Michael Patrick MacDonald comes to Chicago for iBAM!

Friend and award-winning author Michael Patrick MacDonald will be among the artists participating in the Irish Book Arts & Music Celebration.

It’s been a decade since Beacon Press first published MacDonald’s searing memoir, All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, and he’s gone around to Boston schools recently talking about his and their experience.

The longest paper he had written before that was a 20-page paper for a class at UMass-Boston.

MacDonald tells the story of growing up in busing-era South Boston, where a generation of young people were lost to drugs, murder and other mayhem, all the while declaring that Southie was the best place in the world and that bad things only happened in black neighborhoods.

His family suffered greatly. 

One older brother was murdered by fellow bank robbers.  Another died mysteriously in a jail cell.  A third killed himself by throwing himself from the roof of the Old Colony housing project in which MacDonald and his many siblings lived.

A sister was permanently disabled after being thrown off the roof in an argument over drugs.

Through it all, Helen King, MacDonald’s accordion playing and jogging mother, retains her zest for life.

MacDonald does not shy away from tackling the racism in the community that made international headlines, but also makes it clear that he has little sympathy for the liberal policy makers who pitted two poor and under resourced communities against each other.

The book begins and ends with MacDonald at a vigil for his brothers.  By the end, through his journey, he is able to say his brothers’ names. 

If All Souls is the story of his growing up, Easter Rising, his second book, tells how he got out of Southie.

Music was a key.

Punk music, in fact.

MacDonald shows the importance of physically removing himself from Southie’s dangerous streets and immersing himself in the Kenmore Square punk scene played a critical role in his survival.  His journey in this book takes him to England and to his native Ireland, again with his intrepid mother.

A different and slightly less gritty work than his debut, Easter Rising offers valuable insight into how people in enormously adverse circumstances find a way to survive, and even flourish.

I first met MacDonald in the late 90s after seeing Margaret Lazarus’ film Strong at the Broken Places and an installation at the Charlestown Monument.   I was working for Facing History at the time and got him a number of speaking gigs while he was working on All Souls.

I remember vividly reading the busing chapter he had shared with me while waiting for an appointment at the Rebecca Johnson Middle School.  The image of a pig’s head he described stays with me still.

I told him then that I was glad he had survived, grateful he had shared the work with me, and confident that it would find a very wide audience.

Dunreith and I hope to get together with Mike sometime this weekend.  I highly recommend both of his books.

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