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Joining us for our second Northern Ireland Writers Day, poets Inua Ellams and Daljit Nagra reflect on the life and work of Seamus Heaney. During a day celebrating contemporary Northern Irish writing, we take a moment to consider the enduring influence of one of the greatest poets of his generation.
Inua Ellams will read a poem inspired by a portrait of Heaney at London’s National Portrait Gallery, specially commissioned by the RSL in 2018, five years after Heaney’s death. You can listen back to this event in the RSL Library.
The recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, Seamus Heaney's work has been translated into 27 languages, with The Spirit Level and Beowulf both winning the Whitbread Book of the Year. Human Chain, his last volume of poems, was awarded the 2010 Forward Prize for Best Collection. Extensive archives of Heaney's writing and other materials, including original manuscripts, letters, unpublished works, diary entries, photographs, note books and multi-media recordings, can be found at The National Library of Ireland. In 1991, Heaney was elected a Companion of Literature, the highest honour the RSL can bestow.
Inua Ellams, born in Nigeria, is a poet, playwright and performer, graphic artist and designer. He is a Complete Works poet alumnus and facilitates workshops in creative writing where he explores recurring themes in his work – identity, displacement and destiny – in accessible ways for participants of all ages and backgrounds. Inua has written for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre and the BBC. His work has won the Live Canon International Poetry Prize, an Arts Council England Award, a Wellcome Trust Award, the Edinburgh Fringe First Award and the Liberty Human Rights Award. Inua was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2018.
Daljit Nagra has a Sikh-Indian heritage and was born and grew up in West London then Sheffield. He is Chair of the Royal Society of Literature, is on the Council of The Society of Authors, is Adviser to Poetry By Heart, and is Professor of English & Creative Writing at Brunel University where he teaches. He has published four poetry collections, all with Faber & Faber, including Look, We Have Coming to Dover! which is one of Faber & Faber’s iconic books of the past 90 years. He has won the Forward Prize for Best Individual Poem and Best First Book, the South Bank Show Decibel Award, the Cholmondeley Award, and the Royal Society of Arts Travelling Scholarship. His books have been nominated for the Costa Prize and twice for the TS Eliot Prize. He has been selected as a New Generation Poet by the Poetry Book Society.
As the inaugural Poet-in-Residence for Radio 4 & 4 Extra, he presents the weekly programme, Poetry Extra, on Radio 4 Extra. He has judged many prizes including The Samuel Johnson Prize, The T.S. Eliot Prize, The Costa Prize, and the David Cohen Prize. His poems have been published in The New Yorker, Poetry Chicago, The LRB, The TLS and The New Statesman. He has written for The Guardian, The Financial Times and The Times of India. His poems are set texts at GCSE and A’ Level.