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Kerry Women Writers Gather & Speak Out

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From The Front Row

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Chair of the first meeting, Victoria Kennefick
Chair of the first meeting, Victoria Kennefick

Women writers from all over Kerry met in the Seanchaí Centre, The Kerry Writers’ Museum, in Listowel on Saturday 30th December.  The Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan, launched the Forum and explained its origins.  He had been spending time at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Co. Monaghan last year when he met playwright Amy Conroy.

Conroy’s the founder of HotForTheatre, formed in 2010, and writer of their debut show ‘I (Heart) Alice (Heart) I’, which premiered in ABSOLUT Fringe 2010 winning the Fishamble New Writing Award and nominations for the Stewart Parker Trust Award, and a Zebbie Award.  More recently, her second show, ‘Eternal Rising of the Sun,’ premiered in ABSOLUT Fringe 2011 and transferred to the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2012.  Amy was a participant on the Abbey New Playwrights Programme in 2011, and is a member of Six in the Attic, an Irish Theatre Institute resource sharing initiative.  Her latest play, ‘Break’, premiered at the Project Arts Theatre as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival in September to packed houses.

During their residences, Conroy and Minister Deenihan interrogated the reasons as to why women writers were often under-represented.  They discussed writing in Ireland, with a particular emphasis on women’s writing in their native county, Kerry.  Conroy spoke openly, the Minister explained, about what she saw as the lack of support, encouragement and recognition of women writers’ in Kerry.  They decided to investigate further and organise a forum to discuss and identify the needs of Kerry-based women writers.

The forum featured panellists Amy Conroy, Maureen Kennelly, Director of Poetry Ireland, Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, founder of writing.ie and The Inkwell Group publishing consultancy and Bridget McAuliffe founder of Red Hen Publishing.  Each panellist spoke in turn about the services offered by their organisations and the opportunities these afforded to writers.  Kenneally highlighted the Poetry Ireland Critical Assessment Programme, Introduction Series and the accessible nature of their extensive poetry library.  O’Loughlin emphasised the importance of web-based resources as espoused by her website, writing.ie, which gathers together relevant information about writing, writers and publishing in Ireland in one place.  McAuliffe then discussed the nature of self-publishing, taking us through the process, from finding the right publisher to publicising a first book.  Finally, Amy Conroy spoke about her experiences as a writer.  She pointed out that the reason she arranged the Forum with the Minister was to establish how women write in Kerry, did they face any particular restrictions and to initiate the possibility of an Anthology of Kerry women’s writing.  She then opened the floor to comments and questions.

The debate was a lively one, focussing on a number of issues, most particularly the Dublin-centric nature of many literary events and opportunities, the lacunae between creativity and funding in Ireland, and the difficulty in establishing a respectable profile for many female Irish writers, beyond age, sex and attractiveness.  One participant raised the issue early on as to why there were no men present, bar the Minister, echoing feminist Naomi Woolf’s question, ‘Do we still need women-only spaces?’  However, there was a general consensus that there is value, even in a truly egalitarian world, for maintaining same-sex spaces and the highly successful Men’s Shed Movement was given as an example of this.

The debate naturally focused on writing; a quick poll of attendees showed that there was a very even spread of poets, fiction, non-fiction writers and playwrights of diverse ages and backgrounds.  It emerged that there is a wealth of literary talent in Kerry and that while each individual had expertise in a particular area, there was no resource-sharing opportunity in the region.  The attendees decided to establish the Kerry Women Writers’ Network where women writers can come together, pool their knowledge, exchange ideas and collaborate with others across all literary genres.  The Network will develop to include setting-up and supporting local writers’ groups across Kerry, residential workshops for Kerry women writers, creating an on-line presence and working towards publishing an anthology of Kerry women writers.

The Minister closed the Forum citing his continuing support for the Network and thanking Conroy and the panelists for their time and valuable contribution.  Though clearly in its nascent stage, the Network already plans to meet in late January and begin the process of encouraging the women writers of Kerry to extend their literary reach, supporting one another to ensure a sustained profile for female writers in the region.  It is hoped that this might encourage more women to write and to share their work with others.

If you are a female writer in Kerry and interested in finding out more, or joining the network, contact kerrywomenwriters@gmail.com

(c) Victoria Kennefick
Victoria Kennefick is a poet and teacher.  A native of Shanagarry, Co. Cork she is now based in Kerry. A Fulbright Scholar, she completed her PhD in 2009. She was the winner of the Red Line Book Festival Poetry Prize 2013, and has been short-listed for the Bridport Prize and the Gregory O’Donoghue Prize, among others.  Her work has appeared in The Stinging Fly, Southword, Wordlegs, The Weary Blues and Abridged.  Earlier this year she was selected as part of Poetry Ireland’s Introductions Series.  She is co-coordinator of the New Writers’ Salon at Listowel Writers’ Week.
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