Renowned Irish author to fill Hein-bold Chair

Megan Angelo

Sebastian Barry, famed Irish author and finalist for this year’s Man Booker Prize for fiction, will teach two University classes this spring as the Heimbold Professor of Irish Studies.Barry’s novel “A Long Long Way” was named to the Booker shortlist, designating it one of just six contenders for the most prestigious award in contemporary fiction. The book, which chronicles a young Irish man’s World War I experiences, was hailed by British newspaper The Independent as “unsurpassed in First World War fiction, a small masterpiece with an exhilarating resoluteness and authority.”At the University, Barry will teach an undergraduate English and Honors class entitled “Modern Irish Voices,” which will explore major contemporary Irish playwrights. He will also conduct a playwriting workshop for graduate students.Father David Cregan, an assistant professor in the theatre department who earned a doctorate in Irish drama in Ireland, suggested Barry for the slot after Cregan’s former professors recommended the writer.”There’s something extremely ethereal about his work that borders on what I would describe as spiritual, in a secular sense,” Cregan said. “There’s a type of spiritual pathos in his writing that was always very attractive to me. His storylines and the way that he builds character interaction is incredibly emotional and intense.”Villanova Theatre will produce Barry’s plays “Prayers Sherkin” and “Fred and Jane.” “Prayers Sherkin” will run from Feb. 7 to Feb. 19 as part of the theatre group’s spring season while “Fred and Jane” will serve as the centerpiece of a week-long festival in April celebrating Barry’s work in all genres.”When it came time to choose a play to do, I really pushed Sherkin, because that play is particularly inspiring to me,” Cregan said. “It’s based on a sect of people that left England and settled in Ireland that would be very similar to the Quakers or the pilgrims. They were going on this mission-type thing. It brings together nature, human emotion and spirituality.”Born in Dublin, Barry now lives in County Wicklow, Ireland, with his wife, Alison, and his children. He holds academic posts at the University of Iowa and Trinity College in Dublin. His other works include the novels “The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty” and “Annie Dunne” as well as two highly acclaimed plays, “The Steward of Christendom” and “Whistling Psyche.” He has also written poetry and children’s novels.The Heimbold Chair endowment, a gift from University alum and Bristol-Myers Squibb C.E.O. Charles A. Heimbold, has allowed the Irish studies department to bring prominent members of the Irish literary community to the University each year since 2000. Former appointees include Irish poets Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Vona Groarke and Conor O’Callaghan.