Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spit on me Dickie!: DC Irish Writers Festival

Photos: books on display in Busboys & Poets; a fan with Claire Kilroy; "the lads" : Dennis, Philip O Ceallaigh, and Chris Agee in Busboys & Poets.

The first DC Irish Writers Festival sponsored by Solas Nua was five days of intellectually stimulating craic! The theme (unexplained) of the festival was "spit on me Dickie
" a sort of an inside joke with Dubliners of a certain age. Opening night, Thursday March 11th featured three Northern Irish writers with a reception sponsored by the Northern Ireland Bureau. There was an open bar (good wine and Sam Adams) hot hors d'oeuvres, and a table of cheese, olives etc. and great conversation before the readings.

Glenn Patterson, a novelist from Belfast read along with Nick Laird, poet and novelist, and Chris Agee, editor of Irish Pages, moderated. Glenn had been in DC before for Solas Nua, as well as one of the instructors at the summer school I attended at Queens University. He was even funnier and more charming than I remembered. Another writer, Christine Dwyer Hickey referred to him as Glenn 'Fred Astaire' Patterson as apparently he danced backwards up a grand staircase on Thursday night.

Nick Laird read first – 2 poems from his new collection. One titled 'Light Pollution' and the other I think was titled 'Pug". He also read from his recent novel Glover’s Mistake . Glenn read from his latest book Once Upon a Hill which is non-fiction. The discussion was facilitated by Chris Agee, an American who has lived in Northern Ireland for 30 years. The topics of the discussion included identity (Nick said he is often labeled a British writer, but an Irish poet) as well as how Northern Ireland is similar to Eastern Europe (which has to do with being on the periphery of Europe).

Friday night's event at the Washington Arts Club featured Christine Dwyer Hickey. She read from her recent novel Last Train from Liguria as well as from her novel Tatty. She is a wonderful writer and a real Dub. During the weekend she talked with us about how difficult it is to be a woman writer in Ireland. There is an assumption that Irish women write chick lit. Christine said that if she hadn't been published in the mid 90's, she thinks there'd be little hope of getting published now. We also talked about the lack of decent independent bookstores in Ireland, and Christine mentioned one in Rathgar that she discovered.

Saturday Claire Kilroy read from her new book is All the Names Have Been Changed. Claire writes exquisitely, and is a graduate of Trinity College Creative Writing Program at the Oscar Wilde Center.

Sunday Chris Agee read from his 2009 book of poems Next To Nothing described here by the publisher:

Next to Nothing records the years following the death of a beloved child in 2001. Though bereft of belief in the poetic outcome compared to the apocalypse of the loss itself (one sense of the title), the fidelity of these poems to the “heartscapes” of grief constitutes, nonetheless, a work of genuine honouring – spare, delicate, and deeply moving.

His reading of the poems was very emotional, for him and for the audience. He said he would not continue reading from the book in the future. It had taken him eight years to publish the poems, that were written over several years. He also edited a collection of poetry from Northern Ireland The New North: Contemporary Poetry from Northern Ireland (2008) which pushes the boundaries of who is considered a Northern Irish poet.

Also Sunday was Philip O Ceallaigh (no apostrophe), a short story writer who lives in Eastern Europe, read a story from The Pleasant Light of Day. He shared that he loves Hemingway's short stories, but not his novels.

Monday, my friend Joan had a brunch for Christine Dwyer Hickey, which was great fun (Joan's scones were awesome). I missed the final reading on Monday night from Gerard Donovan, but my friend Maureen went, and later joined the author and others for dinner at a chic Washington restaurant. It was a wonderful five days. I have a pile of new books to read - now all I need is time:)

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