For well over three decades, I was a host and correspondent for NPR News, but I was always writing. In 1997, I published "Daughter of the Queen of Sheba," about growing up with a bipolar mother in a small Wisconsin town. When I was 12, she "bequeathed" me Mesopotamia. I grew up to become, amongst many other network roles, a Middle East correspondent for NPR, covering three wars and many conflicts -- including in Northern Ireland. Daughter of the of Queen of Sheba was published in nine countries, including Ireland and the UK, (and Japan, and Brazil and Germany, and Romania!) -- and that surprised me, for it was an American memoir in every way. The memoir was adapted for a film with Meryl Streep and Gwyneth Paltrow, and a host of actors walked through our lives. But I think what that all taught me is about the power of universal stories. Both in the newsroom and now out of it, I know about the cyclone of the creative spectrum. Nothing buys you time like sitting down and writing. This workshop is my personal dream, and I chose to do it in the region which is my "ancestral home" (my father's family is from Clifden, Ireland, and I got married there in 2004) .
What I want for our writers is the landscape's elemental sheltering, and for our shared passion to sustain the literary work. We'll work on clearing your vision for your story, finding your voice, and lifting out your most compelling and urgent narrative.
Here, in Ireland, we really do honor the concept of "where peace comes dropping slow." (More Yeats!) Spring, 2019 will mark the third year of this workshop, and I'm immensely proud, and gratified, to help bring you here and focus your work with as much vitality as it is meant to have.
For myself, I am working on my second memoir; but for the workshop, "Love Comes in at the Eye," I am working for your pages.
We deliberately keep the workshop small, and all attendees must be serious writers. If you are an MFA student, please send samples and a recommendation letter.
Having seen a good bit of this planet, I don't personally think there is anything to compare to this quiet, craggy corner of Connemara, Ireland. As my late dear friend, the Irish poet and writer John O'Donohue would say, you are most welcome.
Alice McDermott’s critically acclaimed eighth novel, The Ninth Hour, was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Critics Circle Award and The 2017 Kirkus Prize for Fiction. Time Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, and others named The Ninth Hour among the top works of fiction in 2017. In 2018, The Ninth Hour was awarded France’s Prix Femina for a work in translation. Her seventh novel, Someone, 2013, was a New York Times bestseller, a finalist for the Dublin IMPAC Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Patterson Prize for Fiction, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Someone was also long-listed for the National Book Award. Three of her previous novels, After This, At Weddings and Wakes and That Night, were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. Charming Billy won the National Book Award for fiction in 1998 and was a finalist for the Dublin IMPAC Award. That Night was also a finalist for the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Her stories, essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Harpers, Commonweal and elsewhere. She has received the Whiting Writers Award, the Corrington Award for Literary Excellence, the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for American Literature, The Mary McCarthy Award from Bard College, and the 2019 Seamus Heaney Award from New York University. In 2013, she was inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame. For 23 years she was the Richard A. Macksey Professor of the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University.
Also accompanying us: my husband Will O'Leary, senior photographer for the Washington Post, trouble shooter, longtime visitor to Ireland, our chauffeur, and much more. Bill at the Post, and Will at home. Mr. O'Leary can help you solve just about any concern that comes up while we are in Ireland. And, he takes amazing pictures. Tip: On the Washington Post website, you will find him as Bill O'Leary. Jacki's family is from Connemara; O'Leary's is from Kerry. We got married right here in Connemara in 2004.
I want to thank Jacki, Liz, (Elizabeth Rosner) and all my fellow writers for helping me reconnect with my memoir. I've felt so discouraged and confused about the way forward with this project, and now I feel excited to get back in there and attempt to make it more the book I want it to be. This was exactly the result I wanted from the workshop and I got it! What a joy and relief! Falling in love with Ireland and all of you was just the butter on the brown bread.
I sat with Jacki in the garden under an arbor in the beautiful air of Connemara and we shared a pot of tea and discussed my draft.
I poured and she prodded, asking the questions that kicked started a new first chapter. That first chapter was the one the publisher singled out when he offered me the contract for my half-finished biography/memoir ‘Sweet Man’. (Allen and Unwin, Australia)
Love comes in . . .at the eye, . . . and through the ears (that melodious West Ireland accent) and through the nose (the smell of a properly brewed pot of tea), and through the feet (bouncing on the bog peat) and through the fingertips (that hold the pencil or type on the keyboard). With all that love the words will appear on the page, infused with many layers of meaning and aptitude and verve."
In a cozy inn, set in a breathtakingly beautiful place, a small group of dedicated, intelligent writers wrote, read, listened, and offered each other supportive responses and critique. And talked. And ate. And walked the grounds, around town, and in Connemara National Park. And did yoga. And listened to music. And learned about Bronze Age Ireland. And laughed. And even sang, once, and I am not a singer, believe me. I left with a clearer sense of what was and wasn’t working on the page, actionable direction for how to get the pages to start adding up to a book, and a new group of smart, cool writing friends. What a productive and inspiriting workshop!
This workshop was simply life-changing.
When I was in Ireland
Singing broke out in a pub
I had no choice
But to join in
I was met by friends
And strangers who became friends
Who became more
Who started as my own cliches, formed
At first sight, and then —
Mouths opened and words poured out from them
More felt than simply spoken
Rain never came
Again and again
We went outside, onto rocks, into wind, over bog
We went inside, and shared
Again and again
We joined in pairs and threes and fours
And sometimes all of us,
Each drifting away and toward
Joining and departing and joining again.
When I was in Ireland
Singing broke out behind wide windows that framed an wider ocean
And we, all of us,
had no choice
But to join in.