Seamus Heaney Honoured with First Children's Writing Fellowship

County Down author Myra Zepf takes up two-year post created to carry the late poet's legacy into a new generation of literary talents

County Down-based children’s author Myra Zepf has been appointed as Northern Ireland's first Children’s Writing Fellow, a prestigious new position created in honour of Seamus Heaney and his contribution to literature. The appointment has been welcomed by the Heaney family with Seamus Heaney’s daughter, Catherine Heaney, in attendance at the announcement.

The two-year post has been created by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University Belfast. It is the first appointment of its kind and is one of a number of projects created by the two organisations to ensure the legacy of the Nobel Prize-winning poet, and to inspire and support current and future generations of creative writing talent.

Once in post, the Children’s Writing Fellow will perform a range of duties which promote an interest in reading and writing from an early age by encouraging creativity and engagement with books with children of all ages, from preschoolers, to young adults.

A children's author and journalist, Zepf has published three Irish language books for young audiences and has a number of other projects in production, including picture books in Irish and English, and a young adult novel in free-verse. She was nominated for Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year in 2016, as well as the Irish Language Reics Carló Award three times. Her picture book Ná Gabh ar Scoil! (Don’t Go to School!) has been translated into Korean and English. Zepf has extensive experience in delivering children’s writing workshops in Northern Ireland and further afield, regularly working to deliver bespoke reading and writing sessions for school-age audiences.

Writing Fellowship

Catherine Heaney (left) pictured with Myra Zepf at Queen's University Belfast

Welcoming the creation of the post, Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, commented: 'We are delighted to announce Myra Zepf’s appointment as the first Children’s Writing Fellow. Working with primary and secondary schools, Myra will embark on a creative journey that will promote reading for pleasure, encouraging children of all ages to discover the joy of books, as well as embarking on their own story-telling adventures.

'Seamus Heaney was one of the greatest literary voices of our time and his work is celebrated across the world. The creation of this post is a fitting tribute to his life, work and enduring legacy.'

Dr Glenn Patterson, Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s, said: 'The Children’s Writing Fellowship is a tremendously important, and exciting, new addition to the Northern Irish literary landscape, and in Myra Zepf we have a wonderful and worthy first Children’s Writing Fellow. I can think of no better way to honour Seamus Heaney's contribution to literature than to inspire new generations of readers and writers. The Seamus Heaney Centre looks forward to working with Myra over the next two years in celebrating and encouraging writing for children and by children of all ages.'

Commenting on her appointment, Myra Zepf said: 'I’m looking forward to tapping into that wonderful energy that is already there in the world of children’s books, joining dots between organisations and individuals and forging new collaborations. It will be about shining a spotlight on the talent we already have in the local children’s writing community and inspiring a love of reading and books far and wide. But most importantly of all, it will be about bringing the buzz of the creative process into schools to develop our youngest writers, sparking their imaginations and nurturing their confidence.'

Jan Carson Lucy Caldwell

Lucy Caldwell (left) and Jan Carson (right)

In other literary arts news, the Strand Arts Centre in East Belfast has added a number of free events to its established programme of film, live theatre and music, which focus around two of Northern Ireland's leading contemporary writers.

On Saturday May 13 at 10.30am multi-award-winning author and playwright Lucy Caldwell will be in conversation with Glenn Patterson, in what promises to be a witty and entertaining event. The two will discuss Caldwell's acclaimed debut collection of short stories, Multitudes, as well as its setting – the East Belfast of her childhood.

Meanwhile on Tuesday May 30 from 6.30pm audiences are invited to join novelist Jan Carson for the launch of her Postcard Stories collection. Published by the Emma Press with bespoke illustrations by English artist Benjamin Phillipps, the 50 stories in the collection chronicle Carson’s attempt to write a short story on a postcard every day of 2015. The event will include a short reading, live music from Hannah McPhillimy, refreshments and other treats.

Other live events at Strand Arts Centre this month include a behind-the-scenes Heritage Tour (May 20), The Illegals with Niamh Kavanagh (May 25) and Woofle, a Dan Leith show for ages four to ten in association with Replay Theatre Company (May 27). Find out more at www.strandartscentre.com