Straddling the Literary, Cultural and Physical Space Between Ireland & America

In addition to our usual packed and varied programme, Listowel Writers’ Week is delighted to be hosting a number of additional events this year to celebrate The Gathering. One of these is The Irish-American Short Story and Poetry, which will take place on Sunday 2 June at 5.30pm at St John’s Theatre & Arts Centre. This event is an absolute ‘must-do’ for all lovers of the short story and of poetry, and will be presented in the form of two short lectures.

Victoria Kennefick 2Victoria Kennefick will present her lecture – Gathering Together the Real Story: How the Short Story Crossed the Atlantic (and back again!) She completed her PhD in Literature in University College Cork in 2009 on the transnational connection between Frank O’Connor and Flannery O’Connor. A recipient of the Fulbright Scholarship in 2007, she has lectured in the School of English, UCC, Georgia College & State University and Dublin City University.

Victoria introduces herself below:

Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize oneFlannery O’Connor

Join me on this personal, literary and transatlantic journey between the South of Ireland and the American South, meeting familiar literary faces in unexpected places to discover, that even before the internet, literature provided a means for writers and readers alike to transcend their local communities and experience the true nature of the human condition, all told in the few pages of a short story.

This informal talk will explore a number of issues relating to the Irish and American short story.  How does the short story straddle the literary, cultural and physical space between Ireland and America?  Does it provide us with an insight into cultural and literary spheres of influence in a time before text messages, Twitter and Facebook?

As a form known for its brevity and genre-defying nature, the short story is ideally suited as a mode of transatlantic engagement.  But when did this reciprocity begin and why?  And what does it mean in relation to writers we have long-defined, and dare I say it, pigeon-holed, as ‘Irish’ or ‘American’?  Does it benefit our Irish national literature to consider it as possibly global, rather than entirely local?  As Flannery O’Connor says, “Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it.”

In this, the year of The Gathering, it is timely to discuss these questions, particularly as the short story grows in popularity in a world of instant multimedia.  One could say it has been specifically designed to be portable, fast and accessible! 

I aim to explore this fascinating aspect of the short story, and discuss the complex literary relationships and friendships, that formed as a result of its portability, between writers like Cork-born Frank O’Connor and writer of the American South, Flannery O’Connor, and between Elizabeth Bowen and Eudora Welty, amongst others.

Nothing can happen nowhere. The locale of the happening always colours the happening, and often, to a degree, shapes it. Elizabeth Bowen


Daniel Tobin will present his lecture – A Travelling Tradition. Daniel is the Interim Dean of the School of the ArtsDaniel Tobin at Emerson College in Boston and is the author of 5 books of poems and a book of essays, Awake in America.

Daniel introduces himself below:

The apartment building where I grew up in Brooklyn during the ‘60s and 70s had much in common with the kind of close-knit Irish townland from which my grandmother emigrated in 1913. Tucked just beyond the entry on the first floor landing, her small one bedroom flat was the first stop for virtually everyone coming home from work, as well as family and friends from nearby neighbourhoods—many of them also immigrants from townlands outside Balinrobe or Claremorris.

Over the years her kitchen became a New World hearth, and my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, my brother and I, and the crowd of neighbours, gathered there daily for talk and tea or a quiet drink. Sometimes a man named John Gibbons, an accordion propped on his wooden leg, would play and sing. Little wonder I identified as Irish, though born in America, the same way my friends in the schoolyard also born in America identified as Syrian or Lebanese or Italian, our nationalities bandied like favourite sports teams in the school yard.

Yet all that past carried surprisingly little charge during my years in academic life, until a colleague recommended I write the entry on Irish American poetry for an encyclopaedia.

Beginning the research for this relatively brief entry was very like dipping my toe into the ocean and discovering the ledge underneath was much steeper than expected. I couldn’t wade out, and the waters were teeming with life.

Soon I found myself swept up into the current, swimming out, and what was to be something of an aside turned into a fifteen-year project culminating first in The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, then Light in Hand: The Selected Early Poems of Lola Ridge, and finally Awake in America

For more information or to book this event, please click the following link Irish-American Event

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