CFP: Innovation and Experiment in Contemporary Irish Fiction – University of Leuven – 29 Nov – 1 Dec 2018

Since the turn of the twentieth-century, Irish fiction has seen innovation and experimentation on many different fronts. Many novelists have pushed the boundaries of the novel form and also the Irish short story is being rewritten along new lines. It is in this respect telling that the Goldsmiths Prize for innovative fiction has, since its inception in 2013, already been awarded to three Irish novelists and that many other Irish writers have won major prizes such as the Booker Prize, the Costa Award, and the BBC short story award. To get a sense of the variety of innovation and experimentation that is going on in Irish fiction at the moment, think of the re-kindling of (post)modernist experiment by Eimer McBride, Mike McCormack and Caitriona Lally; the extraordinary take of ordinary life by Sara Baume, Colm Tóibín, Donal Ryan, and Claire-Louise Bennett; the play with genre conventions in the work of Claire Kilroy, John Banville, and Anne Enright; the powerful re-invention of the historical novel by Lia Mills, Sebastian Barry, and Mary Morrissy; or the darkly comic tales of Irish life on the part of Kevin Barry, Lisa McInerney, Keith Ridgway and Paul Murray. In the short story too, formal experimentation and innovation can be found in the work of a new generation of Irish writers: Danielle McLoughlin, Lucy Caldwell, Mary Costello, and Colin Barrett have exploited the conventions of the traditional Irish realist story to suit their own thematic ends, while writers like Jan Carson, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Roisin O’Donnell and June Caldwell combine the realist story with magical, folkloric or fantastic elements to tell tales about contemporary Dublin and Belfast life.

By exploring the work of these and many other contemporary Irish writers, the conference aims further scrutinize the form and function of experimentation and innovation in Irish fiction today. Topics that will be addressed include those of genre and genre hybridity, style, rhetoric, narrative structure and intermediality: Which new fictional techniques are being used and what thematic or ideological aims do they serve? To what genres or subgenres can these texts be said to belong and how are generic conventions deployed in new ways? How do these fictional texts move over into neighbouring genres, such as life writing, journalism, non-fiction and history? In addition, the conference hopes to address literary historical questions about the new developments: In what ways do these works hark back to earlier waves of experiment: modernism, postmodernism, avant garde movements? Do these texts incorporate or intertextually refer to earlier traditions of Irish or, more generally, European literature? The interaction between formal experiment and thematic innovation is also a central question pertaining to the conference theme: Which themes are being privileged or explored in these texts? How do they raise new and pressing questions about (Irish) life? This also leads to the question of the ‘Irishness’ of these new fictions: Do they embody a specifically Irish tradition or are they part of international movements and traditions? To what extent are formal innovations linked to the thematic concern of many writers to explore the changes in contemporary Ireland? Apart from papers addressing these and related questions, we also invite papers that apply new critical models (e.g. from such fields as affect theory, the posthuman, book studies, ecocriticism, gender studies, memory, trauma and age studies) to contemporary Irish fiction.

Please send proposals for a 20 min paper, together with a short bio, to and before 15 May. The conference will take place in the Leuven Irish College, where there is also accommodation available.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *