O’Keeffe Shares Irish Heritage, Novellas

Last week’s author in the Living Writers series did not have to travel more than two flights downstairs to speak in the Ho Lecture Room of Lawrence Hall. Last Thursday, November 12, Assistant Professor of English and renowned Irish author Patrick O’Keeffe led a reading and discussion for the weekly series. There were not enough chairs for the large crowd in the room, demonstrating the support that O’Keeffe has in the Colgate community.

Among other accolades, O’Keeffe has won the 2005 Story Prize, an annual honor for an outstanding collection of short fiction, for The Hill Road. The students in the Living Writers course read this celebrated collection of four novellas that characterizes ordinary people living in rural Ireland.

“I really enjoyed the book. I thought it was interesting that he said the stories from The Hill Road came very naturally to him because he grew up in the landscape and setting in which they’re written,” senior Annie Ben-Ami, who is in the Living Writers course, said.

O’Keeffe relayed that he had a close connection to the landscapes of his novellas of The Hill Road because of his childhood home in County Limerick, Ireland. In The Hill Road, O’Keeffe’s stories shine through in the conversations characters have with each other.

 “Patrick is hyper-attuned to the ways in which people signal their feelings and intentions and pain in words, as well as in silence,” Associate Professor of English and co-instructor of the Living Writer’s course Jennifer Brice said of her colleague’s awareness of people and its influence on his writing style.

O’Keeffe began with a short introduction of himself where attendees learned that he was born on a dairy farm in Ireland and that he spent the first half of his life in rural and urban Ireland.

“I longed to write but I kept it to myself,” O’Keeffe said.

O’Keeffe proceeded to read from a novel he is currently working on, which is set in both the U.S. and Ireland. The selection he read depicted an honest conversation between a man and a woman, set in the city of Dublin.

“As a writer you’re always trying to push yourself to do something you haven’t done,” O’Keeffe said, in regard to setting this particular story in an urban center.

After the reading, O’Keeffe opened himself up to questions from the audience. Most of them were about The Hill Road, and connecting his novels’ landscapes to his personal experiences.

“I wouldn’t write about a place I haven’t been,” O’Keeffe said. “Where you live and where you grow up affects you enormously.”

O’Keeffe has been compared to such Irish writers as William Trevor and James Joyce by The Baltimore Sun. Soon after the latter comparison was made in 2005, O’Keeffe modestly commented that it was “just  too much.” Another request was made last Thursday for O’Keeffe to comment on this comparison, which was mentioned in Thomas A. Bartlett Chair and Professor of English Jane Pinchin’s introduction of the writer.

“It’s awful. I have a hard time with that label,” O’Keeffe said, again with marked humility.

Brice praised O’Keeffe, reaffirming what The Baltimore Sun said four years ago.

“I think he’s a writer of the first rank, and comparisons to James Joyce, John McGahern, William Trevor and D. H. Lawrence are not overblown,” Brice said. “Every time I read his novellas, I feel lucky all over again that the person who put those sentences together works across the hall from me.”