Alumni engagement and philanthropy


Street view outside Duke of York pub, Belfast with neon signs

Tuesday 18 January 2022


Will the pandemic leave permanent marks on our consciousness, or will we forget and move on? Professor Glenn Patterson, author and Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre, reflects on the implications for culture and books in 2022.


The publishing world moves slowly, and we are just starting to see the pandemic working its way through. While some novels may directly reference it – Sarah Moss’s The Fell, for example – it’s also possible to feel its influence. So, I was very struck by the fact that all the Turner Prize nominees for 2021 were collectives (Belfast-based Array Collective won the prize). And that the shortlist for the BBC National Short Story Award comprised stories that shared themes of incidental connections and the kindness of strangers – in short, recognition of ourselves as social beings and our need for other people (the winning story was Lucy Caldwell’s All the People Were Mean and Bad).

But I’m also bound to see 2022 through the prism of the Seamus Heaney Centre and where that sits in the world of literature on the island, and in Northern Ireland. And that’s because a great deal of what I’m excited about is coming from people who are associated with us in some way. It’s impossible to list them all, but here are just a few publications which I think will make a big splash in the coming year. 

These Days by Lucy Caldwell (again), who was one of our 2019 Seamus Heaney Centre
fellows, is set during the Belfast Blitz, which for many people outside Northern Ireland is something of an unknown time. Wendy Erskine (a 2022 Fellow), has a new book, Dance Move, out in February, and I can’t wait to read Factory Girls, the follow-up to County Tyrone author Michelle Gallen’s wonderful and funny novel Big Girl, Small Town.

Marian Keyes is already raving about Louise Kennedy’s debut novel When I Move to the Sky: Louise was a Ciaran Carson Writing and the City Fellow last year along with Padraig Regan, whose debut poetry collection is due next month. Louise’s first book of short stories, The End of the World is a Cul-de-Sac, was one of last year’s highlights and this promises to be just as successful. And Colm Toibin has his first book of poetry out, which will be incredibly interesting. He is, of course, very welcome to enter the Centre’s First Collection of Poetry Prize!

At the Centre, we’ll be continuing to welcome novelists, non-fiction writers, screenwriters and poets. We’ll carry on throwing our arms wide open and inviting as many people as we can to collaborate with us, enhancing the life of our students but also the wider literary life of Belfast and Northern Ireland. I’m excited to welcome our new Children’s Writing Fellow Paul Howard, who is best known for illustrating Jill Tomlinson’s The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark and worked on Joe Wicks’ first book, The Burpee Bears.

I can safely predict, as well, that some of our former students will become hot literary properties. Michael Nolan, who completed his PhD in 2021, has just sold his first two novels to Hamish Hamilton following an eight-way bidding war. It’s a huge privilege to see these projects slowly come to fruition. 

My very favourite line in any work of literature is the first line of Louis MacNeice’s Autumn Journal Canto 4: And I think with joy how whatever, now or in future, the system/Nothing whatever can take/The people away, there will always be people/for friends and for lovers. So let the coming year give us characters to identify with, to root for, to boo. Give us books of heft, books that we have to stretch our fingers out to hold. And give us people, in their complicated, frustrating, dizzying variety.


To find out more about The Seamus Heaney Centre, established as a Centre for excellence in poetry and research, please click here.

For general enquiries about this story, or to submit graduate news items, please contact Natasha Sharma, Alumni Relations Manager, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen's University Belfast.

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