'Tis an Irish writer that they're having here

Emma Donoghue, whose award-winning novel "Room" will be a movie later this year, headlines this year's Irish Evening hosted by the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society.
Emma Donoghue, whose award-winning novel "Room" will be a movie later this year, headlines this year's Irish Evening hosted by the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society. (photo by nina subin)

Emma Donoghue is the latest in a long list of notable Irish writers who have been brought to Columbia by the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society. Donoghue headlines this organization's 37th annual Irish Evening on Friday, Feb. 6, at 7:30 p.m. in Howard Community College's Smith Theatre.

Among the other Irish writers who appeared at this event over the decades are Frank McCourt, Colm Toibin, Paula Meehan, Eavan Boland, Colum McCann and Anne Enright.


Although they represent a lot of literary history, the annual Irish Evening is about more than books. Music and dance are an important part of the occasion. This year a musical group called the Narrowbacks performs traditional Irish music; and there is step dancing from performers affiliated with the Culkin School.

As for the literary portion of the evening, Donoghue will read from her 2010 novel "Room" and also from some of her additional seven novels.

"Room" received media attention when it was short listed for the Man Booker and Orange Prizes. It's likely to receive more attention later this year when a film version will be released. Donoghue did the screenplay adaptation of "Room," which stars Brie Larson.

An impressive aspect of this 45-year-old writer is that she's equally adept at writing novels with contemporary settings and others set in the past.

Among the contemporary novels is her first, "Stir-fry," which was published in 1994. It's a coming-of-age story about a young Irish woman coming to terms with her sexuality. A subsequent novel, "Hood," concerrns an Irish woman emotionally dealing with the death of her girlfriend.

The historical novels include "The Sealed Letter," about a famous divorce case in Great Britain in 1864. Another period novel, "Slammerkin," is set in 18th-century London and Wales.

And her most recent novel, "Frog Music," which was published in 2014, is a murder mystery set in San Francisco in 1876. Based on a true story, it's about a cross-dressing frog catcher. Apparently, truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

This prolific writer also has published several short story collections, literary histories, and anthologies.

The Dublin-born Donoghue is the youngest of eight children. Her upbringing qualifies as a literary one. Her father is the well-known teacher and literary critic Denis Donoghue who, incidentally, was scheduled to deliver an academic lecture at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore on Feb. 3.

When it comes to academic achievement, Emma Donoghue is not lacking. She went to University College Dublin, then received her PhD from the University of Cambridge, where her thesis concerned the friendships between men and women in 18th-century fiction.

That thesis topic helps explain why her novels, whether historical or contemporary, are thoroughly researched and also reflect a sensitivity about human relationships.

Acknowledgement of her literary skill includes winning the Stonewall Book Award for Literature, Lamda Literary Award, Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction, and Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.

It's tempting to state that she's brought honor to the Irish literary tradition, but one would have to add that she's also made Canadians proud. That's because Emma Donoghue moved to Canada in 1998 and became a Canadian citizen in 2004. She lives in Ontario with her partner and their two children.

If the words she reads aloud on Friday night prove to be music to the ears of her Howard County audience, they'll also have actual music flowing into their ears thanks to the Narrowbacks.


This musical group is composed of Terence Winch on button accordion, Jesse Winch on bodhran and guitar, Brendan Mulvihill on fiddle, Linda Hickman on flute and whistle, and Eileen (Korn) Estes on lead vocals and piano.

And, the evening will be further enhanced by a photography exhibit by Denny Lynch titled "The Carrolls of Offaly and Maryland: A Photographic Essay."

This exhibit reflects Lynch's research into the Carroll family history in Europe and Maryland.

The Howard County Poetry and Literature Society's 37th annual Irish Evening is Friday, Feb. 6, at 7:30 p.m. in Howard Community College's Smith Theatre, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Tickets, which are $35, may be purchased at http://www.irishevening.eventbrite.com For general info, go to http://www.hocopolitso.org.