John Patrick Shanley:
On Eugene O’Neill and William Kennedy and a Reading from Long Day’s Journey into Night

John Patrick Shanley

Reading: John Patrick Shanley introduced by T.J. English.
Irish American Writers and Artists celebrating the Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award
in Honor of William Kennedy, October 16, 2009.

[Opening remarks]

It’s hard to be up here. It’s hard to be down there. It’s hard to sit. It’s hard to stand. Your feet hurt, your ass hurts. It’s hard to be alive. It’s hard to be in Ireland. It’s hard to come to America. It’s fucking difficult!

I met Bill Kennedy, I guess, about 20 years ago. I haven’t seen hide nor hair of him since, until tonight. I was hoping to be dead by now, because he was a handsome man then, and I’m afraid he is only getting better looking as the years go by. And I’m just degenerating.

You know, Eugene O’Neill, I’m convinced…I’ve read his body of work, I’ve read most of Bill’s work, and when you are an artist, when you’re a person…writing is really just the symptom of something that we are all experiencing. It really is awful to be alive—it’s just worse to be dead. And you suffer. Everything is uncomfortable: your skin, your body is rotting on its frame every day after a certain point, and you’re pretty much oblivious until the day that the degeneration begins. So that you never even savor those moments of youth that slip through your fingers like I don’t know what—suet.

Playwrights, novelists, some people, they chronicle this. They talk about the fact that they’re uncomfortable. O’Neill was uncomfortable in his family; he was uncomfortable in his love life; he was uncomfortable drinking; he was uncomfortable not drinking. He really never had a good day. Except once in a while, I have a feeling, when he just thrived, he hoped to escape somehow this trap that was his life, and he did it by writing. And I’d like to think the same is true of Bill—except for his marriage—that he was trying to get out. So he fled into a mythical Albany and conjured up the many many ghosts that resided there, figures that would have dissipated and disappeared forever had he not captured their gossamer remains just before they vaporized for good.