James Stewart Parker (20 October 1941 - 2 November 1988) was a Northern Irish poet and playwright.
He was born in Sydenham, Belfast, of a Protestant working-class family. His birthplace is marked by an Ulster History Circle blue plaque. While still in his teens, he contracted bone cancer and had a leg amputated. He studied for an MA in Poetic Drama at Queen's University, Belfast, on a scholarship, before commencing teaching in the United States at Hamilton College and Cornell University.
Parker was a member of a group of young writers that included Seamus Heaney and Bernard MacLaverty in the early 1960s at Queen's University in Belfast. In British Poetry since 1945, Edward Lucie-Smith calls him "a rawer, rougher, more unformed poet than either of the other two Belfast poets presented here" (i.e. Seamus Heaney and Derek Mahon). He notes that all three are post-Movement and neo-Georgian, owing little to William Butler Yeats and not much more to Patrick Kavanagh.
Following his return to Northern Ireland he worked as a freelance writer, contributing a column on pop music to The Irish Times. He later moved to Great Britain, where he wrote for radio, television and the stage. The musical landscape of Belfast is integral to his work as a playwright. One could arguably call him the Van Morrison of the Irish Theatre.[who?] He would be honoured by the title, as Van Morrison was one of his favourite artists.
Parker died of cancer in London.
His plays include Spokesong (1975), a musical Kingdom Come (1977), Catchpenny Twist (1977), Nightshade (1979), Pratt's Fall (1981), Northern Star (1984), Heavenly Bodies (1986) and Pentecost (1987).
The stage plays are published by Methuen Drama. Stewart Parker: Plays 1 (2000) includes "Spokesong", "Catchpenny Twist", "Nightshade" and "Pratt's Fall". Stewart Parker: Plays 2 (2000) includes "Northern Star", "Heavenly Bodies" and "Pentecost".
An annual award (The Stewart Parker Trust Award) for best Irish debut play was set up in his name after his death. There is a cash bursary as part of the award. Previous recipients of the award include: Conor McPherson, Mark O'Rowe, Enda Walsh, Eugene O'Brien, Gerald Murphy, Lisa McGee and Christian O'Reilly.
Several new publications appeared in 2008, the twentieth anniversary of Parker's death. These include:
- A collection of Parker's articles on popular music for the Irish Times entitled High Pop: Irish Times Column 1970-1976, edited by Gerald Dawe and Maria Johnston (Belfast: Lagan, 2008) ISBN 978-1-904652-59-5
- A collection of Parker's reviews and articles on culture, entitled Dramatis Personae and Other Writings, edited by Gerald Dawe, Maria Johnston and Clare Wallace (Prague: Litteraria Pragensia, 2008) ISBN 978-80-7308-241-3
- A collection of Parker's plays for television, entitled Stewart Parker: Television Plays, edited by Clare Wallace (Prague: Litteraria Pragensia, 2008) ISBN 978-80-7308-240-6. The plays included are this collection are: "Lost Belongings"; "Radio Pictures"; "Blue Money"; "Iris in the Traffic, Ruby in the Rain"; "Joyce in June"; and "I’m a Dreamer, Montreal".
I’m a Dreamer, Montreal
In Belfast, where the play is set, music librarian Nelson Gloverby (Bryan Murray) lives in a dream world. A showband singer by night, he is unconcerned with audience irritation at his inability to stick to the proper lyrics. He is innocently drawn into the brutality of the Troubles when he meets siren Sandra Carse (Jeananne Crowley). His world having been turned around, he takes the bus home. The bus driver is singing the lyrics "I'm a dreamer, Montreal"; this time it is Nelson who points out the correct lyrics: "I’m a Dreamer, Aren't We All?"