Ireland can harness the “soft power” generated by its writers on the world stage while broadening the horizons of children by investing “tiny seed money” in literature, according to a group set up to amplify the voice of authors.
With Irish authors currently surfing a wave of critical acclaim, Words Ireland, an umbrella groups of seven literature organisations, will on Thursday make the case to TDs for greater financial support for the sector.
Authors Anne Enright and Paul Murray, along with Words Ireland chairman and managing director of Penguin Ireland Michael McLaughlin, are due to contribute to the presentation in Leinster House.
The group will point out that over the last 20 years four Irish authors have won the international Dublin Literary Award – the world’s largest literary prize – while five have made it on to the shortlist of the prestigious Goldsmith Prize for experimental fiction in its first six years.
Reaching back into the past, they will remind politicians that four Irish authors have won the Nobel Prize for Literature – while warning that past successes cannot be taken for granted.
Words Ireland’s pre-Budget submission calls on the Government to increase financial supports for writers.
It seeks the reinstatement of the school library fund scrapped during the financial crisis and suggests that buying just one library book for each primary school child in the State would go a long way to getting young people “off their devices and reading early”.
‘Inspire the next generation’
It wants an increase in funding for writers to visit schools to "inspire the next generation of Irish writers" and says more support should be given to emerging and professional writers through Arts Council funding and bursaries.
Enhanced funding for promoting and translating Irish literature for overseas markets would "help maintain Ireland's reputation as a nation of outstanding writers" while a literary hub on Parnell Square and a new writers residence at George Bernard Shaw house on Synge Street could give Irish writers a 21st-century home.
Mr McLaughlin told The Irish Times that while other sectors of the arts community can make “a bigger bang, writers are on their own and they are not typically people who shout from the rooftops so as a sector we need to work together”.
“Ireland places so much value on its writers and we would really miss them if they weren’t there but they don’t just come out of the ether, they need support.” He suggested much of what Words Ireland wants – including the funding of primary school libraries – could be achieved for around €5 million.
His comments were echoed by Booker Prize-winning author and inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction, Anne Enright. She said Ireland’s literary tradition world was “more fragile than you think, and people do get lost”.
While acknowledging writers had "always lived a pretty precarious existence", they faced greater challenges now than in the past. "How much rent did Patrick Kavanagh have to pay? Or how much was a pint? He didn't really need a lot more than that."
She said “to sustain the tradition we are talking about tiny seed money, all we need to do is cover the art with a gentle soft rain”.