21 writers born in mid-century Ireland are the subject of ‘Look! She’s a woman writer!’ a collection of new essays edited by novelist and short story writer Elise Ni Dhuibhne
Finding your voice in a conservative country that has worked to marginalize and contain all forms of dissent is a major victory in itself, as the authors of these glowing new essays frequently confirm.
To celebrate the book (which was shortlisted for the An Post Irish Book Awards), the Irish Consulate and Invest Northern Ireland, in association with the Irish American Artists and Writers Group and the New York Irish Center (NYIC), hosted Sophia Hillan, Ivy Bannister, Eilis Ni Dhuibhne, Anne Devlin (four of the contributing authors) and moderator Yvonne Cassidy – with a special evening introduction by Consul General Helena Nolan.
In lively conversation after the reading, the four writers spoke of the radically changed social conditions in contemporary Ireland, many of which have been so progressive that a visit to the United States can now feel like stepping back. , admitted Ivy Bannister.
During their time in college, writers like Sophia Hillan noticed that their college departments were almost entirely made up of men, reflecting their own tastes and sensibilities, a reality she and others immediately pushed back against. .
Referring to Martina Devlin’s introduction to the book, panelists then noted how the Free Secondary Education Act of 1967 transformed the lives of women in the Republic. At the time it was introduced, around a third of children who completed primary school in Ireland had dropped out of education.
By age 15, less than 50% were still in full-time schooling. At 16, only 36% were still in school. But ten years after the introduction of free secondary school, the numbers still enrolled had doubled.
In 2021, Ireland has one of the highest secondary school completion rates in the European Union, with over 90% of the population completing the school leaving exam known as Leaving Cert.
Girls were an obvious beneficiary. Before the law, they were considered a bad investment, as many married and gave up professional careers. After the law, they suddenly had more options. That might not sound like a lot, but in a way, it was what Anderson calls “a silver bullet,” heralding revolutionary change.
For most of their adult life, the Irish feminist revolution was often rather slow. With war in the north and reactionary referendums in the south partly defining a generation of women’s struggle, progress has not always been quick or gradual.
And in fact, this panel was perhaps the first time many viewers had seen a group of Irish female writers invited to tell their own stories, on their own terms, anywhere, ever.
For this reason, it is to be hoped that the Consulate, in association with the other Irish and Northern Irish groups here, will make the Irish Women Writers’ Panels an annual or better yet bi-annual event in the Irish calendar, as it has quickly become apparent the detracts from how vital and insightful the conversations they inspire among the panel and audience are.
Hillan added how important and inspiring it is for writers to have the ability to connect directly with an audience, especially after a year of not being able to directly connect with anyone.
Hillan has spoken of a life-changing experience at the age of 25 when, after a successful cancer operation, she was introduced by a doctor to his students under her married name and with all detachment. of a science exhibition. Going back to her maiden name – and in a real sense herself – she opened up about how she formulated her successful plan to be a published author at the age of thirty.
A resolution like this is found throughout this collection of intelligent essays. Speaking of what has helped their own individual journeys, this collection will also help the journeys of everyone who encounters it, women and men, straight and gay, young and old.
See! She’s a woman writer! (Arlen House, $34.95)
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