Award-winning Irish Author Speaks at Carlow University

By Haley Sawyer, Moon News Cloud Contributor

Irish author Edna O’Brien paid a visit to Carlow University in Oakland on a recent Saturday.  She brought with her words of advice for writers and a life story as inspiring as her work itself.

The frail 83-year-old took her seat at a table on the stage of Carlow’s Rosemary Heyl theater.  In her muffled, tinged accent, she began discussing what most visitors to the Steel City do.  The landscape.

She thought the city was brown, so she hardly believed that it was the early days of springtime.  This statement was furthered with her first writing tip of the night:  Landscape is another character in a story and needs to be developed just like any other element.

O’Brien got to what was on everyone’s minds straight away.  Her 1960 novel, “The Country Girls,” broke ground on the then taboo topics of sexual matters and female independence.

The novel was not well-received, or as O’Brien said, it “caused a bit of a rumpus.”

The book was banned in Ireland, rejected by the Catholic Church, and even burned in her own village.

Those acts “didn’t cut to the bone,” O’Brien said.  What did cut to the bone was the act of her own family shunning her.

O’Brien mentioned that her mother “mistrusted the written work and said it was a sin.”  This didn’t stop her from dedicating the “The Country Girls” to her.  Shortly after the book was published, the author found her mother’s copy in a shed behind her house.

“[She had] went through the book and inked out all the lines she thought were offensive,” said O’Brien of what she found in that shed.

Although her life’s work produced pain, O’Brien remains passionate about what she does.

“Language is miraculous,” she said.  “Language is alchemy.  Language is powerful.  Language is transcendence.”

She continued to say that writing depends on accidental things and is like “permanently taking the exile.”

“You have to be skinless to write,” O’Brien firmly noted.

The Ireland PEN award winner finished off the hour with some reflections of her childhood.

She had a “lousy childhood,” but it was a world she could steal from.  She was surrounded by religious readings as a child, each of which she considered a piece of literature, and even sometimes sexual in terms of how they contained praise.  She attended a Catholic school where she wrote other girls’ compositions, receiving a biscuit as a form of payment.

“Childhood is the most important thing for any writer,” the author emphasized.

For more details on O’Brien and her life of wealth, writing, and exile, pick up a copy of her most recent novel, a memoir titled “Country Girl,” on shelves now.