The Best Writer You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of

Emily Martin - March 24, 2014

For those who don’t know the woman called the “doyenne of Irish Literature” here’s why you should want to get to know Edna O’Brien and her work.

She’s a rebel.

She was born into a strict, religious, traditional Irish family, but rebellion was brewing in Edna O’Brien, even at a young age.
She married against her parents’ wishes, moved from her familiar County Clare to metropolitan London, and cultivated her passion for writing.

Edna O'Brien via Graham Harrison/Alamy
Via Graham Harrison/Alamy

And write she did—pages and pages of stunning prose that touched on intense longings, the tragedy of love, and what it was to be a cosmopolitan woman in the 20th century.

Edna O'Brien, The Country Girls via Phoenix Publishing
Via Phoenix Publishing

Her books ruffled more than a few feathers; when her debut novel The Country Girls was published in 1960 it was banned in her home country, Ireland.

She's tough, and so are her characters.

Edna O'Brien, via Edna O'Brien
Via Edna O’Brien

A novel “has a right and a duty to ask very painful and difficult questions” she once said. So O’Brien asked tough questions of her characters and followed them through tense, tragic, and sometimes terrifying situations—like the time one of her characters, an old woman who opposed the I.R.A., tried to redeem an I.R.A. killer by allowing him to take refuge in her house.

She knows how to party.

Edna O'Brien, via Getty Images
Via Getty Images

When O’Brien burst onto the London literary scene in the 1960s, her work titillated readers. Never before had a woman written so frankly about sex and desire in modern life.

Edna O'Brien, via John Minihan
Via John Minihan

She dropped acid and threw parties for the likes of Sean Connery, Jane Fonda, and Princess Margaret. Paul McCartney improvised a song after spending an evening with her, singing ”Oh, Edna O’Brien…She’ll blow your mind away”

Edna O'Brien, via Rex Features
Via ITV / Rex Features

Her frankness gave her entrée to social circles that included JD Salinger (Jerry, as she called him) Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, and Robert Mitchum, all of whom surely were charmed by the remarkably talented woman who exuded such style and independence.

She's just released her memoir

Edna O'Brien, via Little, Brown and Company
Via Little, Brown and Company

“Country Girl” comes out in paperback on May 6. Pick up a copy to learn more about this gritty, witty, charming author whose lyrical prose continues to captivate readers around the world.

She’s coming to Carlow University!
That’s right, the doyenne of Irish literature is coming to Pittsburgh to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Carlow University MFA program. And you can claim a spot at her talk to learn more Edna’s take on life, literature, and love.

Please join us for An Evening with Edna O’Brien: A Life of Writing on Saturday, April 5, 2014, 7:30 p.m.

Click here for more info and to reserve your seat!