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Leading Irish novelist to visit UConn (Released: 4/7/98)

by Karen Grava Williams, Office of University Communications.

Storrs, Conn. -- Edna O’Brien, Ireland’s leading novelist, will be the first speaker in the Elizabeth Shanley Gerson Memorial Irish Literature program at the University of Connecticut.

O’Brien, author of The Country Girls trilogy of novels, will speak at UConn’s William Benton Museum of Art at 7:30 p.m. on April 23. Her talk will be titled "The Homeland: Readings by Edna O’Brien." The reading will be followed by a book signing and reception.

O’Brien's talk is co-sponsored by the UConn Co-op, The Benton Museum and the English Department’s newly established Gerson Memorial Irish Literature Program.

Gerson, who died last August, had a love of Irish literature and was an avid reader. She earned her bachelor’s degree from UConn in 1948 and her master of social work degree in 1978. Gerson, an Irish orphan, and her husband, Professor Emeritus Louis L. Gerson, a 1948 UConn graduate and the University’s long-time chair of the political science department, have three children, including Annie Gerson Swanson, who received a UConn degree in 1984.

"Supporting this program seemed to us like the ideal choice to memorialize our mother," said Elliott Gerson, her son. "Literature, particularly Irish literature, was very important to her, and she loved UConn. We hope to bring distinguished Irish poets and writers to UConn annually to meet with students and faculty and read their work."

Mrs. Gerson was a retired social worker active in many eastern Connecticut causes, and was instrumental in building Mansfield’s Juniper Hill Elderly Housing. She served on the Mansfield committees on elderly housing, tax alternatives, and tax relief to poor and elderly residents.

Born in County Clare in western Ireland, O’Brien has spent the last 20 years living and writing in London and has a reputation for confronting women’s issues, especially related to Catholicism, and Ireland’s traditional views. Her writing style is often compared to that of Virginia Woolf.

Her latest book, Down By the River, was inspired by a controversial incident in Ireland involving a teenage girl sexually abused by her father. The girl is not aided by either her mother or the community until the incest results in her pregnancy, at which point a dramatic clash of opinion results between pro-choice and pro-life groups.

"Irish writer Edna O’Brien has taken a controversial rape case and turned it into a shimmering fiction so intimate and appalling that it takes the breath away," said Elle magazine.

O'Brien is the author of five collections of short stories and 13 novels. Her novel Lantern Slides was the 1990 winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction, which the New York Times said demonstrates O’Brien’s "lyrical voice and heartfelt pulsations."

O’Brien is also the author of Time and Tide, in which Vogue noted O’Brien "shows us those moments that are almost too painful to remember, and the revelations that come with them with an ease that even the most skillful storytellers would envy."

The author has also produced a number of collections of short fictions including Returning, The Love Object, A Scandalous Woman, and A Rose in the Heart.