Voice of a covert peo­ple

The Irish Times - - Comment & Letters -

Ir­ish writ­ers’ pre-em­i­nence in the short story form was re­asserted this week when Ni­amh Camp­bell be­came the sec­ond Ir­ish au­thor in suc­ces­sion to win the world’s rich­est short story prize, the Sun­day Times Au­di­ble Short Story Award, fol­low­ing Danielle McLaugh­lin’s suc­cess last year. Kevin Barry, who won the award in 2012, has ar­guably done more than any other con­tem­po­rary writer to re-en­er­gise the form. His third col­lec­tion is ea­gerly awaited.

Also this au­tumn, Sinéad Glee­son will pub­lish her third ma­jor an­thol­ogy of Ir­ish short sto­ries, The Art of the Glimpse, an am­bi­tious col­lec­tion of no fewer than 100 sto­ries. She aims to re­de­fine the tra­di­tion by cham­pi­oning ne­glected women and pro­mot­ing the best con­tem­po­rary writ­ers.

While many writ­ers are as de­voted to sto­ries as to nov­els, pub­lish­ers find the lat­ter more prof­itable. The genre, there­fore, has al­ways needed cham­pi­ons, such as New Ir­ish Writ­ing’s David Mar­cus and Ciaran Carty and the Sting­ing Fly’s De­clan Meade.

The Ir­ish Times’s own tra­di­tion of cel­e­brat­ing the short story con­tin­ues with our sum­mer se­ries start­ing on June 30th.

Ire­land’s strength in the short story is of­ten at­trib­uted to its oral tra­di­tion. Con­versely, Claire Kee­gan con­sid­ers the Ir­ish “a covert peo­ple”, whose un­told sto­ries find an out­let in short fic­tion. While Wil­liam Car­leton is re­garded as its ear­li­est Ir­ish ex­po­nent, its 20th-cen­tury promi­nence be­gan with George Moore and peaked early with James Joyce’s Dublin­ers. Its fi­nal story, The Dead, along with Frank O’Con­nor’s Guests of the Na­tion and Kee­gan’s Fos­ter, are clas­sics of the genre.

O’Con­nor and Seán O’Fao­lain not only wrote great sto­ries but sought to de­fine the art. “There is in the short story at its most char­ac­ter­is­tic some­thing we don’t of­ten find in the novel,” wrote O’Con­nor, “an in­tense aware­ness of hu­man lone­li­ness”, while what O’Faoláin liked was “punch and po­etry”. For Anne En­right, “the ten­sion is al­ways be­tween the beauty of the poem and the felt life of the novel form”.

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