Kerrie O’Brien’s debut collection of poetry, Illuminate, was published by Salmon Poetry this October. She is also editor of Looking at the Stars, a limited edition anthology of Irish writing which aims to raise €15,000 for the Rough Sleepers Team of the Simon Community. On Saturday 12th November, the Dublin Book Festival will host a free reading and discussion with contributors Colin Barrett, Tara Flynn, Joseph O’Connor and Mary O’Donnell, in conversation with Rick O’Shea.
Q. What first gave you the idea for this anthology?
For a long time I’d been watching the growing numbers of people sleeping rough in Dublin. I spent a month in Paris earlier this year and when I came back I saw the streets of Dublin with fresh eyes – how mad the problem is and how we’ve become used to it here. Then one day I started talking to a homeless girl in Grafton Street who was reading a book. She told me that she sleeps in a tent because the hostels in Dublin are too dangerous for women. At the end of the conversation it turned out her name was also Kerrie and that’s what spurred me into action. I’ve worked in the literary scene and book trade for a long time and I knew we could do something creative that might make a difference, but I had no idea it would end up being such a huge success. That night I put a call out on social media and the response was phenomenal.
Q. How did the selection of prose, poetry and non-fiction develop?
I put out a vague call to writers – I asked for something related to the theme of homelessness – it could simply be a piece about hunger, isolation, hope or kindness – something that would fit in with what we were trying to raise awareness of. As the pieces came in they naturally ordered themselves and that is how we have arranged them in the book: the themes range from heartbreak, the child’s perspective and the reality of families living in temporary accommodation to more raw and powerful non-fiction pieces about addiction, death and the experience of being homeless. We have also included writings from those currently in the services of the Dublin Simon Community which I am extremely grateful for as I wanted this to be a political book that really raises awareness of what is happening in Dublin at the moment.
Q. It’s extraordinary that Looking at the Stars developed from an initial idea to a published book in just six months. Where there any surprises in the process?
It was an immense amount of work and luckily Alice Kinsella came on board with me so we have spent the last six months dealing with endless emails, meetings, coffees and edits. However, the huge amount of voluntary support that we received from the literary community made a huge difference. Gráinne Clear from Little Island did all the typesetting for free and completed the final cover design, the funding was provided entirely by the Munster Literature Centre, Poetry Ireland, the Irish Writers Centre and Dublin UNESCO, along with Mary O’Donnell and Nessa O’Mahony. I didn’t actually have to ask anyone for money – they all simply offered when I told them what I wanted to do. Then Louisa Earls from Books Upstairs, Maria Dickenson from Dubray Books and Bob Johnson from The Gutter Bookshop all agreed, without hesitation, to sell the anthology without profit, which makes it possible for the full €15 from each copy to go directly to the Dublin Simon Community. I think this book is a testament to the incredible literary community that exists in Ireland – these Irish writers and underfunded literary organisations have made a significant difference to a social problem that the government are ignoring.
Q. And the question for all our authors! What have you read recently that’s resonated with you?
Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter is the most powerful thing I’ve read in the last year. I’ve just started The Evenings by Gerard Reve and I’m loving it so far.