Northern Ireland from the mid-1960s to late-1980s was marked not only by sectarian conflict, but an extraordinary flowering of literary talent. Set against the backdrop of the Troubles, the origin story of this generation of Northern writers often referred to as the ‘Belfast Group’ – Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Derek Mahon, and Michael Longley among them – has been told and retold by academics, journalists, and the poets themselves over the last fifty years. But the role radio played in facilitating their spectacular rise has been almost entirely overlooked. In this project, the ER will develop a new interdisciplinary approach that combines broadcast media, cultural history, artistic collaboration, and literary analysis to re-evaluate the careers of these Northern Irish writers through their formative engagements with radio broadcasting. The BBC Northern Ireland Community Archive alone contains 110 Arts programmes from 1973–1986 involving multiple members of the Belfast Group. Using sources from the BBC, RTÉ, and Emory University archives, this project will explore little-known radio scripts, talks, correspondence, and creative collaborations between these Northern Irish writers in order to shed new light on the published work that made their reputations. The ER will have a monograph fully drafted by the end of the fellowship. In collaboration of with Emory University, the ER will host an international symposium and will produce a free-to-use online database of the radio materials being held in archives across the UK, Ireland, and USA. This database be an invaluable resource, helping to address the problems of access and visibility that have made it difficult for researchers to tackle this important radio material. As well as opening up the productive relationship between radio broadcasting and the arts, the action will help us to better understand the social dynamics of creativity within literary groups and the public face of poetry in an age of mass media.
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