Colm Tóibín at the 2006 Texas Book Festival
30 May 1955 |
Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland
|Education||B.A., (Hon) D.Litt.|
|Alma mater||University College Dublin (UCD)|
|Period||Late 20th century – Early 21st century|
|Genres||Essay, Novel, Short Story, Play, Poem|
|Subjects||Irish society, living abroad, the process of creativity, the preservation of a personal identity|
|Notable work(s)||The Heather Blazing
The Story of the Night
The Blackwater Lightship
Tóibín is currently Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University and succeeded Martin Amis as professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester. He was hailed as a champion of minorities as he collected the 2011 Irish PEN Award. In 2011, he was named one of Britain's Top 300 Intellectuals by The Observer.
Tóibín's parents were Bríd and Michael Tóibín. He was born in 1955 in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, in the southeast of Ireland. He is the second youngest of five children. His grandfather, Patrick Tobin, was a member of the IRA, as was his grand-uncle Michael Tobin. Patrick Tobin took part in the 1916 Rebellion in Enniscorthy and was subsequently interned in Frongoch in Wales. Tóibín's father was a teacher who was involved in the Fianna Fáil party in Enniscorthy.
Tóibín grew up in a home where there was, he said, "a great deal of silence." He received his secondary education at St Peter's College, Wexford, where he was a boarder between 1970 and 1972. He later spoke of finding some of the priests attractive.
In July 1972, aged 17, he had a summer job as a barman in the Grand Hotel in Tramore, County Waterford, working from six in the evening to two in the morning. He spent his days on the beach, reading The Essential Hemingway, the copy of which he still professes to have, "pages stained with seawater." It developed in him a fascination with Spain, led to a wish to visit that country, gave him "an idea of prose as something glamorous, smart and shaped, and the idea of character in fiction as something oddly mysterious, worthy of sympathy and admiration, but also elusive. And more than anything, the sheer pleasure of the sentences and their rhythms, and the amount of emotion living in what was not said, what was between the words and the sentences."
He progressed to University College Dublin, graduating in 1975. Immediately after graduation, he left for Barcelona. Tóibín's first novel, 1990's The South, was partly inspired by his time in Barcelona; as was, more directly, his non-fiction Homage to Barcelona (1990). Having returned to Ireland in 1978, he began to study for a masters degree. However, he did not submit his thesis and left academia, at least partly, for a career in journalism.
The early 1980s were an especially bright period in Irish journalism, and the heyday for the monthly news magazine Magill. Tóibín became the magazine's editor in 1982, and remained in the position until 1985. He left due to a dispute with Vincent Browne, Magill's managing director.
Tóibín is a member of Aosdána and has been visiting professor at Stanford University, The University of Texas at Austin and Princeton University. He has also lectured at several other universities, including Boston College, New York University, Loyola University Maryland, and The College of the Holy Cross. He was a professor of creative writing at The University of Manchester succeeding Martin Amis and currently teaches at Columbia University.
The South was followed by The Heather Blazing (1992), The Story of the Night (1996) and The Blackwater Lightship (1999). His fifth novel, The Master (2004), is a fictional account of portions in the life of author Henry James. He is the author of other non-fiction books: Bad Blood: A Walk Along the Irish Border (1994), (reprinted from the 1987 original edition) and The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic Europe (1994).
Tóibín has written two short story collections. His first Mothers and Sons which, as the name suggests, explores the relationship between mothers and their sons, was published in 2006 and was reviewed favourably (including by Pico Iyer in The New York Times). His second, broader collection The Empty Family was published in 2010, and was shortlisted for the 2011 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award.
Tóibín wrote a play, titled Beauty in a Broken Place: this was staged in Dublin in August 2004. He has continued to work as a journalist, both in Ireland and abroad, writing for the London Review of Books among others. He has also achieved a reputation as a literary critic: he has edited a book on Paul Durcan, The Kilfenora Teaboy (1997); The Penguin Book of Irish Fiction (1999); and has written The Modern Library: The 200 Best Novels in English since 1950 (1999), with Carmen Callil; a collection of essays, Love in a Dark Time: Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodóvar (2002); and a study on Lady Gregory, Lady Gregory's Toothbrush (2002).
Tóibín sent a photograph of Borges to Don DeLillo who described it as "the face of Borges against a dark background—Borges fierce, blind, his nostrils gaping, his skin stretched taut, his mouth amazingly vivid; his mouth looks painted; he's like a shaman painted for visions, and the whole face has a kind of steely rapture." DeLillo often seeks inspiration from it.
In 2011, The Times Literary Supplement published his poem "Cush Gap, 2007". 2012 brought the publication of The Testament of Mary. He is currently working on another novel, to be published in 2013.
Tóibín has said his writing comes out of silence. He does not favour story and does not view himself as storyteller. "Ending a novel is almost like putting a child to sleep – it can't be done abruptly."
Tóibín works in the most extreme, severe, austere conditions. He sits on a hard, uncomfortable chair which causes him pain. When working on a first draft he covers the right-hand side only of the page; later he carries out some rewriting on the left-hand side of the page. He keeps a word processor in another room on which to transfer writing at a later time.
Tóibín's work explores several main lines: the depiction of Irish society, living abroad, the process of creativity and the preservation of a personal identity, focusing especially on homosexual identities — Tóibín is openly gay — but also on identity when confronted with loss. The "Wexford" novels, The Heather Blazing and The Blackwater Lightship, use Enniscorthy, the town of Tóibín's birth, as narrative material, together with the history of Ireland and the death of his father. An autobiographical account and reflection on this episode can be found in the non-fiction book, The Sign of the Cross. In 2009, he published Brooklyn, a tale of a woman emigrating to Brooklyn from Enniscorthy.
Two other novels, The Story of the Night and The Master revolve around characters who have to deal with a homosexual identity and take place outside Ireland for the most part, with a character having to cope with living abroad. His first novel, The South, seems to have ingredients of both lines of work. It can be read together with The Heather Blazing as a diptych of Protestant and Catholic heritages in County Wexford, or it can be grouped with the "living abroad" novels. A third topic that links The South and The Heather Blazing is that of creation. Of painting in the first case and of the careful wording of a judge's verdict in the second. This third thematic line culminated in The Master, a study on identity, preceded by a non-fiction book in the same subject, Love in a Dark Time. The book of short stories "Mothers and Sons" deal with family themes, both in Ireland and Catalonia, and homosexuality.
Tóibín has written about gay sex in several novels, though Brooklyn contains a heterosexual sex scene in which the heroine loses her virginity. In his 2012 essay collection New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families he studies the biographies of James Baldwin, J. M. Synge and W. B. Yeats, among others.
Awards and honours
- 1993: Encore Award for a second novel The Heather Blazing
- 1999: Booker Prize shortlist for The Blackwater Lightship
- 2001: International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award shortlisted for The Blackwater Lightship
- 2006: International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for The Master
- 2004 Booker Prize shortlist for The Master
- 2004 Los Angeles Times Novel of the Year for The Master
- 2004 Stonewall Book Award for The Master
- 2004 Lambda Literary Award for The Master
- 2004 The New York Times as one of the ten most notable books of the year for The Master
- 2007: Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
- 2008: Honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (DLitt) at the University of Ulster in recognition of his contribution to contemporary Irish Literature.
- 2009: Booker Prize longlist.
- 2009: Costa Novel Award for Brooklyn
- 2010 Awarded the 38th annual AWB Vincent American Ireland Fund Literary Award.
- 2011: International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award shortlist
- 2011: Irish PEN Award for contribution to Irish literature.
- 2011 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award shortlist for The Empty Family.
- 2013: Booker Prize shortlist for The Testament of Mary
- 2014: Named as a trustee to The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry, which awards the Griffin Poetry Prize
List of works
- The South, London: Serpent's Tail, 1990, ISBN 978-1-85242-170-0
- The Heather Blazing, Picador, 1992, ISBN 978-0-330-32124-2
- The Story of the Night, Picador, 1996, ISBN 978-0-330-34017-5
- The Blackwater Lightship, McClelland and Stewart, 1999, ISBN 978-0-7710-8561-1
- The Master, Picador, 2004, ISBN 978-0-330-48565-4
- Mothers and Sons, Picador, 2006, ISBN 978-0-330-44182-7
- Brooklyn, Dublin: Tuskar Rock Press, 2009, ISBN 978-3-446-23566-3
- The Empty Family, Penguin/Viking, 2010, ISBN 978-0-670-91817-1
- The Testament of Mary, Viking, 2012, ISBN 978-1451688382
- Nora Webster, Scribner, 2014, ISBN 978-1439138335
- Walking along the border, Macdonald, 1987, ISBN 978-0-356-12886-3
- Martyrs and metaphors, Letters from the New Island, vol. 1, no. 2., Raven Arts, 1987, ISBN 978-1-85186-036-4
- The trial of the generals : selected journalism, 1980–1990, Raven Arts Press, 1990, ISBN 978-1-85186-081-4
- Homage to Barcelona, Simon & Schuster, 1990, ISBN 978-0-671-71061-3
- Dubliners, O'Shea, Tony (illus.), London: Macdonald, 1990, ISBN 0-356-17641-X
- Bad Blood: A Walk Along the Irish Border, Picador, 1994, ISBN 978-0-330-52097-3
- The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic Europe, Jonathan Cape, 1994, ISBN 978-0-224-03767-9
- Tóibín, Colm; Callil, Carmel (1999), The Modern Library: The Two Hundred Best Novels in English Since 1950, Picador, ISBN 978-0-330-34182-0
- Love in a Dark Time: Gay Lives From Wilde to Almodovar, Picador, 2002, ISBN 978-0-330-49137-2 (First English edition; Australian edition published 2001)
- Lady Gregory's Toothbrush, University of Wisconsin Press, 2002, ISBN 978-0-299-18000-3
- Schneider, Gregor; O'Hagan, Andrew; Tóibín, Colm (2004), Die Familie Schneider, Artangel, ISBN 978-3-86521-236-8
- The Use of Reason, Picador, 2006, ISBN 978-0-330-44573-3
- A Guest at the Feast. A Memoir, Penguin, 2011, ISBN 978-0-241-96229-9
- New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and their Families, Penguin, 2012, ISBN 978-1-4516-6855-1
- Tóibín, Colm, ed. (1995), The Guinness Book of Ireland, Guinness World Records, ISBN 978-0-85112-597-8
- Tóibín, Colm, ed. (1996), The Kilfenora Teaboy: A Study of Paul Durcan, New Island Books, ISBN 978-1-874597-31-5
- Tóibín, Colm, ed. (1999), The Penguin Book of Irish Fiction, Penguin/Viking, ISBN 978-0-670-85497-4
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Colm Tóibín|
- Allen Randolph, Jody. "Colm Tóibín, December 2009." Close to the Next Moment. Manchester: Carcanet, 2010.
- Boland, Eavan. "Colm Tóibín." Irish Writers on Writing. San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2007.
- Delaney, Paul. Reading Colm Tóibín. Dublin: Liffey Press, 2008.
- "Toibin tries his hand at poetry . . .". Irish Independent. 18 June 2011. Irish Independent. Retrieved on 18 June 2011.
- Barnett, Laura (19 February 2013). "Colm Tóibín, novelist – portrait of the artist". The Guardian (London: Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- Walsh, Caroline (4 February 2011). "Colm Tóibín wins Irish Pen award". The Irish Times (Irish Times Trust). Retrieved 4 February 2011.
- Boland, Rosita (12 February 2011). "Tóibín on song as he pick up Irish Pen award". The Irish Times (Irish Times Trust). Retrieved 12 February 2011.
- Naughton, John (8 May 2011). "Britain's top 300 intellectuals". The Observer (London: Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 8 May 2011.
- Salter, Jessica (27 February 2012). "The World of Colm Tóibín". The Daily Telegraph (London). The Telegraph, 27 February 2012.
- Tóibín, Colm (17 February 2012). "Colm Tóibín: writers and their families". The Guardian (London: Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 17 February 2012.
- "Austen was a woeful speller . . .". Irish Independent. 30 October 2010. Irish Independent. 30 October 2010. 'Although not abused by priests in the Wexford school he attended, he positively fancied some of them. "Aged 15 or 16," he tells interviewer Susanna Rustin, "I found some of the priests sexually attractive, they had a way about them . . . a sexual allure which is a difficult thing to talk about because it's usually meant to be the opposite way round"'.
- "The best holiday reads: Colm Tóibín". The Guardian (London: Guardian Media Group). 17 June 2011. Retrieved 17 June 2011.
- "The Empty Family Stories". Retrieved 21 March 2011.
- Cullen, Conor. "Tóibín in line for major prize". Enniscorthy Guardian. 12 July 2011.
- Begley, Adam. "Don DeLillo, The Art of Fiction No. 135". Paris Review.
- "Writer sentenced over sexual assault". RTÉ News. 6 October 2009. Retrieved 6 October 2009. "At the same court sitting a statement from writer Colm Toibin was read out in court in which he described Hogan as a writer of immense power and importance who dealt with human isolation."
- Lucey, Anne (13 July 2008). "Writer gets backing of colleagues in sex trial". Sunday Independent (Independent News & Media). Retrieved 13 July 2008.
- Tóibín, Colm (13 July 2007). "Writers' rooms: Colm Tóibín". The Guardian (London: Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 13 July 2007.
- Kaplan, James (6 June 2004). "A Subtle Play of Relations Reveals Henry James in Full". The Observer (Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 17 August 2007.
- Rustin, Susanna (16 October 2010). "Let's not talk about sex – why passion is waning in British books". The Guardian (London: Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 16 October 2010.
- Hadley, Tessa (22 February 2012). "New Ways to Kill Your Mother by Colm Tóibín – review". The Guardian (London: Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 27 March 2012.
- Telford, Lyndsey (21 December 2011). "Seamus Heaney declutters home and donates personal notes to National Library". Irish Independent (Independent News & Media). Retrieved 21 December 2011.
- "Colm is an author of formidable talent". Wexford People. Independent.ie. 29 June 2011. Retrieved 17 June 2013.
- "Royal Society of Literature All Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 10 August 2010.
- Brown, Mark (28 July 2009). "Heavyweights clash on Booker longlist". The Guardian (London: Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 28 July 2009.
- "Tóibín wins Costa Novel Award". RTÉ Arts (RTÉ). 4 January 2010. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
- "William Trevor makes an Impac". The Irish Times (Irish Times Trust). 12 April 2011. Retrieved 12 April 2011.
- Cullen, Conor (12 July 2011). "Tóibín in line for major prize". Enniscorthy Guardian. Retrieved 12 July 2011.
- Walsh, Caroline (9 July 2011). "Two Irish authors make awards shortlist". The Irish Times (Irish Times Trust). Retrieved 9 July 2011.
- Flood, Alison (9 July 2011). "Strong showing for Irish writers on Frank O'Connor shortlist". The Guardian (London: Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 9 July 2011.
- http://www.themanbookerprize.com/man-booker-prize-2013. Missing or empty
- Ryan, Ray. Ireland and Scotland: Literature and Culture, State and Nation, 1966–2000. Oxford University Press, 2002.
- Official website
- Colm Tóibín at The New York Review of Books (article archive)
- Biographical profile at The Guardian
- Colm Tóibín at The Guardian (article archive)
- Biographical profile at Contemporary Writers
- Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES photo of Tóibín receiving the 2011 Irish PEN Award