Emma Donoghue

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Emma Donoghue
Donoghue in Toronto on 18 February 2015
Donoghue in Toronto on 18 February 2015
BornOctober 1969 (age 54)
Dublin, Ireland
OccupationNovelist, short story writer, playwright, literary historian
PartnerChristine Roulston

Emma Donoghue (born October 1969) is an Irish-Canadian playwright, literary historian, novelist, and screenwriter. Her 2010 novel Room was a finalist for the Booker Prize and an international best-seller.[2] Donoghue's 1995 novel Hood won the Stonewall Book Award and Slammerkin (2000) won the Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction.[3][4] She is a 2011 recipient of the Alex Awards. Room was adapted by Donoghue into a film of the same name. For this, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.


Donoghue was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1969.[5] The youngest of eight children, she is the daughter of Frances (born Rutledge) and academic and literary critic Denis Donoghue.[1][5][6] She has a first-class honours Bachelor of Arts degree from University College Dublin (in English and French) and a PhD in English from Girton College, Cambridge. While at Cambridge she lived in a women's co-operative, an experience which inspired her short story "The Welcome".[7] Her thesis was on friendship between men and women in 18th-century fiction.[8]

At Cambridge, she met her future wife, Christine Roulston, a Canadian who is now professor of French and Women's Studies at the University of Western Ontario. They moved permanently to Canada in 1998 and Donoghue became a Canadian citizen in 2004.[1] She lives in London, Ontario, with Roulston and their two children.[5][9][10]

Influences and approach to writing[edit]

Donoghue has spoken of the importance of the writing of Emily Dickinson, of Jeanette Winterson's novel The Passion and Alan Garner's Red Shift in the development of her work.[11] She says that she aims to be "industrious and unpretentious" about the process of writing, and that her working life has changed since having children.[12]


Donoghue reading at the Eden Mills Writers' Festival in 2017

Stir Fry and Hood[edit]

Donoghue's first novel was 1994's Stir Fry, a contemporary coming of age novel about a young Irish woman discovering her sexuality.[13] It was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in 1994.[7] This was followed in 1995 by Hood, another contemporary story, this time about an Irish woman coming to terms with the death of her girlfriend.[13] Hood won the 1997 American Library Association's Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Book Award for Literature (now known as the Stonewall Book Award for Literature).[7]


Slammerkin (2000) is a historical novel set in London and Wales. Inspired by an 18th-century newspaper story about a young servant who killed her employer and was executed, the protagonist is a prostitute who longs for fine clothes.[7][14] It was a finalist in the 2001 Irish Times' Irish Literature Prize for Fiction and was awarded the 2002 Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction (despite a lack of lesbian content).[7][15][16]


Her 2007 novel, Landing, portrays a long-distance relationship between a Canadian curator and an Irish flight attendant.[17]

The Sealed Letter[edit]

The Sealed Letter (2008), another work of historical fiction, is based on the Codrington Affair, a scandalous divorce case that gripped Britain in 1864. The protagonist is Emily Faithfull.[18] The Sealed Letter was longlisted for the Giller Prize,[19] and was joint winner, with Chandra Mayor's All the Pretty Girls, of the 2009 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction.[20]


On 27 July 2010, Donoghue's novel Room was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and on 7 September 2010 it made the shortlist.[2] On 2 November 2010, it was announced that Room had been awarded the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.[21] Room was also shortlisted for the 2010 Governor General's Awards in Canada,[22] and was the winner of the Irish Book Award 2010. It was short-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2011,[23] but lost out to Tea Obreht. Donoghue later wrote the screenplay for a film version of the book, Room (2015), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA Award,[24] and in 2017 adapted it into a play performed at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.[25]

Frog Music[edit]

Donoghue's novel Frog Music, a historical fiction book based on the true story of a murdered 19th-century cross-dressing frog catcher, was published in 2014.

The Wonder[edit]

Donoghue's 2016 novel The Wonder was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.[26] It describes a case of Anorexia mirabilis in which an English nurse is brought in to observe a fasting girl in a devout Irish family; the after effects of the Crimean War, in which the protagonist served, and the Great Famine, in which the family suffered, cast their shadows.

A film of the novel was released in autumn 2022. Directed by Sebastián Lelio, the screenplay is by Donoghue and Alice Birch, with Florence Pugh in the leading role.[27][28] David Ehrlich of IndieWire called it a "sumptuous but slightly undercooked tale", praising Lelio's direction, the performances, the cinematography, and the score.[29] Peter Bruge praised the cast performances in his review for Variety but criticized the screenplay, summarizing it as an "evenhanded but ultimately preposterous adaptation".[30] The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Farber found it an "illuminating study of dark prejudices" and commended Pugh's performance, as well as Lelio's direction which he said represents perhaps his "finest achievement to date".[31]


Akin (2019) is a contemporary novel, though with much discussion of events during the Second World War in France.[32] Alex Preston in The Guardian called it "dispiriting".[32]

The Pull of the Stars[edit]

Donoghue's novel The Pull of the Stars (2020), written in 2018-2019, was published earlier than originally planned because it was set in the 1918 influenza pandemic in Dublin, Ireland. All the characters were fictional except Dr Kathleen Lynn.[33] The novel received strongly positive reviews from critics[34] and was longlisted for the Giller Prize in 2020.[35]


This novel, published in 2022, is set among monks in the seventh century on Skellig Michael.[36][37] Hephzibah Anderson, in The Guardian, wrote that "While Haven certainly isn’t her most accessible novel, a flinty kind of hope brightens its satisfying ending. What the reader is likely to take away, however, is the image of a bleak place made still bleaker by human intervention".[36] It was shortlisted for the 2024 International Dublin Literary Award.[38]

Learned by Heart[edit]

This novel published in 2023 explores the relationship between Anne Lister and Eliza Raine during their time at Miss Hargrave's Manor school.[39] The novel delves into their deep connection and Eliza's reflections from an asylum.[40] While praised for its portrayal of first love, some critics found the detailed depiction of school life overshadowed the central narrative.[41]

Learned by Heart was shortlisted for the 2023 Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.[42]



  • Stir Fry (1994)
  • Hood (1995)
  • Slammerkin (2000)
  • Life Mask (2004)
  • Landing (2007)
  • The Sealed Letter (2008)
  • Room (2010) ISBN 978-0-316-12057-9
  • Frog Music (2014)
  • The Wonder (2016)
  • The Lotterys series:
    1. The Lotterys Plus One (2017)
    2. The Lotterys More or Less (2018)
  • Akin (2019)
  • The Pull of the Stars (2020)[43][44]
  • Haven (2022)
  • Learned by Heart (2023)

Short stories[edit]


  • Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins, AKA Kissing the Witch (1997), collection of 13 short stories:
    "The Tale of the Shoe", "The Tale of the Bird", "The Tale of the Rose", "The Tale of the Apple", "The Tale of the Handkerchief", "The Tale of the Hair", "The Tale of the Brother", "The Tale of the Spinster", "The Tale of the Cottage", "The Tale of the Skin", "The Tale of the Needle", "The Tale of the Voice", "The Tale of the Kiss"
  • The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits (2002), collection of 17 short stories:
    "Acts of Union", "Account", "Ballad", "Come, Gentle Night", "Cured", "Dido", "The Last Rabbit", "The Necessity of Burning", "Revelations", "Salvage", "Night Vision", "Figures of Speech", "A Short Story", "The Fox on the Line", "How a Lady Dies", "Looking for Petronilla", "Words for Things"
  • Touchy Subjects (2006), collection of 19 short stories:
    "The Dormition of the Virgin", "Baggage", "WritOr", "Lavender's Blue", "Through the Night", "The Man Who Wrote on Beaches", "Do They Know It's Christmas", "Good Deed", "The Sanctuary of Hands", "Necessary Noise", "Pluck", "Team Men", "Enchantment", "The Welcome", "Oops", "The Cost of Things", "Speaking in Tongues", "Touchy Subjects", "Expecting"
  • Three and a Half Deaths (2011), collection of 4 short stories:
    "What the Driver Saw", "The Trap", "Sissy", "Fall"
  • Astray (2012), collection of 14 short stories:
    "The Lost Seed", "The Widow's Cruse", "The Hunt", "Vanitas", "Counting the Days", "Last Supper at Brown's", "Onward", "The Body Swap", "The Long Way Home", "Man and Boy", "Snowblind", "The Gift", "Daddy's Girl", "What Remains"

Uncollected short stories:

  • "Going Back" (1993)
  • "Seven Pictures Not Taken" (1996)
  • "Error Messages" (1999)
  • "Thicker Than Water" (2001)
  • "Here and Now" (2006)
  • "Dear Lang" (2009) in How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity (ed. Michael Chart)
  • "Tableau Vivant" (2010)
  • "Visiting Hours" (2011), based on her radio play "The Modern Family"
  • "Urban Myths" (2012), based on her homonymous radio play
  • "Spelled Backward" (2012)
  • "Since First I Saw Your Face" (2016)
  • "The Big Cheese" (2017)



  • Emma Donoghue: Selected Plays (2015), collection of 5 plays:
    "Kissing the Witch" (based on 5 short stories of her homonymous collection), "Don't Die Wondering" (based on her homonymous radio play), "Trespasses" (based on her homonymous radio play), "Ladies and Gentlemen", "I Know My Own Heart"

Uncollected plays:

  • "Trespasses" (1996), radio play
  • "Don't Die Wondering" (2000), radio play
  • Exes series (2001), radio plays:
    • "Urban Myths"
    • "The Modern Family"
    • "The Conspiracy"
    • "The Mothers"
    • "The Estate Agent"
  • "Humans and Other Animals" (2003), radio play
  • "Mix" (2003), radio play
  • "The Talk of the Town" (2012)
  • "Signatories" (2016)
  • "Room" (2017), based on her homonymous novel



  • "Out of Order: Kate O'Brien's Lesbian Fictions" in Ordinary People Dancing, ed. by Eibhear Walsh (Cork: Cork University Press, 1993)
  • "Noises from Woodsheds: The Muffled Voices of Irish Lesbian Fiction" in Volcanoes and Pearl Divers, ed. by Suzanne Raitt (London: Onlywomen Press, 1994)
  • "Liberty in Chains: The Diaries of Anne Lister (1817-24)" in Breaking the Barriers to Desire (Nottingham: Five Leaves Press, 1995)
  • "Divided Heart, Divided History: Eighteenth-Century Bisexual Heroines" in Bisexual Horizons: Politics, Histories, Lives, ed. by Sharon Rose, Cris Stevens et al. (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1996)
  • "How Could I Fear and Hold Thee by the Hand? The Poetry of Eva Gore-Booth" in Sex, Nation and Dissent in Irish Writing, ed. by Eibhear Walshe (Cork: Cork University Press, 1997)
  • "A Tale of Two Annies" in Butch/Femme: Inside Lesbian Gender, ed. by Sally Munt (London: Cassell, 1998)
  • Articles on Anne Lister, Ladies of Llangollen and Jane Pirie and Marianne Woods, in Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia, ed. by Bonnie Zimmerman (New York and London: Garland, 2000)
  • Introduction to Virago Modern Classics edition of Molly Keane, Time After Time (London: Virago, 2001)
  • Introduction to Virago Modern Classics edition of Polly Devlin, All of Us There (London: Virago, 2003)
  • Introduction to Isabel Miller, Patience and Sarah (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2005)
  • "Doing Lesbian History, Then and Now" in Historical Reflections / Reflexions Historiques (Vol. 33, No. 1, Spring 2007)
  • "Picking Up Broken Glass, or, Turning Lesbian History into Fiction" in Sapphists and Sexologists: Histories of Sexualities Volume 2, ed. Sonja Tiernan and Mary McAuliffe (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009)
  • "Embraces of Love" in Faithful Companions: Collected Essays Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Kate O'Brien Literary Weekend, ed. Mary Coll (Limerick: Mellick Press, 2009)
  • "Random Shafts of Malice?: the Outings of Anne Damer" in Lesbian Dames: Sapphism in the Long Eighteenth Century, ed. by John C. Beynon and Caroline Gonda (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2010)
  • Passions Between Women: British Lesbian Culture 1668–1801 (1993)
  • Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature (2010)

Works edited[edit]

  • What Sappho Would Have Said (1997)
  • The Mammoth Book Of Lesbian Short Stories (1999)


Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Stoffman, Judy (13 January 2007). "Writer has a deft touch with sexual identities". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 21 August 2010. Retrieved 5 October 2009.
  2. ^ a b "News | The Man Booker Prizes". Themanbookerprize.com. Archived from the original on 2 February 2016. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
  3. ^ "Stonewall Book Awards List". American Library Association.
  4. ^ "Awards". publishingtriangle.org. Publishing Triangle. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  5. ^ a b c "Emma Donoghue — Bio". Official site. Archived from the original on 24 March 2010. Retrieved 2 September 2008.
  6. ^ "A to Z of Emma Donoghue, author". Picador.com. 20 July 2010. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Emma Donoghue — Writings". emmadonoghue.com. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
  8. ^ Richards, Linda (November 2000). "Interview". January Magazine. Retrieved 5 October 2009.
  9. ^ McEvoy, Marc (4 April 2014). "Interview: Emma Donoghue".
  10. ^ Nugent, Aine (9 October 2010). ""I've always wanted to be pregnant and Chris would rather have a fork stuck in her eye"". Independent. Retrieved 30 August 2022.
  11. ^ Donoghue, Emma (24 July 2020). "Emma Donoghue: 'Wooster's sweetly foolish flippancy is just the tonic for Covid-19 times'". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 August 2022.
  12. ^ Donoghue, Emma (7 January 2017). "Emma Donoghue: 'I have only from 8.30am to 3.30pm to work. It's a very healthy discipline'". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 August 2022.
  13. ^ a b Keehnen, Owen (1994). "Future Perfect: Talking With Irish Lesbian Author Emma Donoghue". glbtq.com. Archived from the original on 7 November 2010. Retrieved 5 October 2009.
  14. ^ Hagestadt, Emma; Hirst, Christopher (8 May 2001). "Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue". The Independent. Retrieved 5 October 2009. [dead link]
  15. ^ Gonzalez, Alexander G. (2006). Irish women writers: an A-to-Z guide. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 98–101. ISBN 0-313-32883-8.
  16. ^ O'Neill, Heather Aimee (12 January 2008). "Interview With Emma Donoghue". AfterEllen.com. Archived from the original on 15 May 2009. Retrieved 5 October 2009.
  17. ^ Brownrigg, Sylvia (22 July 2007). "In-Flight Moves". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 October 2009.
  18. ^ Donoghue, Emma. "The Sealed Letter: Author's Note". Picador. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  19. ^ "Past Winners". Scotiabank Giller Prize. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  20. ^ Cerna, Antonio Gonzalez (18 February 2010). "21st Annual Lambda Literary Awards". Lambda Literary.
  21. ^ "The Writers' Trust of Canada - Prize History". Writerstrust.com. Archived from the original on 1 September 2018. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
  22. ^ "Emma Donoghue, Kathleen Winter make GG short list" Archived 20 October 2010 at the Wayback Machine. The Globe and Mail, 13 October 2010.
  23. ^ Brown, Mark (8 June 2011). "Orange prize 2011 goes to Téa Obreht". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2016. Her victory meant defeat for Emma Donoghue – bookies' favourite for the bestselling Room
  24. ^ "Room - Awards - IMDb". www.imdb.com. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  25. ^ "Abbey Theatre - Whats on - Room". www.abbeytheatre.com. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  26. ^ "The Scotiabank Giller Prize Presents Its 2016 Shortlist - Scotiabank Giller Prize". scotiabankgillerprize.ca. 26 September 2016. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  27. ^ Corr, Julieanne. "Netflix film based on Dublin writer Emma Donoghue's novel to be made in Ireland".
  28. ^ "Florence Pugh has arrived in Ireland, immediately praises Wicklow and Guinness". 9 August 2021.
  29. ^ Ehrlich, David (3 September 2022). "'The Wonder' Review: Florence Pugh Discovers a Miracle". IndieWire. Retrieved 16 September 2022.
  30. ^ Debruge, Peter (3 September 2022). "'The Wonder' Review: You Won't Believe Sebastián Lelio's Latest, but Not in a Good Way". Variety. Retrieved 16 September 2022.
  31. ^ Farber, Stephen (3 September 2022). "'The Wonder' Review: Florence Pugh Dazzles in Sebastian Lelio's Mesmerizing Study of Faith and Abuse". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 16 September 2022.
  32. ^ a b Preston, Alex (13 October 2019). "Akin by Emma Donoghue review – Room author loses her spark". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 August 2022.
  33. ^ "Woman's Hour". BBC. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  34. ^ "The Pull of the Stars | Book Marks". Retrieved 26 December 2020.
  35. ^ Deborah Dundas, "Thomas King, Emma Donoghue make the 2020 Giller Longlist in a year marked by firsts". Toronto Star, September 8, 2020.
  36. ^ a b Anderson, Hephzibah (14 August 2022). "Haven by Emma Donoghue review – religious zeal meets ecological warning in AD600 Ireland". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 August 2022.
  37. ^ O’Donnell, Paraic (19 August 2022). "Haven by Emma Donoghue review – a seventh-century Room". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 August 2022.
  38. ^ "Wright shortlisted for 2024 Dublin Literary Award". Books+Publishing. 27 March 2024. Retrieved 28 March 2024.
  39. ^ "With 'Learned by Heart,' Emma Donoghue Tells a Forgotten Story". Shondaland. 29 August 2023.
  40. ^ Bohjalian, Chris. "Emma Donoghue serves up more fearless historical fiction". Washington Post.
  41. ^ Clark, Clare (24 August 2023). "Learned by Heart by Emma Donoghue review – exquisite imagining of Anne Lister's first love". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 12 February 2024.
  42. ^ Cassandra Drudi, "Three debut novels among finalists for 2023 Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize". Quill & Quire, September 27, 2023.
  43. ^ "12 Canadian books coming out in July we can't wait to read". CBC Books. 7 July 2020. Retrieved 8 July 2020.
  44. ^ "The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue". Pan Macmillan. Archived from the original on 9 May 2021. Retrieved 3 August 2020.

External links[edit]