Professor John Thompson, Head of the School of English
Sinead Morrissey, Lecturer in English and Creative Writer
At the recent Charter Day dinner celebrating Queen’s Centenary, Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney declared that Queen’s is the proud host of one of the top global centres for creative writing, with three of the world’s leading poets writing in the English language based in the School of English.
Ciaran Carson, Medbh McGuckian and Sinead Morrissey are the three creative writers in question, whose work has made an impact on the global literary stage. Sinead Morrissey is the most recently appointed of the three and is this year's winner of the UK’s biggest poetry competition, run by the Poetry Society, and a recent recipient of a Lannan Foundation Fellowship.
Her creative writing colleague, novelist Glenn Patterson, has also just been awarded $100,000 from the Lannan Foundation in America. The Foundation’s Literary Awards Scheme was established in 1989 to honour writers whose work is of exceptional quality; previous winners include Seamus Heaney and John McGahern. It is unusual that Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowships have been awarded outside North America and unprecedented to find that the Awards have gone in consecutive years to writers in the same UK institution.
This international recognition for Morrissey and Patterson's work has undoubtedly been aided by the creation of the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s, part of the world-class focus on creative writing and poetry criticism within the School. The Centre is one of the biggest developments undertaken by the School of English since the last RAE in 2001.
The first Centre of Excellence for poetry in Ireland, its director is Ciaran Carson. It provides resources for emerging and established poets, researchers and critics, and serves to link creativity to criticism and academic scholarship. Through annual programmes of readings by poets and scholars, the Centre ensures that the dynamic tradition of poetry at Queen's extends to a wide audience and is of benefit to students, writers in the community, and the public at large. The School is currently host to the sixth Ireland Chair of Poetry, a three-year post held by Michael Longley and funded through an internationally-acclaimed inter-institutional all-island initiative.
Speaking after receiving the latest RAE results, Professor John Thompson, Head of the School of English, said: “Once again we have convincing evidence that the Seamus Heaney Centre and our colleagues in the School are truly world class in their aspirations and achievements and a veritable 'jewel in the crown' of Arts and Humanities research at Queen's.
“Next year we are pioneering a brand new MA in English that will focus particularly on modern poetry, and in the very near future, probably for entrants to Queen's in 2010, we are introducing an undergraduate degree programme in English with Creative Writing that will set the standard for the UK higher education sector.
“As a research-intensive twenty-first-century Humanities subject, we actively promote the cross-fertilisation of creative and critical activities in the Heaney Centre with research in English language and linguistics and from medieval to modern literary studies - across all of our research clusters in the School, in fact. The Centre's existence at the centre of the School for the past five years has undoubtedly assisted us to reach and maintain the world-class research standard in the Arts and Humanities of which the School has now shown itself fully capable.
“English is one of the biggest units of assessment in the RAE. As a result, the competition facing us in the league tables that will be spawned by these latest research judgements is far greater than for smaller subjects, so that makes our achievements today seem even more remarkable and significant for Queen's.”
The BBC has also recognised the quality of work within the School, supporting a BBC Writer in Residence post based at the Heaney Centre (Dr Ian Sansom). Established by the BBC to celebrate the life and achievements of local writer and broadcaster Louis MacNeice, the initiative has resulted in a partnership between two of the principal promoters of the creative arts in Northern Ireland, one that is of enormous economic and social relevance as an internationally-acknowledged centre of excellence for the creative and performing arts for the wider arts community.
The School also works with Foras na Gaeilge, the body responsible for the promotion of the Irish language throughout Ireland that supports a traditional singer in residence at the Seamus Heaney Centre. It has recently entered a new partnership with the Royal Literary Fund, through whom two RLF English writing fellows have been funded this year, one shared with St Mary's University College. The Fulbright Commission has recently announced that the School will also now be the annual recipient of two of the eighteen new Senior Fellowships that the Commission has introduced in leading UK universities.
A lively local schools outreach programme is run each year in English, as well as the annual Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry Summer School. This year ten Queen's students spent a month at the University of Hyderabad, one of India’s top research and postgraduate institutes, funded through the Prime Minister's Initiative 2, a British Council sponsored-scheme. The links with Hyderabad stretch back to the 1980s and are strong and abiding. Over the past two years, a series of students and staff from Hyderabad have visited the School and, in November 2009 a British Council-sponsored visit to India by Heaney Centre poets and critics will include Hyderabad on the itinerary.
Queen’s School of English also has links with Georgetown University in Washington and growing links with other top North American campuses. Professor Mark McMorris, a leading Caribbean poet and Director of the Lannan Center for Poetry and Social Practice in Georgetown was one of their poets who visited Queen’s in May to take part in the Mitchell Conference. Professor Ciaran Carson will return the compliment in Spring 2009 when he will be International Poet in Residence at Georgetown.
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