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)

Alice Kesner’s “The Peace Vigil”

6830081_550x550_mb_art_r0I’m not sure what to think about ending up as a minor character in a short story, except to say that I’m honored. Alice Kesner posted “The Peace Vigil” at Political Affairs magazine (tag line “Marxist Thought Online”).  I think she makes a good effort at crafting the “stuff” of life into the art of life–carving away what’s less important, so that the essential tensions and beauties stand out. Thanks, Alice! Here’s an excerpt:

Dusk, in the living room of a rambling, country-style house in Texas, where three women and two men are about to mark an important occasion. It’s the second anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, and while in urban places people are commemorating the day with antiwar marches and demonstrations, in this small Hill Country town these five folks are about to hold a peace vigil. …

At this moment, Bruce, who reclines at the other end of the sofa, waves some sheets of paper in the air. “Folks, I’ve got me some copies here of a humdinger responsorial by a Rose Marie Berger, hot off the Internet.” Bruce, who owns a thirty-acre pecan ranch, is slim, loose-jowled and rugged in blue jeans, sports jacket and the cowboy hat he always wears, even indoors. A friend of Mary’s from school days, and for a brief period a long time ago her lover, he finds himself, now twice divorced, drifting back into Mary’s emotional orbit.

Read Alice Kesner’s whole story here. If you want to read the litany she references,  see below.

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