Claire Keegan: Ireland’s Leading Short Story Writer

claire keeganI was lucky enough to attend a seminar a few years ago with the amazing Irish short story writer Claire Keegan. While I was studying in Ireland, she gave our group a crash course on “timing” in short story writing. It was the most brilliant and concise teaching I’ve ever received.

When we concluded the day, she left us with a great encouragement. “Meet all kinds of people,” she said. “It really does have a civilizing effect because people will tell you things about yourself from their perspective. It’s an act of love, really.”

Claire, author of the collections Antarctica and Walk the Blue Fields, has a short story in the most recent New Yorker. “Foster” won the Davy Byrnes Irish Writing Award 2009. Read a slice of it below:

Early on a Sunday, after first Mass in Clonegal, my father, instead of taking me home, drives deep into Wexford toward the coast, where my mother’s people came from. It is a hot August day, bright, with patches of shade and greenish sudden light along the road. We pass through the village of Shillelagh, where my father lost our red shorthorn in a game of forty-five, and on past the mart in Carnew, where the man who won her sold her not long afterward. My father throws his hat on the passenger seat, winds down the window, and smokes. I shake the plaits out of my hair and lie flat on the back seat, looking up through the rear window. I wonder what it will be like, this place belonging to the Kinsellas. I see a tall woman standing over me, making me drink milk still hot from the cow. I see another, less likely version of her, in an apron, pouring pancake batter into a frying pan, asking would I like another, the way my mother sometimes does when she is in good humor. The man will be her size. He will take me to town on the tractor and buy me red lemonade and crisps. Or he’ll make me clean out sheds and pick stones and pull ragweed and docks out of the fields. I wonder if they live in an old farmhouse or a new bungalow, whether they will have an outhouse or an indoor bathroom, with a toilet and running water.

An age, it seems, passes before the car slows and turns in to a tarred, narrow lane, then slams over the metal bars of a cattle grid. On either side, thick hedges are trimmed square. At the end of the lane, there’s a white house with trees whose limbs are trailing the ground.

“Da,” I say. “The trees.”

“What about them?”

“They’re sick,” I say.

“They’re weeping willows,” he says, and clears his throat.

Read Foster by Claire Keegan (The New Yorker, 15 February 2010)