Born in Dublin, Ireland, in October 1969, I am the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue (the literary critic, Henry James Professor at New York University). I attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one eye-opening year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 I earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin (unfortunately, without learning to actually speak French). I moved to England, and in 1997 received my PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of Cambridge. From the age of 23, I have earned my living as a writer, and have been lucky enough to never have an ‘honest job’ since I was sacked after a single summer month as a chambermaid. After years of commuting between England, Ireland, and Canada, in 1998 I settled in London, Ontario, where I live with Chris Roulston and our son Finn (10) and daughter Una (6).
Although I work in many genres, I am best known for my fiction, which has been translated into over forty languages.
My latest novel, Frog Music (2014), is a multi-faceted murder mystery set in San Francisco in 1876.
Room (2010) is narrated by a five-year-old called Jack, who lives in a single room with his Ma and has never been outside. An international bestseller, Room was shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange Prize, and won the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the Commonwealth Prize (Canada & Carribbean Region), the Canadian Booksellers’ Association Libris Awards (Fiction Book and Author of the Year), the Forest of Reading Evergreen Award and the W.H. Smith Paperback of the Year Award.
I began by writing about contemporary Dublin before the Boom in a coming-of-age novel, Stir-fry (1994), and a tale of bereavement, Hood (1995, winner of the American Library Association’s Gay and Lesbian Book Award, and recently republished by HarperCollins in the US), and I returned to my transformed home city with a love story that contrasts it with smalltown Ontario in Landing (2007, winner of a Golden Crown Literary Award).
I have a great love for the short story form; my stories have been published in Granta, the New Statesman, One Story, the Sunday Express, Mail on Sunday, The Lady, the Globe and Mail, as well as 30 other journals and anthologies. They have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4, RTE and CBC. Touchy Subjects (2006) is a set of nineteen contemporary stories about social taboos that moves between Ireland, Britain, France, Italy, the US and Canada.
I became a YA author by accident. Kissing the Witch (1997), my sequence of re-imagined fairytales, was published for adults in the UK but bought by Joanna Cottler Books (HarperCollins) in the US; they managed to win me a whole new 12-and-up audience, and Kissing the Witch was shortlisted for the James L. Tiptree Award.
Perhaps inevitably, given my scholarly background and bent, I moved into historical fiction with Slammerkin (2000), a whydunnit inspired by a 1763 murder. Slammerkin was a Main Selection of the Book of the Month Club, won the 2002 Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction, and was a finalist in the 2001 Irish Times Irish Fiction Prize.
I followed it with a sequence of short stories about real incidents from the fourteenth century to the nineteenth, The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits (2002), and then Life Mask (2004, a finalist for the Ferro-Grumley Award), which tells the startling true story of a love triangle in 1790s London. The Sealed Letter (US/Canada 2008, UK 2011) is a domestic thriller about an 1860s cause celebre (the Codrington Divorce), joint winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction and longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction.
Three and a Half Deaths, my first mini ebook (UK/Ireland only), brings together four stories of calamities ranging from 1840s Canada to 1920s France. And Astray (2012, shortlisted for the Eason Irish Novel of the Year) is a sequence of fourteen fact-inspired stories about travels to, from and within North America; one of them, ‘The Hunt’, was a finalist in the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Prize, the world’s most valuable award for a single story.
My first work for theatre, I Know My Own Heart (1993), was inspired by the decoded diaries of a Regency Yorkshirewoman, Anne Lister, and was premiered by Dublin's Glasshouse Productions in 1993; you can read it in Seen and Heard: Six New Plays by Irish Women (2001). Glasshouse and the Irish Arts Council commissioned me to write Ladies and Gentlemen, a play with songs about vaudeville stars (including two women who got married in 1886), which premiered in 1996 and was published by New Island Press in 1998. My adaptation of my fairy-tale book, Kissing the Witch, premiered at San Francisco's Magic Theatre in June 2000. My one-act comedy Don’t Die Wondering (based on my radio play of the same name) received its world premiere at the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival in 2005. My latest play, The Talk of the Town, about the Irish writer Maeve Brennan in New York in the 1950s, premiered at the 2012 Dublin Theatre Festival, directed by Annabelle Comyn in collaboration with HATCH Theatre Company, Landmark Productions and the Dublin Theatre Festival. In 2015 Oberon Books will publish I Know My Own Heart, Ladies and Gentlemen, Kissing the Witch, Don't Die Wondering and Trespasses under the title Emma Donoghue: Selected Plays.
My radio plays are (for RTE) Trespasses (1996, about a seventeenth-century Irish witch trial), and (for BBC Radio 4) Don’t Die Wondering (2000, a romantic comedy set in a small Irish town), Exes (2001, a series of five short plays about getting on with your ex), and Humans and Other Animals (2003, a series of five short plays about pets). Mix (BBC Radio 3, 2003) is an hour-long drama about an intersexed girl.
My ten-minute film, Pluck (2001, directed by Neasa Hardiman), is an urban fairytale about a man’s obsession with a hair on his girlfriend’s chin. My first full-length feature is Room, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, coming in 2015.
The other main hat I wear is that of literary historian; I began my career with the groundbreaking Passions Between Women: British Lesbian Culture 1668-1801 (UK 1993, US 1996), and followed it up with We Are Michael Field (1998, a biography of a pair of Victorian women writers). I have edited two anthologies, Poems Between Women: Four Centuries of Love, Romantic Friendship and Desire (UK title What Sappho Would Have Said) (1997) and The Mammoth Book of Lesbian Short Stories (1999) as well as publishing a range of scholarly articles. In 2010 Knopf and Random House Canada brought out my study of a thousand years of girl-girl plot motifs in Western literature, Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature, which won the Stonewall Non-Fiction Award from the American Library Association.
I have also taught creative writing for the Cheltenham Literary Festival and the Arvon Foundation, been a writer-in-residence at the University of Western Ontario and the University of York (UK), co-presenter of a primetime book series on Irish television, and a judge for the Irish Times Literature Prizes and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Award for Fiction. I am a member of the Society of Authors, and the Writer’s Union of Canada.
Astray (the Hachette audiobook) won the 2013 Audie Award for a Multi-Voice Audiobook
Emma Donoghue won the 2011 National Lesbian and Gay Federation (Ireland) Person of the Year Award
Room won the 2010 Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the 2011 Commonwealth Prize for Fiction (Canada & Carribbean), W. H. Smith Paperback of the Year (Galaxy National Book Awards), the Forest of Reading Evergreen Award, two Libris Awards from the Canadian Booksellers’ Association (Fiction Book and Author of the Year, and two awards from the American Library Association (Indie Choice Award for Adult Fiction and an Alex Award for an adult book with special appeal to teen readers)
Room (Hachette's multi-voice audiobook) won an Earphones Award and the 2011 Audie Award for a Multi-Voice Audiobook
Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature won the 2011 Stonewall Book Awards – Israel Fishman Non-Fiction Award (from the American Library Association)
The Sealed Letter was joint winner of the 2009 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction
Landing won the 2008 Golden Crown Literary Award (Lesbian Dramatic General Fiction)
Slammerkin won the 2002 Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction
Hood won the 1997 American Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Book Award (now known as the Stonewall Book Award)
Astray was shortlisted for the 2012 Eason Irish Novel of the Year, and the Edge Hill Short Story Prize, and 'The Hunt', one of its stories, was shortlisted for the 2012 Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award
Room was shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize, the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Trillium English Book Award, and International Author of the Year (Galaxy National Book Awards)
Life Mask was shortlisted for the 2005 Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction and the Lambda Award for Lesbian Fiction
The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits was shortlisted for the 2003 Stonewall Book Award
Slammerkin was shortlisted for the 2001 Irish Times Irish Fiction Prize
The Mammoth Book of Lesbian Short Stories [reissued 2013 as Love Alters] was shortlisted for the 2000 Lambda Award for Lesbian Anthology
Poems Between Women [UK title What Sappho Would Have Said] was shortlisted for the 1999 Lambda Award for Lesbian Anthology
Kissing the Witch was shortlisted for the 1997 James L. Tiptree Award
Passions Between Women was shortlisted for the 1997 Lambda Award for Lesbian Non-Fiction
Stir-fry was shortlisted for the 1996 Lambda Award for Lesbian Fiction
I Know My Own Heart was shortlisted for the 1994 Stewart Parker Award for Best Irish Debut Play
Astray was longlisted for
the Story Prize, the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, and the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction
Room was longlisted for the 2012 International Impac Dublin Literary Award
The Sealed Letter was longlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Scotiabank Giller Prize
Touchy Subjects was longlisted for the 2006 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award
Convocation speech, Western University, 17 June 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMDwRWGAjxU
'It was a radical way to live' (memories of my Cambridge housing co-op), Sunday Times (Ireland), 19 May 2013
‘I’m sick of all this mutual surveillance – let’s put a stop to the Mummy Wars’, Guardian, 23 April 2011,
‘Once Upon a Life’, Observer, 5 Sept 2010 http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/sep/05/once-upon-life-emma-donoghue
‘Lesbian Mums’, Times, 7 August 2010
‘The Little Voices In Our Heads That Last a Lifetime’, Irish Times, 7 August 2010
‘Go On, You Choose’, in Who’s Your Daddy? And Other Writings on Queer Parenting, ed. Rachel Epstein (Toronto: Sumach Press, 2009)
‘A Free Space,’ in From Newman to New Woman: UCD Women Remember, ed. by Anne Macdona (Dublin: New Island, 2001)
'Proving It,' Siren (Toronto), October 1998
'The Youngest Child,' Women’s News (Belfast), November 1997
'A Pagan Place,' Gay Community News (Ireland), February 1996
‘Coming Out a Bit Strong’, Index on Censorship, 24, No. 1 (1995): 87-88
What the Critics Say
‘Reading an Emma Donoghue book is like falling into a deep friendship with an unlikely stranger: a lady of the evening, an cross-dressing frogcatcher, an imprisoned child. The author’s empathy for outsiders makes for captivating characters; she illustrates the complex inner lives of her creations with a candor that shows humanity at its best and worst.’ – Allie Ghaman, The Washington Post (2014)
‘Donoghue has a gift for place, for setting, for wringing anxiety and drama out of the spaces her characters occupy, as well as for taking real-life events and rendering them realer and sharper.’ – East Bay Express (2014)
‘An uncanny knack for telling an off-putting story in such a way that you can’t stop reading it, that you fall a little bit in love with the characters and the moment in time.' - Seattle Times (2014)
‘Donoghue is so gifted at depicting the fraught blessing of motherhood.” – Chicago Tribune (2014)
‘Can inhabit any kind of fictional character and draw us into even the most unfamiliar world with her deep empathy and boundary-defying imagination.’ - Newsday (2012)
'Donoghue’s great strength – apart from her storytelling gift – is her emotional intelligence.’ – Irish Independent (2010)
‘A thorough, intelligent researcher… a disarming, often funny historian.’ – San Francisco Chronicle (2010)
‘Donoghue is one of those rare writers who seems to be able to work on any register, any tone, any atmosphere, and make it her own.’ – Observer (2007)
‘Her touch is so light and exuberantly inventive, her insight at once so forensic and intimate, her people so ordinary even in their oddities.’ – Guardian (2007)
‘A mind that can excavate characters and lives far, far beyond her own front fence.’ – Globe and Mail (2007)
‘Donoghue has the born storyteller’s knack for sketching a personality and pulling readers into a plot in just a few pages… All-encompassing talent.’ – Kirkus (2006)
‘Emma Donoghue is distinguished by her generous sympathy for her characters, sinuous prose and an imaginative range that may soon rival that of A.S. Byatt or Margaret Atwood.’ – Publishers Weekly (2004)
‘Has an extraordinary talent for turning exhaustive research into plausible characters and narratives; she presents a vibrant world seething with repressed feeling and class tensions.’ – Publishers Weekly (2004)
‘Her informed imaginings combined with her sheer cleverness and elegance as a writer breathe vivid life into real characters who heretofore resided in the footnotes of history.’ – Irish Times (2002)
‘Every now and again, a writer comes along with a fully loaded brain and a nature so fanciful that she simply must spin out truly original and transporting stuff… Eccentric, untethered genius.’ – Seattle Times (2002)
‘Profoundly entertaining and intelligent.’ – Elle (2000)
Libe García Zarranz, 'Queer TransCanadian Women's Writing in the 21st Century: Assembling a New Cross-Border Ethic,' DPhil (University of Alberta, 2013), studies my work (Slammerkin, The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits, Room and Astray) alongside that of Dionne Brand and Hiromi Goto.
Heather Ingman, Irish Women’s Fiction: From Edgeworth to Enright (Irish Academic Press, 2013), 247-48, discusses my fiction from Stir-fry to Room.
Reading from 'A Short Story' (in The Women Who Gave Birth to Rabbits) and talking about writing factual historical fiction at American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 11 October 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEpFiYSRGuw
Noah Charney, 'Emma Donoghue: The How I Write Interview', thedailybeast.com, 24 October 2012, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/10/24/emma-donoghue-the-how-i-write-interview.html
Tom Ue, ‘An extraordinary act of motherhood: a conversation with Emma Donoghue,’ Journal of Gender Studies, 21:1 (2012), 101-106,
A long interview (four parts, 14 minutes each) on TV Ontario’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin (18-21 July 2011), discussing:
The Parent-Child Relationship
Women and Gender Identity
Behind the Mask of Masculinity
In conversation with novelist Fiona Shaw at the Edinburgh Festival, 2011: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-XMA66H5ZU
Samuele F. Grassi and Fiorenzo Fantaccini, ‘Emma in Borderlands: Q&A with Emma Donoghue’, in Studi Irlandesi: A Journal of Irish Studies (2011), http://www.fupress.net/index.php/bsfm-sijis/article/view/9717
In conversation with my father Denis Donoghue on RTE Radio’s Miriam Meets, 28 November 2010: http://www.rte.ie/podcasts/2010/pc/pod-v-miriammeets281110donoghue.mp3
Dearbhla McGrath, ‘Marginal Identities: Representations of Sexuality in the Work of Emma Donoghue,’ paper delivered at Écrivaines Irlandaises / Irish Women Writers Conference (Université de Caen Basse-Normandie, 2010).
Jennifer M. Jeffers, “The Reclamation of ‘Injurious Terms’ in Emma Donoghue’s Fiction” in A Companion to Irish Literature, Vol. 2, ed. Julia M. Wright (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 425-35.
Judy Stoffman, ‘Writer has a Deft Touch with Sexual Identities’, Toronto Star, 13 January 2007.
Maureen E. Mulvihill, ‘Emma Donoghue’, in Irish Women Writers: An A-Z Guide, ed. Alexander G. Gonzales (Westwood, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2006), 98-101.
Brian Cliff, ‘Anne Enright and Emma Donoghue: The Desire to Belong in Contemporary Irish Fiction’, paper delivered at IASIL Conference (Sydney, 2006).
Eibhear Walshe, ‘Emma Donoghue, b. 1969’, in Anthony Roche, ed. The UCD Aesthetic: Celebrating 150 Years of UCD Writers (Dublin: New Island, 2005), 274-84.
Charlotte Abbott, ‘Protean Talent’, Publishers Weekly, 10 October 2004.
‘A Liking to be Noticed’, Sunday Independent (Ireland), 1 August 2004.
Kersti Tarien Powell, ‘Emma Donoghue’, in Irish Fiction: An Introduction (New York and London: Continuum, 2004), 108-110.
Jennifer M. Jeffers, The Irish Novel at the End of the Twentieth Century: Gender, Bodies and Power (New York: Palgrave, 2002), 90-107.
Stacia L. Bensyl, ‘Emma Donoghue’, Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 267, Twenty-First Century British and Irish Novelists, ed. by Michael R. Molino (Columbia, SC: Bruccoli Clark Layman, Inc, 2002).
Helen Thompson, interview in Irish Women Writers Speak Out, by Caitriona Moloney and Helen Thompson (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2002), 169-180.
‘Don’t Tell Me You’ve Never Heard of Emma Donoghue’ (cover story), Eye Weekly (Toronto), 17 October 2002.
Anne Fogarty, ‘Lesbian Texts and Contexts: The Fiction of Emma Donoghue and Mary Dorcey’, paper delivered at Munster Women Writers Conference (2001).
Antoinette Quinn, 'New Noises from the Woodshed: The Novels of Emma Donoghue,' in Contemporary Irish Fiction: Themes, Tropes, Theories, ed. by Liam Harte and Michael Parker (London: Macmillan, and New York: St Martin's, 2000), pp.145-167.
Stacia Bensyl, ‘Swings and Roundabouts: An Interview with Emma Donoghue’, Irish Studies Review, 8, No. 1 (2000), 73-81.
'Emma's Exploits', Globe and Mail (Canada), 7 October 2000.
'Loose Lives', Irish Examiner, 5 August 2000.
'All Het Up', Time Out (London), 2 August 2000.
'Writer in Residence', Image Magazine (Ireland), July 2000.
S. Díez, "Women's Homoerotic Voice in the Works of Emma Donoghue: Discovery and Assertion", paper delivered at IASIL (1999).
'Irish Spring', Bay Area Reporter, 1 April 1999
Rachel Wingfield, 'Lesbian Writers in the Mainstream: Sarah Maitland, Jeanette Winterson and Emma Donoghue' in Beyond Sex and Romance: The Politics of Contemporary Lesbian Fiction, ed. by Elaine Hutton (London: Women's Press, 1998).
Tonie van Marle, 'Emma Donoghue', in Gay and Lesbian Literature: Volume Two, ed. by Tom Pendergast and Sara Pendergast (Detroit: St James Press, 1998).
'We've a Long Way to Go', Gay Community News (Ireland), April 1997.
Marilyn R. Farwell, Heterosexual Plots and Lesbian Narratives (New York and London: New York University Press, 1996), 170-71, 176.
'Sect Goddess,' Diva, April 1995.
'Family Ties: Frances Donoghue on her daughter, Emma Donoghue,' Sunday Tribune, 26 March 1995.
'Relative Values: Emma Donoghue, lesbian novelist and playwright, and her father, Denis, academic and critic,' Sunday Times, 26 March 1995.
'The Bishop and the Lesbian,' Guardian, 22 March 1995.
'Faith, Hope and Sexual Clarity,' Times, 23 February 1995.