Dublin One City One Book: The Long Gaze Back

The book arose from a desire to amplify the voices of women who write. Being chosen for Dublin: One City One Book will help introduce these talented writers to new readers

The launch of The Long Gaze Back as Dublin’s One City One Book

The launch of The Long Gaze Back as Dublin’s One City One Book

 

The Dublin One City One Book annual festival has been running since 2006 when Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds was chosen as the book to get Dubliners reading during the month of April. This year the book is The Long Gaze Back: An Anthology of Irish Women Writers edited by Sinéad Gleeson and it is hoped by the organisers that it will be the festival’s biggest year yet.

Many cities around the world run similar schemes – it seems especially popular as a concept in the US where New York and Chicago both have projects similar to Dublin’s. This is a simple and powerful recipe to encourage both regular and reluctant readers to read, share and discuss the same book. The message is straightforward: Here’s a great book – take it home from your public library or buy your own copy, read it, discuss it with your book club, family, work colleagues and friends – maybe even start a book club. The idea is for the city to be “en fete”, in celebration of the chosen title indoors and outdoors, with banners on lamp posts, posters in book shop windows and book displays in libraries.

Partner organisations across the city get involved every year in planning events exploring the book from a myriad of vantage points. This year The New Theatre celebrates female voices in Irish literature with dramatised readings of four of the short stories in The Long Gaze Back followed by a discussion with its authors. The Irish Writers Centre is running workshops on short story writing, while the Contemporary Music Centre will host two events highlighting female musicians over the last 130 years. Kilmainham Gaol is hosting a special literary tour of the gaol featuring women writers, while The Song Gaze Back, featuring Inni-K, Lisa Loughrey, Sinéad White and Fehdah will respond to the work of women songwriters of the last 200 years. All the library authorities in Dublin are hosting events and the books are available to borrow in public libraries throughout the country.

Since its inception in 2006, Dublin City Council has invited citizens to read and attend events based on novels such as Dubliners by James Joyce, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Strumpet City by James Plunkett and The Barrytown Trilogy by Roddy Doyle. In more recent times, Dedalus Press worked with the Dublin Unesco City of Literature office to come up with a totally new offering with If Ever You Go: A Map of Dublin in Poetry and Song, as poetry was given the spotlight and brought to a whole new audience.

There has been a strong focus on classics over the 13 years but, as the years go on, we see a great variety of different books emerging, with poetry and now short stories added to the list. The idea is that the book piques interest – it may be a genre that the reader hasn’t yet tried or a classic they’ve always meant to tackle. Short stories seem like a good choice for the modern citizen – rushing around or commuting with maybe only a 20-minute slot to devote to reading for pleasure. But that’s enough when you can select from a great offering such as The Long Gaze Back. It’s very likely that this book will provide the inspiration to readers to delve further into the work of its authors.

In 2016 the festival joined with Libraries Northern Ireland for a joint Two Cities One Book initiative when Fallen by Lia Mills was read by citizens of Dublin and Belfast with both cities programming events themed around the book. The book was a perfect fit that year as it describes the lives of ordinary citizens of Dublin caught up in the 1916 Rising.

Each year the book lends itself to different events based on the themes. From talks on the first World War (Sebastian Barry’s A Long Long Way) to performances of Oscar Wilde’s plays (The Picture of Dorian Gray) to Italia 90 events and renaming Kilbarrack Dart station as Barrytown for the month of April (Roddy Doyle’s The Barrytown Trilogy) to a look back at the success of the television series Strumpet City (James Plunkett). Dublin City’s tribute to Seamus Heaney was held during the 2014 festival in partnership with Poetry Ireland, with Paul Simon, Theo Dorgan, Liam O’Flynn, Paula Meehan and many more poets and musicians celebrating the work of the Nobel Laureate.

In 2010 Dublin was designated a Unesco City of Literature – the fourth city to receive the designation after Edinburgh, Melbourne and Iowa City, and festivals such as Dublin: One City One Book highlight the importance of books and reading in a city renowned for writers. It’s a democratic and inclusive initiative with books being available in audio and large print formats, as well as electronically and even in Braille, thanks to the involvement of the National Council for the Blind of Ireland.

This inclusion extends to the invitation to the public to suggest titles for future years, which they can do by contacting Dublin Unesco City of Literature through the Dublin: One City One Book website. Indeed choosing a title is a lengthy process every year with much discussion with publishers, librarians and those involved in all aspects of the literary world of Dublin. Books need to be in print of course with authors and publishers willing to get involved but thankfully the initiative is usually seen as a very positive thing to get onboard with.

The Long Gaze Back contains 30 short stories spanning three centuries from writers such as Maria Edgeworth, Mary Lavin, Anne Enright up to young writers such as Elizabeth Reapy and Eimear Ryan.

It’s a timely choice with 2018 being the centenary of the hard-won suffragette vote and an ideal time to shine a light on women writers of today as well as those from the past, some of whom may have been forgotten. New Island Books, publishers of The Long Gaze Back, are also reprising the work of Norah Hoult this year as it happens, with her book Cocktail Bar reprinted to catch a wave of new interest.

As Sinéad Gleeson said “The book arose from a desire to amplify the voices of women who write, and being chosen for Dublin: One City One Book will help to introduce these talented writers to all kinds of new readers.” So it’s fitting that Dublin City Libraries wholeheartedly commits to promoting the writers in the anthology as well as to introduce their other works, and other women writers to the reading population.

http://www.dublinonecityonebook.ie/

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