Award-winning author Emma Donoghue handed today’s graduates select words of advice, offering them a biographical rhyming verse meant to inspire a pursuit of passions, regardless of social expectations.
Donoghue spoke to graduates from Brescia University College, Huron University College, Faculty of Health Sciences and School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Monday, June17, afternoon session of Western’s 301st Convocation. Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Letters, honoris causa (D.Litt.), upon Donoghue in recognition of her successful and distinguished career as a novelist, playwright and literary historian.
“Kids have a GPS inside. It sets their course; it’s their true guide. It will help them find their way, if you let them be,” Donoghue said. She noted her gratitude for the adults who left her alone and allowed her to hone her love and skill for writing at an early age.
“Everyone should feel free to up sticks and move to a higher land,” she continued with her biographical rhyming advice.
With a reputation of being a gifted storyteller and an outspoken social critic, Donoghue was born in Dublin, Ireland, and is the youngest of eight children. She earned a First Class Honours BA from University College Dublin in 1990 and received her PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1997.
Widely recognized for her works of fiction, Donoghue’s work is known for the depth of historical and psychological research, which she puts into her work. She has written, and continues to write, works of fiction, drama and literary history and is well known for international bestseller Room (2010) and Slammerkin (2000). Her works have been translated into more than 40 languages. She has earner her living as a writer since the age of 23.
Donoghue has been honoured with numerous awards, among them the WH Smith Paperback of the Year (winner 2011), Dublin Literary Award (long-listed 2012), Commonwealth Prize for Fiction (winner 2011) and Man Booker Prize (shortlisted 2010). She received a Women of Excellence Award from the YMCA this year, given to women who make significant contributions in their communities.
Formerly the Writer-In-Residence at Western (and the University of York), she lives in London with her partner Chris Roulston and their two young children.
Donoghue told the graduates she has learned much from a career in publishing, how to “politely suffer fools,” to keep a smile in interviews and to be weary of those who pry for the sake of prying.
“There’s more than a dash of fluke in all success. … I ignore what’s coming up, what came before and delve into my own distress,” she said.
In her citation, Arja Vainio-Mattila, associate professor of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research, praised Donoghue, defining her as a “writer who queers our world as she questions it, disrupts and celebrates what seems easy and everyday, and treats with astonishing gentility that which is difficult and full of grief.”
“I have come to appreciate how mindfully Emma attends to the various relationships on which it seems her craft is predicated. Whether as a mentor of new writers, such as when she was a Writer in Residence at Western, or as a lesbian icon meeting high expectations of visibility and sensibility, or as an ever charming interviewee willing to debate the meaning of her writing with her readers, Donoghue’s emotional intelligence allows her to identify and focus on a remarkable array of stories.,” she said.
“She clearly delights in the festive occasions as part of a story which couldn’t be better had she written it herself. Such are her narrative powers that what for most us are the barely noticed nuances of the every day, in her hands become material so rich and incisive that when we read her stories we learn about ourselves, our emotions, relationships and the moral milieu of the world we inhabit.”
The road to success isn’t always evenly paved Donoghue added.
“I get rejection still and so will you. What makes originality new is that nobody thought of it before you,” she said.
Tell all the naysayers to “go to hell,” Donoghue continued, asking graduates to foster a passion and fervency for their dreams.
Things will happen to you that will break and renew you, and you will be astonished by how much you’ve grown, she said.
Also during the ceremony, The Brescia University College Award for Excellence in Teaching was presented to English professor Monika Lee while the title of professor emeritus was conferred upon Brescia professor Leonard Piche and Huron professor Nelson Heapy.