Contemporary Irish literary Culture…in Early Printed Books!

By Orlaith Darling, Ph.D. student, School of English

An oft forgotten aspect of the Department of Early Printed Books is its holdings of modern Irish and Anglo-Irish fiction, which can be consulted in the peaceful reading room in the Old Library. As a researcher of contemporary Irish short fiction, I was delighted to find the entire run of The Stinging Fly among the modern Irish holdings. As Shane Mawe, one of the friendly Early Printed Books librarians put it, a Sierra search for ‘Short stories, English Irish authors 20th century’ will return over 250 works held  by the Department , meaning that Early Printed Books is, in fact, a hotspot for contemporary Irish literary culture.

Stinging flyFor anyone even vaguely interested in current Irish fiction, poetry, essay writing, publishing or journal culture, The Stinging Fly is a treasure trove of dynamic and various themes, and new and exciting voices. With a catalogue of around 400 stories, literary critic and reviewer Sarah Gilmartin describes The Stinging Fly as ‘a holy grail’ for fledgling writers over the last two decades. The magazine certainly has a habit of publishing writers who, buoyed up by this platform, go on to achieve excellence. Although best known for such recent fictional successes as Conversations with Friends (2016) and Normal People (2018), Sally Rooney was the journal’s featured poet in Issue 30, Volume 2 in 2015. One of the brightest voices in Irish fiction today, Kevin Barry also published with The Stinging Fly, now serving as co-editor of Winter Papers (also available in Early Printed Books). Most relevant to my field of research, though, is the accoladed Danielle McLaughlin. A new writer whose first works and debut collection, Dinosaurs on Other Planets (2015), were published in The Stinging Fly, McLaughlin has since gone on to win a string of illustrious prizes including the 2019 Windham-Campbell Prize for fiction and, just this month, The Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award, two of the most valuable awards for a single story.

These, and writers such as Nicole Flattery, Claire Louise Bennett and Wendy Erskine to name a few, give The Stinging Fly an authorly roll call of which they are rightly proud. While some issues of the journal are themed, most are full of anything and everything. From reading Gilmartin’s introduction to the 2018 anthology, Stinging Fly Stories, in celebration of the magazine’s twentieth birthday, to leafing through Declan Meade’s, Thomas Morris’s, Sally Rooney’s and Danny Denton’s editorials at the beginning of each issue, it is clear that the journal is interested not only in excellent fiction, but in writing which comments on society and the world. With essays regarding alienation from big city life (Nicole Flattery 32:2 (2015)), to reflections on space, light and university halls (Claire Louise Bennett 31:2 (2015)), to flash fiction about a balloon salesman and his besotted middle-aged female customers (Danielle McLaughlin 28:2 (2014)), the journal abounds with wry, sad and cutting commentary on the society and the world in which we live.

So, for those who, like me, assumed Early Printed Books & Special Collections was for medievalists, early modernists and Victorian enthusiasts, give it a go! Thanks to the team’s dedication to preserving current Irish writing for the next generation of readers, there is a wealth of new material waiting to be explored.