Archive of once-banned author Edna O’Brien acquired by National Library

ireland
Archive Of Once-Banned Author Edna O’brien Acquired By National Library Archive Of Once-Banned Author Edna O’brien Acquired By National Library
O’Brien’s first book, The Country Girls, was published in 1960 and banned in Ireland for its frank portrayal of female sexuality.
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A new collection of the papers of Irish author Edna O’Brien, whose work was once banned in the State, has been acquired by the National Library of Ireland.

The archive of literary and personal papers covering the period 2009 to 2021 includes notebooks, drafts, revisions and correspondence with other well-known literary figures. It will be added to a collection of the author’s papers for the period 2000 to 2009 already held by the National Library.

The Department of Culture and the Arts said the acquisition represents “an important moment for the collection of work by Ireland’s women writers” and was made possible by a special allocation of funding from Minister Catherine Martin.

Ms O’Brien’s first book, The Country Girls, was published in 1960 and banned in Ireland for its frank portrayal of female sexuality.

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It has always been my wish for my papers to reside in Ireland

Today, the work of the author born in Co Clare in 1930 enjoys popular and critical success, and she continues to write at 90 years of age – currently working on a play about James Joyce ahead of the centenary of the publication of Ulysses in 2022.

Ms O’Brien said she was “thrilled and honoured” that the National Library had acquired her archive.

“It has always been my wish for my papers to reside in Ireland, the country of my birth – my home. My works are stories of place as much as people, and Ireland has long featured as a central character.

“It is only right that my most recent archive should find its lasting home there.”

Literary figures

The archive spans twelve years, beginning in 2010, and contains approximately 50 boxes of manuscripts. The drafts are written entirely by hand, using notebooks, loose foolscap sheets and scraps of paper.

The collection relates primarily to Ms O’Brien’s novels, short stories, plays and other writings from that period, including Girl (2019), The Little Red Chairs (2015), The Love Object: Selected Stories (2013) and the memoir Country Girl (2012), as well as ongoing work and extensive correspondence with other literary figures such as Philip Roth, and Seamus and Marie Heaney.

Minister for Culture and the Arts, Ms Martin, said “O’Brien’s writing shines a spotlight on women and their agency and autonomy.”

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“Her place in the literary canon both nationally and internationally is assured and her importance as a novelist and a chronicler of Ireland is unique,” she said.

“She has recounted women’s stories unflinchingly, doing so when the stakes were high and it was unbecoming to speak about women’s lives with such frankness and honesty.”

Director of the National Library of Ireland, Dr Sandra Collins said: “As Ireland’s memory-keeper, the Library is charged with collecting and safeguarding the story of Ireland. The experiences of women are an inextricable part of this narrative.

“The acquisition of Edna O’Brien’s archive is a momentous occasion for the National Library. It is a celebration of a writer who has contributed, indelibly and with brilliant style, to our understanding of Irish society and the lived experience of women.”

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