By Ceillie Keane
I first heard Irish author Anne Enright in Professor Claire Bracken’s Changing Ireland class last spring. After reading The Forgotten Waltz, winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Literature, for a class assignment and traveling to RPI to hear Enright speak about her writing and read from the novel, I was hooked.
Over the course of the past year, I’ve procrastinated thesis or celebrated free time by reading through all of Enright’s works in Schaffer Library. When I heard that Enright was going to visit Union’s campus this spring, I was thrilled. I was excited to hear Enright with a better understanding of her works and herself as a writer; I was also looking forward to seeing if our event would trump RPI’s in an off-the-ice extension of the rivalry. Just like the hockey team, Union’s Enright event undoubtedly won.
While I had prepared for Enright’s visit holed up in Schaffer library with a stack of books, the rest of campus readied itself to welcome the Irish author properly. The event was co-sponsored by the English Department, Women and Gender Studies Department, the Women’s Commission and the International Education Fund. The English Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta, held a dinner and discussion at Wold House last Wednesday to introduce Enright. Bracken gave an overview of each of Enright’s main works, and she discussed larger themes that pervade Enright’s writing.
Bracken has had a longstanding relationship with Enright, and it was with her noted help that Union was able to secure Enright’s visit.
On Monday evening, the Nott Memorial filled with students, faculty and visitors, who had gathered to hear Enright read from The Forgotten Waltz and answer questions from the audience. Bracken introduced Enright, noting Enright’s extraordinary literary accomplishments. Her novels include The Portable Virgin, The Wig My Father Wore, What Are You Like?, The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch, The Gathering, and The Forgotten Waltz.
Her work is overwhelming fiction and she is esteemed as one of the great fiction writers of contemporary Irish literature and literature in general. In total, she has published five novels, three collections of short stories, one memoir and numerous journalistic essays.
After Enright reached the podium, she explained that, as a writer, you hope there will be “readers out there who get it,” and thanked Bracken for being one of those readers.
Before going on to “just read” from her novel, Enright remarked on the “amazing building” we were all inside. Enright read from the first chapter of the novel, “There Will Be Peace in the Valley.”
Enright read the story to an eager crowd, presumably all as mesmerized by control of the language, both written in the novel and delivered aloud, as I was. Although seemingly humble, she spoke with poise and clear intent at getting her words across to the crowd.
Her sentences flowed smoothly as her Irish-accented voice filled the room and, more importantly, controlled the room. She spoke softly during the main character’s solitary musing about men in her life, but raised her voice to cue the joke about “pink,” which showed the audience that Enright is just as “intensely funny” as Bracken described in her introduction.
Enright took questions ranging from the family background of the main character of The Gathering, Enright’s novel that won the 2007 Man-Booker Prize, to the effects of her writing on the Irish diaspora to general advice for young aspiring writers. As for the advice, Enright offered: “Sit and type, that’s the best advice.”
Enright also revealed that it is American authors who inspire her and influence her writing with “the incredibly confident” use of “I.” Enright also admitted that she “demand[s] a submissiveness from a reader, as well as a lot of hard work.” Because of this demand, and the themes of her work, Enright candidly assured us, “I don’t mind being hated.”
I cannot speak for RPI, but our campus community, the crowd in the Nott and I definitely did not hate Enright or her visit to Union this week.