Who she is: The acclaimed author of novels including Room and Hood, works of literary history such as Passions Between Women and We Are Michael Field, and short-story collections including Kissing the Witch and The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits.
What she’s accomplished: Emma Donoghue, born in Ireland and now living in Canada, is one of the most esteemed writers working today. Her best-known work is the 2010 novel Room, whose story is told from the viewpoint of a 5-year-old boy who has spent his entire life in a small room with his mother and knows nothing of the outside world except what he gets from television. It may sound harrowing, but on her website, Donoghue emphasizes that “Room is no horror story or tearjerker, but a celebration of resilience and the love between parent and child.” It has sold over a million copies worldwide, been translated into 35 languages, and won numerous awards. A film adaptation is planned, with Donoghue writing the screenplay and Lenny Abrahamson directing.
The fame of Room, however, shouldn’t overshadow the rest of Donoghue’s extensive body of work. The author, who is a lesbian, has often dealt with lesbian themes. Her first novel, Stir-Fry, is a coming-of-age tale about a girl from rural Ireland who moves to Dublin for college and unwittingly moves in with a lesbian couple. Her second, Hood, is a story of love and loss involving two women who began their romance as students in the repressive atmosphere of a Dublin convent school in the late 1970s.
Among her nonfiction work, Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature deals with just that, while Passions Between Women: British Lesbian Culture 1668-1801 is a survey of texts on lesbian themes in that setting, encompassing trial records, newspapers, medical tracts, poems, novels, plays, and more. We Are Michael Field is a biography of Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper, aunt and niece as well as lovers, who wrote under the pseudonym Michael Field in the Victorian era.
Donoghue has published many collections of short fiction, such as The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits, with stories based on, as she says on her website, “peculiar incidents in the history of the British Isles” and written “using both scholarly and imaginative methods to resurrect long-forgotten women, queers, troublemakers, freaks and other nobodies.” Kissing the Witch, another collection, reimagines fairy tales from a feminist perspective. Donoghue’s short fiction has appeared in many anthologies, and she has also written plays, articles on literary history, and more.
Her latest book is Frog Music, due out April 1. This is her first venture into crime fiction, and it tells the story of a woman in 1876 San Francisco investigating the murder of a friend. Says an advance review from Publishers Weekly: “Donoghue’s first literary crime novel is a departure from her bestselling Room, but it’s just as dark and just as gripping.”
Donoghue says she moved to Canada for “love of a Canadian” — partner Chris Roulston, a professor of women’s studies and feminist research at the University of Western Ontario. The two women live in London, Ont., with their son and daughter. Another noteworthy fact about Donoghue’s famly is that her father, Denis Donoghue, is a literary critic, New York University professor emeritus, and scholar of the work of T.S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, and others. Emma, the youngest of Denis and Frances Donoghue’s eight children, is the only one to follow him into a literary career.
Choice quote, on whether she minds being known as a lesbian writer: “I’m not going to object to ‘lesbian writer’ if I don’t object to ‘Irish writer’ or ‘woman writer,’ since these are all equally descriptive of me and where I’m from. And the labels commit me to nothing, of course; my books aren’t and don’t have to be all about Ireland, or women, or lesbians. (And since publishing Room, I’m mostly known as the locked-up-children writer instead…).” — Donoghue in the FAQs section of her website
For more information: The author’s official site, EmmaDonoghue.com, is a treasure trove of info.