Celebrating 40th Anniversary of “Ironweed” with a Public Reading of the Novel

ALBANY (Oct. 25) – The first-ever, marathon public reading of the full novel of “Ironweed” by Albany’s native son, William Kennedy, which won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and put the author’s hometown on the literary map, will begin at noon and continue through 8 p.m. on Wednesday, November 1 to mark the 40th anniversary of the novel’s publication in 1983.

It will be hosted at the Albany Distilling Co. Bar and Bottle Shop, maker of Ironweed whiskey, at 75 Livingston Ave. in the North Albany neighborhood where the author grew up and where some of the fictional scenes in the Depression-era narrative set in 1938 take place. The final chapters of “Ironweed” will be read on stage by the novel’s author and invited VIP guest readers, beginning at 7 p.m. at Capital Repertory Theatre, 251 N. Pearl St., adjacent to Albany Distilling Co.

The novel takes place in 1938 across three days-All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls Day-in the jagged, heartbreaking journey of Francis Phelan, an alcoholic vagrant and former Albany professional baseball player. He went on the run from his demons for two decades after accidentally dropping and killing his infant son. Consumed with Irish-Catholic guilt and confronted by the ghosts of his past, he returns at middle age to his hometown seeking redemption from his estranged family and to rekindle the love of Helen, a former girlfriend who is homeless.

“What better time for us sinners to gather than on All Saints’ Day? We will revel in the lyrical language of ‘Ironweed’ the novel, while sipping Ironweed whiskey, and celebrating the literary genius of Albany’s bard William Kennedy,” said Paul Grondahl, Opalka Endowed Director of the New York State Writers Institute at the University at Albany. The marathon reading also coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Writers Institute, which Kennedy founded in 1983 with seed money from a MacArthur “genius grant.”

“In 1996, Capital Rep proudly premiered Kennedy’s full-length play, ‘Grand View,” said Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, the theatre’s Producing Artistic Director. “Getting to know the Kennedy pantheon in that work cemented the theatre’s relationship with Bill and the rich history and mythology of our city. Having this ‘Ironweed’ reading under our roof is an auspicious baptism for our new space — and a fitting tribute to Bill and our community.” The ticket prices are a donation of $10, $25 or $50. All proceeds will go to benefit the food pantry and free meal outreach at Sacred Heart Church, 33 Walter St. in Albany, which was Kennedy’s parish when he was growing up.