GC creative writing professor Kerry Neville returned to the U.S. just a few months ago after teaching in Ireland for a semester.
Neville has been writing for 28 years and is the successful author of the short story collections “Remember to Forget Me” and “Necessary Lies.” She has also written for various journals and publications, including “The Gettysburg Review,” “Epoch” and The Huffington Post.
Neville said she never questioned her desire to write.
“I always wanted to be a writer,” Neville said. “I never wanted to do anything else. I tried to write my first novel on a typewriter in my parents’ basement when I was eight—a romance novel.”
Her dedication to her craft paid off many years later. She is currently a recipient of both the Dallas Museum of Art’s Fiction Prize and the Texas Institute of Letters Prize for the Short Story.
Neville was also awarded the J. William Fulbright Foreign scholarship, which led her to a teaching position in Ireland.
She had visited the University of Limerick previously for a book reading where the head of the creative writing program and novelist, Joseph O’Connor, suggested she teach for the university.
Neville was drawn to Limerick specifically as her great-grandparents had both lived there and her great-grandmother grew up in the area.
“Where I was living was a 10-minute walk to the front door where she grew up, which was extraordinary,” Neville said, referring to her great-grandmother.
Amid teaching various Irish students, hiking one of the Aran Islands and living on a sheep farm where she chased down a ram and learned how to dip sheep, Neville said the most prominent part of her experience was taking Irish speaking classes. Although most people in Ireland speak English today, Neville wanted to learn the original Irish language because where she stayed in Limerick, as well as where her great-grandparents lived years before, was considered a Gaeltacht. Gaeltachts were communities around Ireland designated to speak Irish as their first language until English was finally adopted by all areas of Ireland.
“There’s a movement now to sort of use Irish more as a way to reclaim identity,” Neville said. “But it’s also an impossible language. It starts with the verb, and the grammar is insane. It has no relationship to any of the romance languages. It’s the oldest language in Western Europe.”
Though Neville joked about secretly hoping to find unexpected love in Ireland, she said she realized that in a way, through her Irish-speaking lessons, she did. She took lessons with 89-year-old Irish man who she said grew to become like her second father.
“I was like, ‘Maybe I’ll fall in love with somebody who’s Irish,’ and I actually kind of did. I fell in love with him,” Neville said. “He was an amazing man. We’re still in contact, and we write letters back and forth because he doesn’t have a computer or a mobile phone.”
Along with Neville’s many successes in the writing world, she recalled the risk of failure as a major obstacle she had to learn to overcome. However, throughout the years, she discovered that fear was a terrible excuse that prevented her from producing anything at all.
“Actually, I don’t believe anymore in writer’s block,” Neville said. “It’s a matter of opening your eyes to the world, and the world gives you things to write about all the time.”
Though Neville’s teaching experiences in Ireland are a huge part of her accomplishments, she has also impacted students here at GC.
“Her vulnerability allows her students to be vulnerable, which is why so much of the work I have written under her direction has stemmed from things I never wanted to write about in the first place but needed to,” said Morgan Coyner, a graduate student and one of Neville’s former students.
Neville said her favorite part about her role here at GC is seeing where her students are at when they first come into her class and watching them grow into entirely different and more understanding writers by the end of her class.
Neville said her biggest desire for every one of her students is for them to leave her class with the understanding that “sometimes the thing you want to write about least is the thing you have to write about.”
Another one of her students, senior Megan Duffey, an English major with a concentration in Creative Writing , was strongly impacted by this idea.
“I have always been inspired and awe-struck by her words of wisdom, her dedication and the overwhelming bravery she has to choose the hardest path for her own words,” Duffey said.
Photos courtesy of Kerry Neville