T.J. English on Why We Celebrate O’Neill

But then I met Italian Americans and Asian Americans and Scandinavian Americans who had seen O’Neill’s work and been profoundly affected by it and moved by it and identified with it in the same ways that I had. And I realized then, I think maybe for the first time, what great art was. And so, if I could leave here with one thought, that we would all have one thought about O’Neill, it is that we don’t honor him here tonight because of what he tells us about the Irish-American experience. We honor O’Neill because of the manner in which he took his own specific version of the Irish-American experience and used it as a window and a pathway into a deeper understanding of the human experience. He was not giving away the family secrets in any Irish-American sense; he was giving away the family secrets in the sense of the family of man, of humankind. He was giving away the secrets of humankind in his writing. And so this is why we honor O’Neill. And I would venture to say this is also why we have chosen to see there’s a link between the work of O’Neill and William Kennedy, but I’ll leave that to someone else to talk about in terms of William Kennedy’s work.