Emma Donoghue, novelist, literary historian, teacher, playwright, radio and film scriptwriter (born 24 October 1969 in Dublin, Ireland).
Emma Donoghue, novelist, literary historian, teacher, playwright, radio and film scriptwriter (born 24 October 1969 in Dublin, Ireland). Winner of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Emma Donoghue is one of Canada's most important literary imports.
Early Life and Education
The youngest in a family of eight children, Donoghue is the product of a determinedly literary Irish Catholic family. Her parents are Denis Donoghue, Henry James Professor of Letters at New York University, and Frances Donoghue née Rutledge, a teacher of English. Named in homage to Jane Austen's Emma, Donoghue was exposed from early childhood to a range of literatures and the dynamics of a literary career. As she has said, remarking on her formative years, she learnt early on that publishing a book a year was a normal way of life.
After early training at Catholic convent schools, Donoghue was educated at University College Dublin (BA, English literature and French, 1990) and at Cambridge University (PhD, English literature, 1997). In addition to her prolific writing career in several media, Donoghue has taught creative writing for the Cheltenham Literary Festival, the Arvon Foundation, the University of Western Ontario and the University of York.
Donoghue has created close and productive ties with Canada and its literary community. She relocated from Cambridge, UK, to Canada in 1998 to join her companion and partner, Christine (Chris) Roulston, a professor of Women's Studies, Feminist Research and French at the University of Western Ontario. The couple resides openly as a lesbian couple in London, ON, where they are raising their two children. Owing to her 2010 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, Donoghue judges her Canadian transition a fully realized success. An attractive case in intersecting national identities, Donoghue maintains dual citizenships in Ireland, the land of her birth and rearing, and in Canada, her adoptive home and the setting of her creative florescence.
Donoghue's public career began in early youth when she already considered herself a literary sensation. While a teenager she was writing poetry, her original interest, and maintaining (with an early eye to fame) a carefully preserved record of her writings in a series of bound books, titled, in large bold letters: EMMA DONOGHUE: THE WORKS. Donoghue felt destined for literary success and never wanted for confidence.
The thematic underpinnings of her writings are often inspired by actual historical events and personages. Slammerkin (2000) is a historical novel of an employee's grisly murder of her employer, and includes elements of violence, sexual brutality and deviance, the sex trade and the urban underclass. More recently, as in Room (2010), Donoghue balances the sensationalistic turn of her imagination with the more conservative theme of motherhood, one of her newer interests and personal themes. Yet most of her plots and characters are inspired by real case studies, whether from police records and newspapers or the lesbian popular press. Room was adapted for screen by Irish director Lenny Abrahamson with a screenplay by Donogue. The film was selected for the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.
In 2014, Donoghue published Frog Music. The book’s sensational narrative was inspired by an unsolved murder on the outskirts of San Francisco during the summer of 1876 involving two French transients: a female burlesque dancer and sex worker and a female-to-male cross-dresser.
One of her most spectacular and popular achievements is We Are Michael Field (1998), the first historical and literary biography since the 1920s of the Victorian collaborative writers and lovers (as well as aunt and niece), Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper, who presented themselves in print under a united pseudonymous identity: Michael Field. Donoghue's biography of this riveting but long-overlooked lesbian couple draws upon their unpublished diaries, poetry and plays.
Donoghue’s body of work has introduced a fresh, if often jarring, voice in modern fiction produced by women. While her fantastic and gripping subject matter may not be to everyone's tastes, Donoghue has extended the boundaries of women's writing in the 20th and 21st centuries, while also redefining standards of literary success. As a measure of her popularity, Donoghue has inspired a large and faithful coterie of readers in the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and now in her adoptive home, Canada.
Donoghue has garnered many awards and distinctions: 2011 British Orange Prize for Fiction Written by Women nomination (for Room); (shortlisted) 2010 Man Booker Prize nomination (for Room); 2010 Canada's Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize; New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of 2010 (for Room); 1997 Stonewall Book Award (for Hood); 2002 Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction (for Slammerkin).
- Stir-Fry (1994)
- Hood (1995)
- Kissing the Witch (1997)
- Ladies' Night at Finbar's Hotel (1999)
- Slammerkin (2000)
- The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits (2002)
- Life Mask (2004)
- Touchy Subjects (2006)
- Landing (2007)
- The Sealed Letter (2008)
- Room (2010)
- Three and a Half Deaths (2011)
- Astray (2012)
- Frog Music (2014)
- I Know My Own Heart (1993)
- Ladies and Gentlemen (1996)
- Kissing the Witch (San Francisco, 2000)
- Don’t Die Wondering (2005)
- The Talk of the Town (2012)
Scripts for Radio and Film
- Trespasses (RTE, 1996)
- Error Messages (RTÉ, Ireland, 1999)
- Daddy's Girl (BBC Radio 4, 2000)
- Don’t Die Wondering (BBC Radio 4, 2000)
- Exes (BBC Radio 4, 2001)
- Pluck (film script, Zanzibar Productions, 2001)
- Humans and Other Animals (BBC Radio 4, 2003)
- Mix (BBC Radio 3, 2003)
- Room (2015)
Non-Fiction and Anthologies
- The Mammoth Book of Lesbian Short Stories (1999)
- Passions between Women: British Lesbian Culture, 1668–1801(1993)
- What Sappho Would Have Said: Four Centuries of Love Poems between Women (1997)
- We Are Michael Field (1998)
Stacia L. Bensyl, "Emma Donoghue," Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 267 (2002); Maureen E. Mulvihill, "Emma Donoghue," in Irish Women Writers: An A-to-Z Guide, ed. Alexander G. Gonzalez (2006); Rachel Wingfield, "Lesbian Writers in the Mainstream," in Beyond Sex and Romance: The Politics of Contemporary Lesbian Fiction, ed. Elaine Hutton (1998).