Wednesday, December 15, 2010

'Threshold' Contributors: John McGahern

Threshold emerged at an exciting time for Irish literature. As previously discussed, the magazine had contact with writers such as Seamus Heaney and Brian Friel at early stages in their careers. However, they were positively famous at that time compared to the next subject of this series of blog posts, John McGahern.

McGahern first wrote to Mary O’Malley in January 1959, and the form of the letter is recognisable to anyone who has tried to have an editor publish their work. He had not yet appeared in print, and mentions that his first novel is being considered by publishers at the moment. This novel, The Barracks, was in fact not published until 1963, but was met with universal acclaim. The book won the AE Memorial Award from the Arts Council, and led to McGahern being awarded the Macauley Fellowship. The Fellowship allowed him to take a year off from his teaching position, during which he travelled widely and completed his second novel, The Dark. This novel became notorious after falling foul of the Censorship Act and being banned due to its themes of parental and clerical child abuse. A second letter (from June 1962) discusses the possible publication of an excerpt from The Barracks in Threshold.

McGahern's other works include The Leavetaking (based on his own experiences during and after his sabbatical year), The Pornographer, and most famously, Amongst Women. Like Friel and Heaney, McGahern was a member of Aosdána, until his death in March 2006.

It is particularly appropriate that these documents are stored here in NUI Galway Archives. John McGahern’s personal papers are one of our major literary collections, having been presented by the author in 2003. Further deposits were made by his widow Madeline McGahern in 2006 and 2007. This collection is available now (by appointment – please see staff page for contact details), and we are delighted to be able to make the full descriptive list available online.

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