Sebastian Barry; Melatu Uche Okorie
On RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke, the Laureate for Irish Fiction with the Arts Council of Ireland Sebastian Barry spoke about his Life Lines Book Club.
The book club initiative sees Mr Barry meet people who live in what the Irish Arts Council have termed “harder to reach settings”.
Mr Barry spoke about his experiences with the club and paid special tribute to This Hostel Life author Melatu Uche Okorie, who was born in Nigeria and came to Ireland, with her infant daughter, in 2006 seeking asylum.
They spent eight-and-a-half years in direct provision.
Speaking of the club, Mr Barry said:
“It just adds to my wondering sense that some of the most majestic people are these who seem to be in so-called marginalised places or their backs are against the wall.
“And when you go and see them, you know, as something as simple as a book club, to talk about a book, you find people in this really almost untoward state of grace.”
Speaking of how the club works, he said:
“…I have seven or eight novels, all sort of interconnected and they choose one of those to read.
“It’s often just a starting point for other more urgent and important things that people will talk about.
“But I will usually read from the book, just to give the birdsong of myself and the book.
“…And then they will respond to the book. But more often it’s a door into a sort of more brightly lit room of their lives and the things they know and the important information they have for me, actually.”
Mr Barry mentioned that next month he will be holding one of his book clubs with people who live in direct provision before he paid tribute to Ms Okorie.
“Having spoke to Melatu Uche Okorie last year, again, it brings to mind, it brings forcefully the issue to mind, the actual madness of direct provision.
“Because if you take Melatu for instance, I hope she doesn’t mind me speaking for her or about her.
“But there’s a woman now, one of our principle writers now – her opera has just opened a few nights ago and her book is being republished in England, ‘My Hostel Life’ it’s called.
“How long do you think it would take you or I to notice how amazing she was. I would say about two hours?
“But bureaucracy took eight years to notice how amazing she was. And how fit she was supposedly to be an Irish citizen.”
Listen back here in full.