In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Twenty-First-Century Irish Prose

  • Introduction
  • General Studies and Background
  • Children’s and Young Adult Writing
  • Irish Language Prose
  • Nature Writing and the Anthropocene
  • Irish Prose and the Digital World

British and Irish Literature Twenty-First-Century Irish Prose
by
Paige Reynolds
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0198

Introduction

In 2018, while serving as the second Laureate for Irish Fiction, the author Sebastian Barry proclaimed, “We are in an unexpected golden age of Irish prose writing” (Barry 2018, cited under General Studies and Background). His announcement referred in part to a surfeit of new literary fiction by writers from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, including works by Anna Burns, Mike McCormack, and Sally Rooney, which has won widespread critical acclaim and prestigious literary prizes as well as commercial success. Scholarship relevant to many such writers and texts are cited in the separate Oxford Bibliographies articles “The Contemporary Irish Novel” and “The Irish Short Story.” However, the term “prose” also invites attention to other forms composed amid this “golden age” that have come to the fore but thus far received less critical attention. In 21st-century Ireland, nonfiction prose has flourished, derived in part from a rich tradition evident in the Oxford Bibliographies articles “Irish Travel Writing” and “Irish Life Writing.” This bibliography highlights in particular the essay as a prose form that has come to prominence in recent decades. The Irish writer Brian Dillon has emerged as an internationally influential practitioner and theorist of the essay, and collections from Emilie Pine, Emma Dabiri, and Rosaleen McDonagh have helped to expand representation in Irish writing. This entry also includes popular prose forms, among them varieties of genre fiction, young adult and children’s literature, and humor writing. As they have for centuries, Irish prose writers closely examine the natural world, though they now consider a world dramatically marked by climate change, and they assess contemporary conditions in Irish language prose, often turning attention to the transnational aspects of this tradition. In its form, content, and distribution, Irish prose also reflects the rising influence of digital media. One notable feature of much recent prose has been an activist impulse, as seen in projects that expose histories and experiences long hidden, and those that endeavor to assess and even intervene in contemporary sociopolitical movements, among them campaigns for same-sex marriage, reproductive rights, racial justice, and migrant rights. Finally, 21st-century Irish prose benefits from an array of literary magazines and independent publishers that make such work available in print and online to readers across the globe. The categories below reflect the generative overlap between the prose work as creative writing and the prose work as reference, so that a number of texts cited serve both as an example of 21st-century Irish prose as well as an important critical resource for understanding Irish prose.

General Studies and Background

The twenty-first century, in which Irish prose has come to the fore of critical and commercial attention globally, has been marked thus far by significant social, political, and cultural transitions and transformations, such as the increased ethnic and racial diversity of the population, the declining influence of the Catholic Church, an increasingly globalized economy, the institution of Brexit, and more progressive legislation in matters related to gender and sexuality. Wide-ranging accounts of recent Irish writing and culture appear in collections centered on Irish Studies such as Fox, et al. 2021; Maher and O’Brien 2021; and Reynolds 2020. The cultural ramifications of the economic boom and bust of the Celtic Tiger infuse much of this scholarship, as seen in Kiberd 2018, and in two special issues of academic journals: Cleary 2018 and Bonner and Slaby 2011. The increased presence and authority of Irish women prose writers is another theme dominating such accounts of Irish prose, as seen in Bracken and Harney-Mahajan 2021 and Darling and Houston 2021. Today, assessments of Irish contemporary writing are as likely to appear in print monographs or journals, such as Kelleher and Wolf 2017, as in various online fora, such as the blog entry Barry 2018, the informative website Contemporary Irish Writing, or the postings of the Contemporary Irish Literature Research Network (CIL). In these studies, as well as across this entry more generally, the term “Irish” is used sometimes to describe works written by writers from the Republic and Northern Ireland or even abroad, and the term “prose” references writing across genres, both fiction and nonfiction, as well as texts that straddle genres, such as autofiction or the essay.

  • Barry, Sebastian. “Laureate for Irish Fiction Speech.” Faber & Faber (blog), 12 February 2018.

    Offered to mark Barry’s assumption of the second Irish Laureate for Irish Fiction (2018–2021), an honorific funded by the Irish Arts Council, University College Dublin, and New York University, this speech celebrates the “golden age” of Irish prose.

  • Bonner, Kieran, and Alexandra Slaby, eds. Special Issue: Culture and “Out of Placeness” in Post Celtic Tiger Ireland. Canadian Journal of Irish Studies 37.1–2 (2011).

    The essays collected here grapple with the fallout of the Celtic Tiger “boom and bust” to examine the tensions among state, market, and artist that characterize early-21st-century Ireland and surface in forms including film scripts and Irish-language political debates.

  • Bracken, Claire, and Tara Harney-Mahajan, eds. Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland and Contemporary Women’s Writing. New York: Routledge, 2021.

    Originally published in 2017 as a special issue of the academic journal LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory, this collection offers academic essays and interviews focused on Irish contemporary women writers across genres and attends closely to the cultural and economic contexts that inform their work.

  • Cleary, Joe, ed. Special Issue: Ireland: From Boom to Bust and Beyond. boundary 2 45.1 (February 2018).

    This special issue explores contemporary Irish writing across genres to understand the effects of economic cycles on Irish literature and culture.

  • Contemporary Irish Literature Research Network (CIL).

    A research group led by postgraduates composed of editorials, resource lists, and “Spit the Pips,” a series of reflections on contemporary Irish writing.

  • Contemporary Irish Writing.

    A digital resource from University College Dublin and the Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) that features 21st-century writing across genres, both in English and Irish, as well as providing links to reviews, author interviews, and other online resources.

  • Darling, Orlaith, and Dearbhaile Houston, eds. Special Issue: Twenty-First-Century Irish Women’s Writing. Alluvium 9.1 (March 2021).

    This special issue of the postgraduate journal of the British Association for Contemporary Literary Studies (BACLS) offers short essays on recent prose by Irish and Northern Irish women writers.

  • Fox, Renée, Mike Cronin, and Brian Ó Conchubhair, eds. Routledge International Handbook of Irish Studies. London: Routledge, 2021.

    This wide-ranging collection focuses on contemporary conditions in Ireland and provides readings of prose texts, including folklore and literary fiction, as well as assessments of cultural conditions and crises that inform 21st-century Irish writing, among them sexual abuse, racism, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • Kelleher, Margaret, and Nicholas Wolf, eds. Special issue: Ireland and the Contemporary. Éire-Ireland 52.1–2 (2017).

    This special issue offers an array of insightful interdisciplinary essays on 21st-century Irish literature and culture, with valuable attention awarded to new digital forms and to publishing houses in Ireland.

  • Kiberd, Declan. After Ireland: Writing the Nation from Beckett to the Present. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018.

    This third volume of Kiberd’s accounts of Irish writing, following Inventing Ireland (1997) and Irish Classics (2001), tracks the decline of the national project in the Republic and Northern Ireland, underscoring through close readings how writers into the twenty-first century provide a critique of conditions such as economic globalization.

  • Maher, Eamon, and Eugene O’Brien, eds. Reimagining Irish Studies for the Twenty-First Century. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2021.

    A collection marking one hundred publications from the Reimagining Ireland series, this interdisciplinary assessment of the field of Irish studies offers essays on topics such as the representation of the Irish famine in contemporary prose and gender-based violence in Irish women’s contemporary fiction.

  • Reynolds, Paige, ed. The New Irish Studies: Twenty-First-Century Critical Revisions. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2020.

    This collection of critical essays focuses on literature in the Republic and Northern Ireland in the early decades of the twenty-first century, employing a wide range of methodological approaches and with a special attention diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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