Monday, 1 April 2019

Abstracts: Bonds of Attachment: Emyr Humphreys at 100

Professor M. Wynn Thomas
'Soul-searches: Marilynne Robinson's Gilead and Emyr Humphreys's Outside the House of Baal.' (The Saunders Lewis Memorial Lecture)

Abstract:  Marilynne Robinson is one of the most eminent novelists of contemporary America, and was honoured by President Obama with an invitation during his term in office to conduct a public conversation with him at the White House. Her key fiction has been firmly underpinned by her strong moral principles and religious faith, and in this respect it invites comparison with the resonant fiction of Emyr Humphreys.

Biography: M. Wynn Thomas FBA FLSW OBE is Professor of English and holder of the Emyr Humphreys Chair of Welsh Writing in English at Swansea University. He is the author of over twenty books and his most recent book is a new study of Emyr Humphreys (2018). The record of his thirty-year close friendship with Emyr Humphreys will be preserved in the Emyr Humphreys Archive at Swansea University being formally launched at this symposium.

Dr Michelle Deininger 

Emyr Humphreys’ Short Fictions: Landscapes, Communities, Contexts

Abstract:  Emyr Humpreys’ short fictions span his entire career, from Natives (1968) to The Woman at the Window (2009). As Linden Peach notes in The Fiction of Emyr Humphreys (2011), stories in Natives explore ‘changes which are taking place at a local, community level [that] are analogous to larger dilemmas within Wales in the middle of the twentieth century’. This paper will examine the ways in which communities, and the landscapes they reside in, are constructed in Humphreys’ fictions, exploring changes and continuities between the earlier stories and those published more recently. It will pay particular attention to the way industrial landscapes are depicted, from motorway link roads to ‘desolate docklands’ and how these kinds of images speak to wider environmental concerns. Finally, this paper will make connections with other Welsh short story writers who critique industrialisation and its impact on communities and environments, such as Elizabeth Baines, contextualising Humpreys’ work in a wider tradition of short story writing and its potential for political and cultural change.
Biography: Dr Michelle Deininger is Co-ordinating Lecturer in Humanities in the division of Continuing and Professional Education at Cardiff University. She manages the broader adult education humanities provision as well as co-ordinating several open access Pathways to a Degree programmes in English, Creative Writing, Philosophy and Media. She is currently co-writing a book with Dr Claire Flay-Petty (Bridgend College) entitled Scholarship and Sisterhood: Women, Writing and Higher Education for UWP.

Professor Daniel G Williams
 What’s Wrong with Ancestor Worship? Emyr Humphreys in the 1970s
Abstract: The 1970s in Wales witnessed successful strikes by miners in 1972 and 1974, and considerable vitality in Welsh language culture as manifested in politics and in popular music. Yet much of the decade’s writing dwells on themes of loss, despair and melancholia. The fact that a remarkably vibrant decade in politics, sport and culture gives rise to a literature of nostalgia, loss and grief needs explaining. Was the debacle of the 1979 referendum foreseen in the decade’s novels? This is a question that I will try to address with reference to Emyr Humphreys’ writings.  
Biography: Daniel G. Williams is Professor of English and Director of the Richard Burton Centre for the Study of Wales at Swansea University. His latest book is Wales Unchained: Literature. Politics and Identity in the American Century (2015).

Dr Elinor Shepley
‘There was always an unspecified goal. It has turned out to be old age’: Ageing in Emyr Humphreys’s novels and short stories
Abstract: Emyr Humphreys has attended to experiences of and attitudes towards ageing in his writing for much of his literary career. One might read the proliferation of older characters to be found in Humphreys’s oeuvre as reflecting the demographic shifts at play in our society since the early twentieth century. Critics have also argued that literary texts are particularly appropriate for rendering the complexities of aged experience and Humphreys’s ability to reveal human frailties and failings with a combination of cutting insight, humour and benevolence is certainly suited to exploring the intricacies of growing older. Studies of novels and short stories about ageing often reveal a concern with the trajectories of older protagonists’ lives. Traditional conceptions of later life characterised by degeneration and loss have been designated ‘decline narratives’ and are usually viewed as problematic due to their involvement in the propagation of ageist attitudes and limiting expectations of later life. Critics have also explored intersections between age and gender and the concept of ‘late style’ – described by Edward Said as ‘a sort of deliberately unproductive productiveness’ – has been applied to the late works of a number of creative writers. This paper will consider a selection of Humphreys’s fictional works with reference to recent critical perspectives on age and ageing in literature.
Biography: Elinor Shepley recently completed a PhD at Cardiff University. Her thesis examines the representation of ageing in modern and contemporary Welsh fiction in English. Elinor wrote her Masters dissertation on old age in Emyr Humphreys’s fiction, a section of which was published in Almanac: The Yearbook of Welsh Writing in English. She currently works for the Institute of Welsh Affairs.

Dr Andy Webb
Twenty-First Century Humphreys
AbstractThis paper explores Humphreys most recent publications and the representation of Wales in Europe. 
Biography: Andy Webb is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Bangor University and the author of Edward Thomas and World Literary Studies

Dr Tristan Hughes
In conversation
Abstract: Hughes explores the contours of his own and Emyr Humphreys' writing in conversation with Kirsti Bohata.
Biography: Tristan Hughes was born in Atikokan in northern Ontario and brought up on the Welsh island of Anglesey.  He is the author of four novels, Send My Cold Bones Home, Revenant, Eye Lake and Hummingbird - which won the Edward Stanford Award for Fiction with a Sense of Place and the Wales Book of the Year People's Choice Prize - as well as a collection of linked short stories, The Tower.  His short fiction has appeared in various journals, including Ploughshares, The Southern Review, and New Welsh Review.  He is a winner of the Rhys Davies short story prize and the recipient of an O. Henry Award.  He currently teaches creative writing at Cardiff University.

Programme: Emyr Humphreys Centenary Symposium




9.30-10.00 Registration (Tea and Coffee available)

10.00 Welcome


             M. Wynn Thomas, 'Soul-searches: Marilynne Robinson's Gilead and Emyr Humphreys's                         Outside the House of Baal.'

11.20-11.40 Launch of the Emyr Humphreys Archive and Book Launch

11.40-12.00  Coffee / Tea
12-1.15 PANEL 1

Michelle Deininger, ‘Emyr Humphreys’ Short Fictions: Landscapes, Communities, Contexts

Daniel G Williams, ‘What’s Wrong with Ancestor Worship? Emyr Humphreys in the 1970s’

1.15-2.00 BUFFET LUNCH

2.00 -3.15 – PANEL 2

Elinor Shepley, ‘There was always an unspecified goal. It has turned out to be old age’: Ageing in Emyr Humphreys’s novels and short stories

Andy Webb, ‘Twenty-First Century Humphreys’

3.15-3.45 Tea / Coffee

3.45-4.30 – SESSION 4

Tristan Hughes in conversation with Kirsti Bohata


PUBLIC LECTURE (at Cinema and Co)

6.00pm Reception


Candida Clark, A world woven by his voice’; Myth-maker, story-teller, formal innovator and bard: tracing the unique songline of Emyr Humphreys at 100.


CREW wishes to thank the following for their generous financial support: the Learned Society for Wales, the Saunders Lewis Memorial Frust, Swansea University, including the College of Arts and Humanities Research Environment Fund.  We are also grateful for the postgraduate travel bursaries offered by our partners, the Association for Welsh Writing in English.  Thanks to the Welsh Books Council, the University of Wales Press and Seren Books for the array of books – new and reissued – by and about Emyr Humphreys and the associated publicity material.  We are grateful to Bernard Mitchell for permission to use his photograph of Emyr Humphreys and to the Richard Burton Archives at Swansea University for their help in planning and organising elements of this event, not least the creation of the new Emyr Humphreys Archive at Swansea University.  We are enormously grateful to the Cultural Institute at Swansea University for organising the Public Lecture and to Elaine Canning and Helen Baldwin for sound advice and generous support throughout.



Saturday 13 April 2019

Symposium: 10.00-4.30 at Taliesin Create, Swansea University, Singleton Park, SA2 8PP

Lecture and Reception: 6.00-7.45 at Cinema & Co, 17 Castle St, Swansea SA1 1JF

© Bernard Mitchell
In April 2019, Emyr Humphreys will celebrate his hundredth birthday. He is the pre-eminent novelist of anglophone Wales, a major cultural figure who has operated on several different fronts, and a principled ethical activist. He has enjoyed a career that began when he was talent-spotted and mentored by Graham Greene, continued during the fifties through a creative friendship with Saunders Lewis and pioneering radio and television productions featuring the young Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and Sian Phillips, diversified further from the early eighties onwards with his seminal contributions of plays and documentaries for the new Welsh-language channel S4C, and culminated with his remarkable late achievements in poetry and in fiction. His has therefore been a unique achievement, one without parallel in the long history of Welsh.
This one-day symposium and evening lecture assess and celebrate the literary and cultural legacy of Humphreys.  All welcome. 

Both symposium and public lecture are free, but please register via Eventbrite. 


A limited number of postgraduate / non-affiliated ECR travel bursaries are available from AWWE. To apply, please email by 1 April.

Organiser: Kirsti Bohata: