Academic journal article Hecate

'It's What Happens after You're Born That Gets It Knocked out of You': Evelyn Conlon

Academic journal article Hecate

'It's What Happens after You're Born That Gets It Knocked out of You': Evelyn Conlon

Article excerpt

`It's What Happens After You're Born That Gets It Knocked Out of You': Evelyn Conlon

Evelyn Conlon is one of Ireland's new breed of writers. Born in Co. Monaghan in 1952, she has lived and travelled extensively in Australia and Asia, spent some years as a teacher of English and raised two sons -- all the while continuing to develop and strengthen a writing career that began at school Her numerous stories and critical essays published throughout the 1970s and 80s, were followed by a collection of short stories, My Head is Opening in 1987, and a first novel, Stars in the Daytime in 1989, which became the first novel by an Irish woman writer to be published by The Women's Press (1990). Conlon's latest collection of short stories, Taking Scarlet as a Real Colour was published by The Blackstaff Press in 1993. She currently lives and works in Dublin where I talked with her in February 1994.

Has there been any particular feature of your background or life that contributed to you becoming a writer? In other words, was there a catalyst of some kind, or was writing always an option for you?

Yes, it was always an option, but, of course, it can take a long time to actually have the nerve to say you do it -- certainly longer for women. But it was always a desire, not something that came on me as the result of any particular event.

Who are the writers that you most closely identify with and why?

I know that at a certain stage in my work when I was changing over from writing poetry and going back to short stories, I was very affected by what was going on in African-American literature, the Black short story, basically, and I think the reason was that somehow or other they didn't have a residual faith in the language and the literature that was already there so, when they began to write they had the confidence to overturn the form. And, in a way, the material that I wanted to write about needed that as well because I was fed up with the form of the Irish short story as I saw it, and I perceived their way of approaching it to be much more exciting. Probably Grace Paley, the Jewish New York writer affected me strongly as well.

Were you aware, when reading or thinking about those women writers, that they were writing from a marginalised position?

Very much so, yes.

And in relation to your own work, do you see yourself as writing from a marginalised position?

Yes, definitely. I think I've always considered myself to be writing from a marginalised position -- from the time I wrote my first two books. But even after I got the confidence, whatever level of confidence I got from writing those books, I still felt that sense of marginalisation, and still do.

Do you think that would ever change, for example if you received a high level of international acclaim for your writing?

No, I don't think so. I wouldn't see it changing at all because I feel that, as a writer, the path I started on was a specific way of looking at our lives. Things have happened since then like, for instance, the particular backlash that is going on at the moment within feminism, whereby a lot of the younger women writers -- not necessarily younger in age, but newer -- are afraid of being categorised and, as a result, won't approach their material in the way that I would. So I think in that way, I would always end up approaching my material with a particular view or way of looking at it which is partly why I think my work will always be on the margins, even if it ended up at the centre, because it would still be from a marginalised perspective.

A number of reviewers have described you as the new Edna O'Brien. How do you feel about that?

Well, I can remember the first time someone described me in that way and I thought, well, that's fine by me. But I don't think they're right. Where they might be right is in the fact that Edna O'Brien certainly did change, or overturn, or challenge what was being written at the time by Irish women. …

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