I would like to introduce Alan Cooke. Author of, “Naked in New York.” Alan, how would you describe your book to a group of artist?
An immigrant odyssey on the streets of New York in a post 9-11 Era. A transformational journey of my soul and body and heart. A book of longing sadness and beauty and an experience of leaving Ireland and going to the center of the world that changed me forever. A poetic homage to the city and all the millions who dwell in her centre. An intense stream of conscious reflection of what it is to leave what is familiar to you and dive into the unknown.
Did you come to New York knowing you would write a memoir?
I came to New York with 1000 dollars and 4 weeks after the towers fell. I only came for a short period. I had no idea I would be there for five years. I had no idea my identity and my spirit would be so challenged and pulled apart and reformed amongst the millions of New York inhabitants. I am an actor by trade and a film maker. So to write a memoir came out of an intense desire to pour out all that was withheld inside. All the madness, the hurt, the loneliness, the wonder, the beauty, the encounters, the walking, the wandering, the tears, the heartbreak and the salvation. I wrote in cafes, I wrote on the subway in the dark winter tunnels. I wrote in bed with the sounds of intense city wildness outside my cracked window. I wrote in tears and I wrote to save my sanity. Naked in New York became a way to purge all that I could not bear anymore. To try and transform intense experience into a universal story.
What is the most profound experience you had while visiting New York?
The people. New York is a jungle of humanity. It is not nature but the nature of people. The voices and languages, the broken dreams, the smiles and the hope. I walked over 10,000 miles in New York. Every brick and avenue, every stone tower was my ache and my possibility. The confinement of such a dense place became my own private universe. My own private dreamscape and terror. It pulled out of me all that I was experiencing. People always the people were the extraordinary experiences that kept changing my view of the world. On subways I could feel their emotions and their endurance for surviving in such a tough city. When I was pale and tired and desperate I would be given a smile by a bagel seller or a jogger that would keep me going. All of it was profound. The whole circus of New York is the circus of us all. The human cycle. Watching the rich on park avenue or the hobos huddled in winter cracks half frozen but singing to the universe. Feeling my cold breath on a platform in Queens or being left to die in a hit and run in the Bronx, waiting for my working papers in -3 temp under a full lonely moon. Or the joy of sipping a beer on a hot pavement in the summer as the world spun around me. I was changed by it all.
Your book title speaks volumes, When was the moment you knew that you would name your book, Naked in New York?
I seen a man , with no top. Bare chest. Howling in the streets like an injured wolf. Ignored. Destitute. Failing. Ignored by the passing crowds. I was in a cafe with a big window. He was my picture. He was broken. He was naked. I felt like him at times. I felt New York could strip you to the bone. So Naked in New York is that metaphor. All is exposed.
What was your writing process like? Did you create an outline or keep a journal?
I had tiny notebooks. Thousands of words. Thoughts, poems and feelings that came crashing through my mind night and day. I am sensitive and intense at the best of times. I am an observer of the human condition. So I was in the centre of that human condition. Ten million souls affecting each other. All I could do was write to save myself.
Is there anything new you discovered about yourself while writing, Naked in New York?
Yes that words matter. That words transform, they change the very soul of the self. That all your pain, your joy , your wildness and dreaming can be brought to birth. That all you thought you had lost can be born again. That you can turn it all around and place the pen hard on the page and feel alive again. Words. Words. Words. So much they affect our lives. I was not sure if I could ‘ write a book’. I was an actor and I had also made a documentary about my time in New York called HOME. But creating a book seemed another universe. But something called to me. Frank Mc Court who wrote Angelas Ashes whom I knew said if you ‘ have an itch scratch it.’ So I did. And I kept going. And when i took out all my journals I found I could begin and pull it all together.
How often do you write? And when did you first begin to write?
I write only when I am writing a book. I do not write everyday. If I am inspired I will begin a new novel. I have three books written now. One is another memoir called The Spirit of Ireland an Odyssey Home about my return to Ireland and also a thriller set in Ireland. I want to write a memoir about going across America and also about Paris. I had always written small plays and shorts as an actor but never a book. New York gave me an odd confidence born of struggle to cut the ties of what I THOUGHT i could do and dive into possibility. The idea of not leaving any dream at the doorstep is the essence of New York hope.
Were there any aspects to your story you found a challenge to write?
The biggest challenge was self doubt. The idea of thinking you are worthy to write a book, that you have something to say, something that would affect a life. I feel books are beautiful things. Electronic , paper or otherwise. I write because I feel. Because I am alive and it is a mystery. I do not feel anyone has anything figured out but art , writing books is my way of making sense of the senseless at times. These are dark times for many. It is for so many and I guess I am lucky that I have a way with my acting my films and my books to funnel all of this immediate darkness and hopefully make some light for others. I see art as a vital aspect of our survival. I see it as a way to save our humanity. Artists are potent shapers of culture, the right culture, the one that informs and questions and ignites our hopes and aspirations. That is a worthy goal for me. As loft as that sounds and that is the challenge to serve others with my work. Maybe someone living in a small apartment in New York will read my book and go ‘ Hey that’s how I feel.. so there is hope.’
If an aspiring writer wanted to publish, what advice would you give them?
Don’t give up. Write with passion. Don’t aim for a market. I know we all have to pay the bills. I hope we all get success. But stick to what moves you in your work and others will be moved then anything is possible. Finishing is the art in a way. The rest is in the hands of the world. And I think there is a revolution going on in publishing. With Amazon and other self publishing formats have made a massive leap to helping writers take control of their money, their brand and their future. You can publish a book straight onto a global platform now. That is a game changer and gives artists hope.
What is your favorite quote?
I cant go on , Ill go on’ Samuel Beckett an appropriate mantra for an artists life if ever there was one.
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