Michael Collins with his key to Dowagiac at the 2006 Dogwood Fine Arts Festival. (The Daily News/John Eby)
Michael Collins with his key to Dowagiac at the 2006 Dogwood Fine Arts Festival. (The Daily News/John Eby)

Archived Story

Author Michael Collins speaking at Rotary’s second night meeting

Published 9:40am Friday, March 12, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

Dowagiac Rotary Club’s second “Family and Friends” special night event Thursday, April 15, features resident author Michael Collins, who teaches at Southwestern Michigan College.

The general public is invited to hear his program, “Ireland to Dowagiac and the Road in Between.”

Collins will be in England the week before to launch his ninth book.

He will be donating 10 as door prizes he will sign.

His novel will not be released in the United States until this summer.

There will be an open bar from 6 to 6:30 p.m., with the dinner meeting beginning at 6:30 at Elks Lodge 889 on Hill Street at Riverside Drive.

Tickets cost $20 for the pork loin (or vegetarian) meal and may be purchased from any club member or by telephoning (269) 782-5188.

Collins, born in 1964, has written eight internationally-acclaimed works of fiction that have won Notable Books of the Year awards from the New York Times, Best American Short Story Award, as well as being a finalist for the Booker Prize (won by 2004 Dogwood Fine Arts Festival Visiting Author Margaret Atwood) and The IMPAC International Literary Prize for “The Secret Life of E. Robert Pendleton.”

His novel about academia, published as “Death of a Writer” stateside, also won Breakout Novel of the Year in France in 2008.

Among many rave reviews, People magazine called it “wonderfully creepy.”

In addition to his literary accomplishments, Collins has won six ultra-marathons, including the Last Marathon in Antarctica, Redwoods Marathon in northern California, the Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race, the Everest Challenge, the Sub-Sahara Marathon and the North Pole Marathon.

He ran for Notre Dame as a scholarship athlete from 1983 to 1987.

As a fleet-of-foot “outsider looking in,” his lengthy runs carried him far afield from the “pristine” campus and exposed him to Rust Belt industrial decay that informed his heartland trilogy, “The Keepers of Truth,” “The Resurrectionists” and “Lost Souls.”
“The Resurrectionists” was being adapted for film by John Madden, Oscar-winning director of “Shakespeare in Love.”

Travel still fuels his imagination, but the aging athlete grasping for a last hurrah went to the “Fire and Ice” extremes of three-digit Sahara heat while living in an Algerian refugee camp and the top of the world to win the North Pole Marathon, dodging hungry polar bears and surviving Russian transport plane pilots who drink, to land his ice-encrusted visage in Sports Illustrated.

Seated in Section C, 25 yards from where Barack Obama took his oath of office at the inauguration in January 2009, Collins had an ideal vantage point to see former presidents, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. John McCain.

A native of Limerick, Ireland, Collins received both his bachelor of arts and master of arts degrees from the University of Notre Dame, whose graduate school last spring honored him as 2008 Alumni of the Year.

Collins added his doctorate from the University of Illinois in 1997.

He has taught at The Art Institute of Chicago and in Washington state, where he lived before moving to Michigan.

He mentions Cass County by name in his novel, “The Keepers of Truth” – his first murder mystery he wrote consciously with the movies in mind. He wrote it while working at Microsoft.

Tilda Swinton won a best actress award at the London Evening Standard Film Awards in 2009 for his screen adaptation of “Julia.”

He has been a featured guest at the Dogwood Fine Arts Festival, which he told in May 2006, when he received a key to the city from Mayor Don Lyons, “My personality has always centered around extremes.”

In the desert he defeated a two-time world champion and achieved his goal – “to be invited to run at the European Championships in June for my country – the oldest track athlete that they ever let on (Ireland’s) team.”

In his youth Collins was interested primarily in sports and had a “lackadaisical attitude toward school.”

“Even when I was 13 or 14 and bad at school, I was still informed by history,” Collins said. “It tweaked something in me. A lot of my heroes were Africans. If you were involved in distance running, they’re the main competition. It informs all of my fiction. None of my stuff is happy.”

Had he not been offered a Notre Dame running scholarship, “I wouldn’t have gotten into college. I was failing school, always getting Ds and hoping to get Cs, and not fitting in academically,” Collins recalled. “I’d leave Notre Dame and drift into South Bend” and glimpse first-hand what life was like for a working-class American.”

He and his wife, who is a doctor, and their four children moved to Dowagiac in 2008.
For the past six years he has sponsored annual prizes for Union High School students in fiction, poetry and photography.

“I really like this community,” Collins, who survived a stabbing in 1995 in Chicago, said when SMC hired him.

“So many people today are fleeing small town America for big cities. I want to do the opposite. We need to reinvest in small town America and my family and I are making a conscious decision to do that.”

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