Guest post by Dr Zeljka Doljanin, Manager, UCD Writing Centre
Robert M. Dowling’s talk on Eugene O’Neill is now available as a podcast via the UCD Humanities Institute’s podcast series. https://soundcloud.com/ucd-humanities/robert-m-dowling-eugene-oneill-a-life-in-four-acts
When Dr Audrey McNamara, lecturer and Writing Centre tutor, first mentioned a reading she was organising with the support of UCD Humanities Institute, I suggested having the reading in the Writing Centre space. The author, Robert M. Dowling, was to read from his acclaimed biography, Eugene O’Neill: A Life in Four Acts. It was to be the first event of its kind in the Writing Centre, and when the Library confirmed their interest in co-hosting and supporting the event, excitement took over and plans were hatched, mostly for a small, intimate reading that would be of interest to a few academics and postgraduate students, as well as theatre people outside of UCD. These initial plans took on another dimension when a phone call from President Michael D. Higgins’ Office came to the Library, informing us that the President, a big fan of Eugene O’Neill’s work, wished to attend the reading.
Robert M. Dowling proved to be a gracious, generous and entertaining reader, passionate about his subject and happy to answer questions about O’Neill’s complicated life, laden with drama and incident, triumphs and agonies. Dowling’s biography on O’Neill has been described as ‘a master class in research methods’, ‘elegantly written’, ‘perceptively recounted’ and displaying ‘empathy and profound critical intelligence’. President Michael D. Higgins has been equally generous in his praise, saying that ‘Eugene O’Neill’s themes are reflective of the great themes of both Irish and American theatre: migration and the use and abuse of memory. O’Neill belongs to both the literary canons of America and Ireland. Robert M. Dowling’s definitive and compelling biography greatly enriches our understanding of O’Neill’s influences, the price and pain of his struggle, and its realisation.’
All in all, our first major event in the Writing Centre was a highly enjoyable one and President Higgins seemed to have had a good time. It was great to see the Writing Centre space full and used differently than usual, but our thanks go to Prof. Gerardine Meaney of UCD Humanities Institute and Dr Audrey McNamara for organising the event, and to the staff of James Joyce Library, who were open to the idea, supported it wholeheartedly and worked hard on making it a success. They made sure that everything ran smoothly and elegantly, with a touch of effortlessness about it, to the extent that the guest author, Robert Dowling, wondered at the ease and simplicity of the President’s presence in the Library, alongside students slouching on the chairs with laptops on their knees. He added that back in the States the Library would be empty, ‘with armed security around us and whirring helicopters above us’.
We are delighted that the event seemed so effortlessly well-organised, thanks to the Library, and are grateful to all those who came along to support it.