Giving a Voice to Wales' English-Language Writers

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), June 5, 2004 | Go to article overview

Giving a Voice to Wales' English-Language Writers


Byline: By Mario Basini Western Mail

In the cacophony of famous voices that is the Hay Festival it is perhaps inevitable that Welsh writers struggle to make themselves heard. Given the town's strong sense of Welshness, its festival should be a showcase for the nation's talent. Despite the best efforts of its organisers, Hay's celebrations of Welsh writing tend to drown in the flood of publicity and presentations from the London publishers.

The festival is a metaphor for the literary world as a whole. All too often in the past those who live in Wales and write about themselves and their communities have found it difficult to make the impact their work deserves. London publishers have often treated them with indifference while those based in Wales have lacked the resources and the expertise to do them justice.

This year's Hay Festival provided a graphic reminder of just how regrettable this is. The shortlists for the Welsh Book of the Year competition, announced at the festival, prove the range and the quality of the writing produced in Wales. The English language shortlist in particular, it seems to me, exemplifies the maturity of contemporary literary achievement in Wales.

I have to declare an interest since I was one of the judges, but the list has an impressive roundness. It contains a great novelist and short story writer, Emyr Humphreys, now coming to the end of a wonderful career almost all of which has been spent interpreting Wales to itself and to the rest of the world. There is a young novelist, Niall Griffiths, whose brief career has already established the power and the range of his talent. And there is a great poet, Gwyneth Lewis, whose talent is reaching its impressive maturity.

All of them owe a debt of gratitude to a previous generation of English-language novelists, playwrights and poets who spent their lives struggling to establish their right to write about themselves and their society and who often paid a grievous price in the neglect of the London literary world.

A host of those pioneers such as Caradoc Evans, Glyn Jones, Gwyn Jones and Gwyn Thomas produced a series of works which in retrospect can be seen as a constituting a golden era of Welsh writing in English. …

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