Colm Tóibín – On Writing and Ireland | Arts.21 - The Culture Magazine | DW | 14.03.2020
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Arts.21

Colm Tóibín – On Writing and Ireland

Writing as an act of liberation. Colm Tóibín, one of the the most distinguished English writers, talks about women, music, and his home in Ireland.

Watch video 26:05

To Colm Tóibín, writing is "like music, in that it’s based on melody. It’s based on rhythm.” Before readers engage their intellect, he tells us in this exclusive interview, a deeper urge should entice them to turn the page - as if they were following a rhythm. Born in southeast Ireland in 1955, Colm Tóibín is one of the most celebrated English writers of our time. He lives in Ireland and the USA, and teaches at Columbia University in New York.

His novels, essays and plays have found wide acclaim. Four have been shortlisted for the coveted Booker Prize. His most popular novel to date, "Brooklyn” was even adapted for the silver screen. Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay for this touching story of a young girl who flees from economic hardship in Ireland and builds a new life in New York. ((FOTO - Brooklyn)) Much of his writing has autobiographical references. "Nora Webster” (2014) is a thinly veiled account of Tóibín’s own mother. The tale is set in the small town of Enniscorthy on the southeast coast of Ireland in County Wexford - right where Tóibín was born. Like the heroine of the novel, Toíbín’s mother also lost her husband. And like the heroine’s son, the author developed a stutter after his father’s death. The figures in Tóibín’s writing are mostly provincial, simple characters, which he brings to life with a uniquely insightful and delicate touch. He’s most accomplished in female portrayals. "I was brought up by women,” he says, "no matter what they said, it would be fascinating.” And so, the ambivalent relation between mothers and their sons is one of the main motifs in his work. The sons in his novels and collection of short fiction "Mothers and Sons” (2009) not only struggle with their relationship with their mothers, but also with metaphorical maternal institutions, with Ireland itself and the Catholic church. Many of his writings deal with rebelling against and fleeing from emotional and social constraints. Colm Tóibín actively pursues equal rights for homosexuals, and was one of the first to advocate same-sex marriage in Ireland.

When asked why Ireland has brought forth so many great authors - James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw, Seamus Heaney - despite having fewer than 5 million inhabitants, Colm Tóibín’s reply is as delightfully straightforward as his writing: "The only way out of poverty was education. And the only way to education was literacy. So literacy became a sort of fetish in poor families. Books, reading, and writing.” Art.21 meets a great author and a deeply likable individual: Colm Tóibín.