The series reveals Seamus Heaney’s role as a mentor, a scholar, a critic and a fearless champion of Irish literature at two of the most revered centres of learning on Earth, Harvard and Oxford Universities. Presenter John Kelly travels to Harvard and Oxford to meet the students he taught and the colleagues he influenced, and to get a feel for these famous academic institutions which mark such crucial points on the arc of the poets’ life.
We look at the diverse experiences Seamus Heaney had at these two very different universities, and how the posts he held in each helped propel him on to become a poet of truly global status.
The two hour-long documentaries feature insightful contributions from fellow poets Andrew Motion and Tom Sleigh; from colleagues Bob Kiely, Neil Rudenstein and Bernard O’Donoghue; from critics and friends Helen Vendler and Blake Morrisson; and of course, from Seamus’s son Mick Heaney, who travelled to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to show John Kelly around Heaney’s Harvard.
Professor Heaney starts on RTE Radio 1 at 6pm on Saturday, September 6th, 2014.
Part 1: Harvard - RTE Radio 1, 6pm on Saturday September 6, 2014.
In Part 1 of Professor Heaney, we get an insight into the poet’s life at Harvard.
His relationship with the university began in 1979 when he spent the spring semester teaching there, with his family. It also heralded the beginning of an enduring relationship with Harvard which allowed his creative life - away from academia - to flourish. In 1982, Harvard invited him to teach there for four months each year, giving him the space to dedicate the other eight months of the year to writing. In 1984 he was appointed Boylston Professor of Rhetoric at Harvard, and latterly he was the appointed the Ralph Waldo Emerson Poet-in-Residence.
But how did these annual stints as what he called an “emigrant worker” actually impact on him, and on the people he encountered? In this first part of the series, we meet the students he guided, and the colleagues and friends he worked with in the university’s illustrious English department. And we visit the places in Harvard that were important to Seamus Heaney, in the company of his eldest son, Mick.
Part 2: Oxford - RTE Radio 1, 6pm on Saturday September 13, 2014
In Part 2 of Professor Heaney, we explore Seamus Heaney’s time at Oxford University.
In 1989, he was made a fellow of Magdalen College and elected as Oxford’s Professor Of Poetry, an opportunity he saw to “stir the cultural pot”. It is an enormously prestigious role - arguably on a par with the Poet Laureateship - but a role which, at the end of the 1980s, was in need of rejuvenation.
This programme will explore how different Seamus Heaney’s experience at Oxford was in comparison to his time at Harvard. His five year term as Professor of Poetry was of great significance, made more complex by his own background as a Northern Irish nationalist –this documentary will look at the contradictions he felt about being an Irish poet in the British establishment, and the impact the work he did there had on the wider world of poetry and learning.
John Kelly - Presenter
After a degree in law at Queen’s University Belfast, John joined the BBC and went on to win two EMA awards and a SONY Gold Award for his various music, arts and documentary radio and television programmes with the BBC, UTV and Channel 4.
After 12 years of all that, he moved to Dublin in 1997 to present the groundbreaking Eclectic Ballroom on what was then called Radio Ireland. He was then lured across town to RTÉ to present The Mystery Train where he won both the PPI Award for Music Broadcaster of the Year, a serious cult following and the public praise of U2 and regular co-host Elvis Costello. With the train now in a siding, he currently presents the PPI Award winning John Kelly Ensemble on RTÉ lyric fm and Radio Clash on RTÉ 2XM. He also presents The Works on RTÉ Television. Assorted specials and documentaries include From Hell's Kitchen to Hollywood - written and presented by John.
John has contributed to numerous publications including a five year stint at the Irish Times, and, over the years, he has interviewed many leading figures in the music and arts world.
He has also written several works of fiction including The Little Hammer and Sophisticated Boom Boom, both published by Jonathan Cape. His radio play The Pipes, starring Barry McGovern, was broadcast on RTE Radio 1. Short stories have recently appeared in The Stinging Fly, Silver Threads of Hope and Dubliners 100. His latest novel, From Out of The City, was published by the prestigious US publisher Dalkey Archive in earlier this year.
Sinead Egan - Producer
Sinead Egan joined RTE as a radio producer in 2005, and since then has worked in both RTE Radio 1 and RTE 2fm, on programmes including The Gerry Ryan Show, The Tubridy Show and The Marian Finucane Show. She now produces CountryWide on RTE Radio 1.
Professor Heaney is her second collaboration with John Kelly – last year, they made Irish Noir together, a major four part radio series exploring the story of crime fiction in Ireland.
Before joining RTE, Sinead was a news reporter with Today FM and TV3, and a feature writer and columnist with the Irish Independent.