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Colm Toibin wraps up Galway’s literary affair

Colm Toibin, at GAF 2011

The final literary event as part of the 2011 Galway Arts Festival was certainly a resounding way in which to draw a truly amazing Festival to a close. The IMPAC award winner and Booker prize nominee Colm Toibin did not disappoint the sell-out crowd that filled the Meyrick Hotel on a sun-filled Saturday on the final weekend of the Galway Arts Festival. While the thousands were enjoying the festivities on the thronged Galway streets, those with a ticket for Toibin certainly would not swap for any prize.

Toibin was in warm and open form as he took to the lectern on stage in the Connemara Suite of the Meyrick. He started into a story recounting his experiences of regional arts festivals in Ireland. Toibin outlined how the Gorey Arts Festival , founded by his late friend Paul Funge, opened up such opportunities throughout the early 1970’s and onwards as it afforded the locals to see amazing works of theatre, hear great writers read their works and to see the works of great artists.

He talked in particular about visit to the Gorey Arts Festival by Patrick MaGee and Jack McGowran, both renowned acquaintances of Samuel Beckett and also famous actors of his work, so much so that Krapp’s Last Tape actually had a working title of ‘Monologue for Magee’. Toibin spoke of these characters, Beckett, Magee and McGowran as if he was with old friends sharing a drink and a story. This affability, genuine warmth and connection with his readers as well as with the people he is writing on paper about makes Toibin one of Ireland’s most loved and successful of contemporary writers.

Toibin read from his latest work, his collection of short stories the Empty Family (Read my review of this here ) Reading the story Two Women, Toibin presented one of the most memorable stories from the collection. Set in present-day Ireland, a divorced and middle-aged TV producer who has put all of her strength and passion into her career is brought to relive her past lost love when she encounters a woman from the past: a woman she has never met but with him she shares so much experience and people.

The Empty Family

Following this the floor was opened up for questions for Toibin. No shortage of willing volunteers as question after question were ably taken by the guest of honour. When asked about his setting out to write his IMPAC-winning work, The Master, Toibin answered he wanted to really get to know the man, Henry James, and not the outward character which people may have known. To Toibin, James was a mysterious character, often proving to be the opposite of what you thought. James was gay but loved the company of women as well as men, he was often reclusive but ate out every evening in large company. James’ writing, Toibin, described, is full of winding and snaking sentences, full of sub-clauses. You don’t get to know the Henry James, the man, from his writing, as you would be able to know James Joyce from reading his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Toibin was also asked about his inspiration about his Costa Prize-winning novel, Brooklyn. Again delving into his rich personal memory, he talks of the scene at his father’s wake. Colm Tobin is a twelve-year-old and bewildered by the streams of people calling to the house, stayed so long and talked and talked with his family. One woman in particular stood out, even after all these years. She had a pile of letters in her hand, all from Brooklyn: not from U.S.A., not from New York, but from Brooklyn. “That’s the woman whose daughter went to America but came home”, Colm heard people whisper. He never forgot this woman, even over the following forty years or so, and so Brooklyn came to be.

Speaking about the books ending (no spoilers will be given!) Toibin simply outlined how he ended the book the way he wanted to end it but crucially, he got their convincingly. He had conceived other endings but would do a disservice by inserting radical changes that would arrive at a contrived ending.

Finally, Toibin was asked about what contemporary writers he is currently reading. His first response was an American writer who actually also read at this year’s Galway Arts Festival – Willy Vlautin. Vlautin (nearly if not fully) stole the show when he shared the bill with Roddy Doyle. (read review here ) Upstaging Doyle is no easy feat but Vlautin made a new home from home for himself in Galway with his fantastic writing and engaging and humorous personality. Toibin hailed Vlautin as “a real discovery. He writes in beautiful American tones and with an absolute knowledge of rhythm, coming as no surprise that he (Vlautin) is an accomplished musician. Also singled out by Toibin were the Austrian short-story writer, Tim Wenton, Welsh writer Tessa Hadley and of course Canadian Alice Munroe.

It was a fascinating evening and a great if also rare opportunity for an intimate evening with the one and only Toibin. Evening like these are exactly what Arts Festivals are made for –probably along the lines of what Toibin felt like attending the Gorey Arts Festival all those years ago.

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Posted by on July 25, 2011 in Books, Culture

 

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Out of the Archive – and on to the Stage

'Out of the Archive'

If the return of Iceland’s least popular export – volcanic ash clouds – doesn’t interfere then it would be well worth your while taking a jaunt across the Irish Sea to the International Samuel Beckett Conference taking place at the University of York. Out of the Archive is more of a festival than a conference and celebrates the legacy of Beckett and his reputation as one of the greatest of modernist playwrights. This legacy is of course lauded by all those who saw original works by Beckett, those who still marvel at new and engaging representations of Beckett’s work and who read his works, plays and letters and those who study the extensive repertoire of Beckett’s life.

What sets this conference apart is its focus on that unique aspect to any writers legacy: and this is the archive. The collection of manuscripts created and collected by Beckett and preserved by archive services allow for an interaction with the finest elements of Beckett’s character, psyche and thoughts. To the researcher, the archive is the single greatest asset and allows an unprecedented access to what has gone before and allows for the development of original research and thought.

The conference itself is described in the following:

“Samuel Beckett’s is one of the last great modernist archives. A vast, slowly emerging body of archival materials is enabling a “thick description” that details Beckett’s transformation of modern literature. Revised or previously unreleased texts, adaptations of unfamiliar works, and the recent publication of his arresting letters have revealed unsuspected reading habits and writing methods, and documented his immersion in specific intellectual and political contexts. This increasingly historical and empirical vision of Beckett seems at odds with the timelessness and universality presumed in earlier accounts of his work. “Out of the Archive” probes the implications of this contradiction by thoroughly reassessing Beckett’s oeuvre.”

The conference features talks by invited guests, academic papers, exhibitions and performances. Some of the literary and theoretical heavyweights who will be speaking at the conference include Nobel Prize winning J. M. Coetzee, Booker prize winning John Banville, photographer John Minihan and publisher of many of Beckett’s works John Calder.

'Out of the Archive'

Highlights of talks from a series of academics include Dr. Sinéad Mooney (National University of Ireland, Galway), “Beckett, Translation, and the ‘Grey Canon’”, Julie Bates (Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland), “Beckett’s Greatcoats: Paternal Museums”, Elsa Baroghel (University of Oxford, UK), “The Source and the Draft: An Insight into Beckett’s Dramatic Technique”, Anastasia Deligianni (Université Paris VIII, France), “Beckett, The Archetypal Archivist”, Dr. Rina Kim (University of Auckland, New Zealand), “Beyond the Archive: The Case of Beckett’s ‘Psychology Notes’”,  Prof. David Pattie (University of Chester, UK), “‘The following precious and illuminating material…’: Beckett Studies and the Archive”, Dr. Dirk Van Hulle (University of Antwerp, Belgium), “Modern Manuscripts: Samuel Beckett’s works between completion and incompletion”.

These are only a few of the incredible gathered body of speakers that will be present over this four day conference that will cover and discuss the themes of Manuscripts, Translation, Music, Cinema, Philosophy, Alternative Archives, Digital Archives, Politics, Beckett’s finished and unfinished notes and notebooks and myriad other topics.

For further information and full details of the conference visit the website http://www.outofthearchive.com/ and follow the conference on Twitter @beckettfestival

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Archives, Books, Culture, Theatre

 

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