor before I wanted to write—writing, at least initially, seemed to me a way of dramatizing the human voice. As Kafka puts it, ‘a book should serve as an axe for the frozen sea within us.’"



Antioch Review, spring, 1995, Gail Wronsky, review of Ghost Letters, p. 246.

Booklist, March 15, 2005, Whitney Scott, review of Mother of Sorrows, p. 1266.

Book World, April 24, 2005, Susan McColl, review of Mother of Sorrows, p. 10.

Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, November-December 2005, Jason Roush, review of Mother of Sorrows, p. 45.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2005, review of Mother of Sorrows, p. 77.

Lambda Book Report, January, 1995, review of Nights of 1990, p. 45; March-April, 1995, Ulysses D'Aquila, review of Ghost Letters, p. 15; April, 1997, Thomas L. Long, review of Things Shaped in Passing: More "Poets for Life" Writing from the AIDS Pandemic, p. 10.

Library Journal, February 1, 1976, review of Landscape and Distance, p. 533; December 15, 1976, review of Dream of the Traveler, p. 2542; December 1, 2004, Barbara Hoffert, review of Mother of Sorrows, p. 88; March 1, 2005, Robin Nesbitt, review of Mother of Sorrows, p. 79.

New York Times book Review, April 24, 2005, Mark Kamine, review of Mother of Sorrows.

O, The Oprah Magazine, May, 2005, review of Mother of Sorrows, p. 238.

Ploughshares, spring, 1995, Rafael Campo, review of Ghost Letters, p. 197; fall, 2005, Fred Leebron, review of Mother of Sorrows, p. 230.

Publishers Weekly, January 24, 2005, Charles Hix, review of Mother of Sorrows, p. 114; March 7, 2005, review of Mother of Sorrows, p. 51.

Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1995, review of Ghost Letters, p. 101.

Washington Blade, May 6, 2005, Brian Moylan, review of Mother of Sorrows.


American University Department of Literature, (February 6, 2007), biography of Richard McCann.

Conversational Reading Blog, (May 23, 2005), interview with Richard McCann.

Ploughshares, (February 6, 2007), Don Lee, "Zacharis Award Winner Richard McCann."

Richard McCann Home Page, (February 6, 2007).

About this article

McCann, Richard 1949- (Richard J. McCann)

Updated About content Print Article