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Samuel Beckett Collection Inspiring New Art And Literature

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Life through the eyes of women and female oppression by society are explored in a newly-published collection of original fiction inspired by the University of Reading’s Samuel Beckett archives.

Mouthpieces, consists of three texts by Irish novelist Eimear McBride that each portray female characters troubled by difficult events in their lives or by female stereotypes in the media.

The book is the end product of McBride’s inaugural Creative Fellowship at the University of Reading, which gave her exclusive access to the Beckett Collection – the world’s biggest archive of manuscripts, notebooks and correspondence belonging to the Nobel Prize-winning author, held at the University.

Samuel Beckett – Reading University Research

The University’s Samuel Beckett Research Centre has this week announced its latest Creative Fellows – Turner Prize-winning video artist Duncan Campbell and renowned Palestinian-Irish playwright and dramatist Hannah Khalil – who will each be tasked with producing more original work inspired by the archive.

Professor Steven Matthews, Director of the Samuel Beckett Research Centre at the University of Reading, said: “We are incredibly proud of the part the University’s Beckett Collection has played in the creation of Mouthpieces, which provides a richly poignant and unique take on issues of female experience.

“The Samuel Beckett Research Centre exists to start conversations and inspire new creative work to enhance Beckett’s legacy. Our two new Creative Fellows already have relationships with Beckett’s work, so it will be fascinating to see how getting access to his personal notebooks and letters will allow these to develop and inspire them to create something new.”

Mouthpieces, published by Faber and Faber in February 2021, presents three narratives by different women, which are intended to act as fragments of female experience.

Mouthpieces
Mouthpieces

The Adminicle Exists is the inner voice of a woman who saves her dangerous partner; An Act of Violence’ shows a woman quizzed about her reaction to a man’s death; and The Eye Machine is a first-hand account of a woman’s imprisonment, told while she looks at a slideshow of female stereotypes.

Reflecting on her access to the Beckett Collection at an event hosted by the University in 2019, McBride said: “There is something very extraordinary about those manuscripts being there, being in his hand, knowing that his hand touched the page, that he did that, you can see where he paused, where he thought, where he scribbled, where a blot came down out the ink and he probably cursed.

“There’s a trace of humanity in that which is really beautiful, especially as a writer, to see and be exposed to.”

New Creative Fellows

The Samuel Beckett Research Centre’s two new Creative Fellows will spend the next year engaging with the contents and history of the world-leading archive held in the University of Reading’s Special Collections, supported by colleagues at the Centre.

As well McBride, Campbell and Khalil follow on from novelist Robert McCrum and composer Tim Parkinson, whose Creative Fellowships at the Centre respectively concluded with a new musical composition and play, performed for the first time at the University in November 2019.

Duncan Campbell

Duncan Campbell
Duncan Campbell

Campbell is an Irish video artist based in Glasgow, and received the 2014 Turner Prize for his video work It for Others.

Campbell’s art examines the role that archives play in our knowledge of, and emotional connection to, the past. Through combining found and created material, he questions the borders between personal and historical memory, dream and documentary, word and image.

Past subjects include Northern Irish politician Bernadette Devlin (Bernadette, 2008), the DeLorean car project (Make it New, John, 2009), and Chris Marker and Alain Resnais’ 1953 film Les statues meurent aussi, (It for Others, 2013). Most recently Duncan has worked in the archives of the Irish File Centre to make The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy (2017).

Campbell has a long-standing interest in the work of Samuel Beckett, as is evident from his 2006 film O, Joan, No, based in part on the stage directions for Beckett’s Play.

Hannah Khalil

Hannah Khalil
Hannah Khalil

Khalil is an award-winning Palestinian-Irish playwright and dramatist whose work for the stage and radio engages closely with identity, displacement and the politics of national history.

Her work for stage includes A Museum in Baghdad, which moves between the founding of a collection of Iraqi antiquities in 1926, and the aftermath of its looting in 2006, to examine the role of the archive as a national institution. It opened at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre in 2019.

Hannah’s other plays include Interference for The National Theatre of Scotland, The Scar Test for Soho Theatre and Scenes from 68* Years for the Arcola. Scenes from 68* Years was nominated for the James Tait Black award. In 2017 Khalil was awarded The Arab British Centre’s Prize for Culture. Along with her theatre work, she has written numerous radio plays, including The Unwelcome, Last of the Pearl Fishers and The Deportation Room, all for BBC Radio 4.

Hannah has always been deeply influenced by Beckett’s drama, and her writing continues in the tradition of Beckett’s most engaged plays, such as Catastrophe or What Where.