Be Still, My Literary Heart: Irish Essayist Tim Robinson Honored by NUI-Galway

It’s just good luck that in the last two days, my two favorite essayists have showed up in my News Feed. One of them comes from Doug Carlson, assistant editor for Georgia Review, who wrote a blog post on the Minnesotan essayist Paul Gruchow. Those of you have visited our About Us page know that our journal’s name comes from a Gruchow quote, so I make no claims to being unbiased when it comes to his work. Also, my Earl Grey tastes particularly good this morning, so I’m full of energy.

This morning, a friend posts an article on Tim Robinson, the Irish essayist, being honored for his work. Very, very well-deserved honors–and again, I make no claims towards any hope of being unbiased. Jim Rogers, one of our Advisory Editors, introduced me to Robinson’s work in 2003-ish and the rest is history. I’ve read everything that man has written and even in rereading, it still sets my world on fire and reminds me why I am a writer. I have his map of the Aran Islands on my office wall (his Connemara map is still folded on my shelf). I visited him at his home in Roundstone in 2007 and even at the age of 75, he still out-hiked me up Errisbeg. (I wished I’d planned better, because he and his wife were preparing for their annual Roundstone Regatta party–and the Regatta was happening the next day, when I was flying home.) I may or may not have turned into a fangirl incapable of coherent speech, but meeting him still ranks very high on my list of favorite life experiences. Nobody does sentences like Robinson. 

If you have Best American Essays 1998 on your shelf, he was reprinted there–it’s a good place to start, but his most accessible book is Setting Foot on the Shores of Connemara. You can get into his Stones of Aran or his Connemara trilogy, but start with Setting Foot. published a great piece by Eamonn Wall on Robinson–check that out too. Very shortly, the first critical book on Robinson is coming out of Manchester University Press, skillfully edited by Christine Cusick and Derek Gladwin, and I’m ecstatic to be a part of it.

So, what I would like to find is a language for these questions, not dependent on personalizing the land, neither sexualizing or spiritualizing my relationship with it.  To date, all I have towards that is what I have written about in Stones of Aran and elsewhere, the act of walking.  To me, walking is an intense cognitive and physical involvement with the terrain, close to but not lapsing into identification with it, not a mysticism; and not a matter of getting from A to B, but of lingering, revisiting, cross-hatching an area with one’s most alert and best-informed attention (“Firewalking” My Time in Space 103).


Enquiring out placenames, mapping, has become for me not a making a living or making a career, but of making a life; a mode of dwelling in a place.  In composing each of the placename instances I have given you into a brief epiphany, a showing forth of the nature of a place, I am suggesting that what is hidden from us is not something rare and occult, or even augustly sacred, but, too often, the Earth we stand on.  I present to you a new word: “geophany.”  A theophany is the showing forth, the manifestation of God, or a god; geophany therefore must be the showing forth of the Earth (“Listening to the Landscape”164).

Okay, so here’s my point, beyond my rockstar-like love for this writer. I want to start a conversation–hopefully we can get some ideas moving here and then see them manifested more thoroughly for future issues of Assay–but I am very, very interested in the ways that nonfiction is happening outside the United States. What are other cultures doing? Who are their biggest names? What does their craft look like? What are their influences? Who should we all be reading? Write it up, post it here, send it to me.

Happy Friday, everybody!


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