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Donoghue, Emma (b. 1969)  

A prolific writer of novels, plays, scholarly studies, and short stories, Emma Donoghue has emerged in recent years as a major contemporary literary figure.

Born in Dublin in 1969, the youngest child of fiercely literary parents, Frances and Denis Donoghue, Emma Donoghue earned an undergraduate degree from University College, Dublin, in 1990, and a Ph.D. from Cambridge University in 1997, with a dissertation on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction. She has earned her living as a writer since the age of 23.

Donoghue's well-received first novel, Stir-Fry (1994), is a semiautobiographical account of three college women living in Dublin. The book relates the lesbian coming-of-age of the protagonist, Maria Murphy, and offers insights into attitudes about homosexuality in contemporary Irish society. Donoghue has also completed a screenplay for an anticipated film adaptation of Stir-Fry.

In 1995 Donoghue published Hood, a novel also set in Dublin but one that explores the complexities of a mature lesbian relationship. As Antoinette Quinn writes, "Few novels focus as Hood does on the pains and pleasures of long-term lesbian partnership." Although the novel details one traumatic week in the life of the protagonist, Pen, Donoghue's imaginative and skillful use of flashbacks over a thirteen-year period serves as a broad and effective counterpoint to the present-time minutiae of Pen's daily lesbian existence. Hood was awarded the American Library Association's Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Book Award for Literature in 1997.

Donoghue's more recent fiction reveals a departure from her earlier works. Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins (1997) is an innovative retelling of thirteen stories that update traditional fairy tales, mostly with lesbian characters and outcomes.

Slammerkin (2000) is based on the true story of an eighteenth-century prostitute and seamstress hanged for the murder of her employer. The rich and detailed evocation of the underside of eighteenth-century London is testimony not only to Donoghue's creativity but also to her scholarly background and knowledge of this period.

The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits (2002), a sequence of short stories about incidents in the history of the British Isles, was a finalist for the 2003 Stonewall Book Award.

Life Mask (2004) tells the true story of three people who lived in the harsh glare of publicity in 1790s London: the Honourable Mrs Anne Damer (a widowed sculptor with a Sapphic reputation), the Earl of Derby (a fabulously wealthy politician who founded the Derby horserace), and Eliza Farren (the leading comedy actress on the British stage). The novel was a finalist for the 2005 Lambda Award and the Ferro-Grumley Award, as well as the Stonewall Book Award.

Donoghue's most recent book is a collection of nineteen short stories, Touchy Subjects (2006), about taboos and embarrassments, featuring characters who are old and young, , straight, and simply confused. They are set in locales from Ireland to Louisiana, and from Canada to Tuscany.

Donoghue is also the author of several plays, including I Know My Own Heart: A Lesbian Regency Romance (1993), Ladies and Gentlemen (1996), and an adaptation of Kissing the Witch, which premiered in San Francisco in 2000. Her short stories have also appeared in numerous anthologies.

Emma Donoghue's contributions to scholarly literature are equally notable. Passion between Women: British Lesbian Culture, 1668-1801 (1993) draws on literary texts, popular fiction, letters, newspapers, histories, and biographies to examine a variety of lesbian relationships. The biography We Are Michael Field (1998) resurrects a prolific and popular literary team of late Victorian England, Katherine Bradley and her niece, Edith Cooper, who also enjoyed a lifelong lesbian relationship.

Donoghue is also the editor of Poems between Women: Four Centuries of Love, Romantic Friendship, and Desire (1998) and The Mammoth Book of Lesbian Short Stories (1999).

The quality and quantity of Donoghue's literary output has been extraordinary for a writer her age. As Ellen Orleans writes, "Donoghue . . . leaves us eager for whatever directions her next work will take us."

After several years of commuting between England, Ireland, and Canada, in 1998 Donoghue settled in London, Ontario, where she lives with her partner and their son.

David Garnes


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Callaghan, Mary Rose. "Emma Donoghue." Dictionary of Irish Literature. Robert Hogan, ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996.

Harper, Jorjet. "Passions Between Women." Lambda Book Report 4:1l (July-August 1995): 47.

Orleans, Ellen. "Hood." Lambda Book Report 5:2 (September-October 1996): 23.

Quinn, Antoinette. "New Noises from the Woodshed: The Novels of Emma Donoghue." Contemporary Irish Fiction: Themes, Tropes, Theories. Liam Harte, ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Reaney, James. "Donoghue Settled, Writing in London." London Free Press (February 16, 1999): C5.


    Citation Information
    Author: Garnes, David  
    Entry Title: Donoghue, Emma  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 28, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, New England Publishing Associates  


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