by Vona Groarke
Published by: NYU Press
200 pages, 127.00 x 203.00 mm, 28 b/w illustrations
A lyrical portrait of a young Irish woman reinventing herself at the turn of the twentieth century in America
Ellen O'Hara was a young immigrant from Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century who, with courage and resilience, made a life for herself in New York while financially supporting those at home. Hereafter is her story, told by Vona Groarke, her descendant, in a beautiful blend of poetry, prose, and history.
In July 1882, Ellen O'Hara stepped off a ship from the West of Ireland to begin a new life in New York. What she encountered was a world of casual racial prejudice that characterized her as ignorant, dirty, and feckless, the butt of many jokes. From the slim range of jobs available to her she, like, many of her kind, found a position as a domestic servant, working long hours and living in to save on rent and keep. After an unfortunate marriage, Ellen determined to win financial security on her own, and eventually opened a boarding house where her two children were able to rejoin her.
Vona Groarke builds this story from historical fact, drawing from various archives for evidence of Ellen. However, she also considers why lives such as Ellen's seem to leave such a light trace in such records and fills in the gaps with memory and empathetic projection. Ellen—scrappy, skeptical, and straight-talking—is the heroine of Hereafter, whose resilience animates the story and whose voice shines through with vivid clarity. Hereafter is both a compelling account of an incredible figure and a reflection on how one woman's story can speak for more than one life.
One of the best poets writing in Ireland today” (Poetry Ireland Review), Vona Groarke has
published twelve books, including eight poetry collections, most recently Link:Poet and World
(Gallery Books, 2021). A Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library (2018-19), she is the
current Poet in Residence at St John’s College, Cambridge University in the U.K. Poet, essayist, editor and critic, she makes her home in the west of Ireland, where she reads and writes.
"An Irish Times and Irish Independent book of the year" ~2022
"A groundbreaking way of investigating a traumatic period in history, not only Irish history, but American history too." ~Colm Tóibín
"Hereafter would be heartbreaking if it weren't so beautiful. As it is, it lifts the heart." ~John Banville, author of The Singularities
"Hereafter is a mixed-media multi-genre tour-de-force. With poetry, prose, photographs, and a treasure trove of facts and artifacts pulled from the archives, Vona Groarke conjures the spirit of a woman she never met: Ellen O’Hara Grady, her mother’s beloved grandmother, missing for half a lifetime across the Atlantic Ocean. “Story is company,” Groarke writes; her mosaic of a narrative draws readers around a metaphoric hearth that warms the soul." ~Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life and Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast
"A glowingly beautiful book about absence (and about absence becoming presence), this engagement with a ‘boxy, skeptical’ woman moves from plainness to poignancy, from groundedness to grace. It’s the story of a life but also a story of storymaking, written with immense skill and a living sense of writerly tact." ~Joseph O’Connor, author of Star of the Sea
"Keats wrote that ‘a man’s life of any worth is a continual allegory.’ So too a woman’s. A conjuring, a searching, a haunting, a documenting, an imagining: Hereafter is a singular work of archival poetics and sympathetic vision. Speculative yet grounded in documents and historical research, this book draws on all the poet’s prodigious gifts—her formal inventiveness, historical sensibility, ethical acuity, linguistic brio. Vivifying the lives of young Irish immigrant women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, focusing on her own great-grandmother’s elusive presence in the historical record and in family memory, Groarke has brilliantly made of this ‘an intimating life,’ full of sensory detail and surprising transnational currents. Hereafter strikingly suggests en route how the work of Irish women abroad was crucial to the formation of the Irish state; it is a tour-de-force and also points to new horizons for life-writing in/as poetry." ~Maureen N. McLane, author of My Poets
"A chance discovery in the archives of the New York Public Library was the seed for this book, and for that we should be thankful, because what has taken root with Hereafter is something remarkable. Vona Groarke, among the most brilliant poets writing today, gifts to her subject, Ellen O’Hara, the power of poetry, and in their joined hands is a powerful story indeed, freeing up the sonnet form so that it not only accommodates but ignites the rich and fascinating specifics of a private and important life. There has been nothing like this from an Irish writer before; it is a thrilling and beautiful creation." ~Belinda McKeon, author of Tender
"As it imagines one woman’s life, this genre-bending book probes the nature of family and belonging and the profound ways ordinary immigrant women changed history on both sides of the Atlantic. Intelligent, searching, and warmly rendered." ~Kirkus Reviews
"A striking tapestry woven of research and speculation." ~Brendan Daly, Business Post
"A beautifully distinctive exercise in imaginative empathy. Groarke’s writing is intimate — and impeccably honed. Hereafter is a fitting expression of gratitude, a reclamation or rectification as well as an attempt to assemble and understand Ellen’s life." ~Joanne Hayden, Independent.ie
"In Hereafter: The Telling Life of Ellen O’Hara, the poet Vona Groarke traces, through a blend of poetry and prose, the life of her grand-mother, who emigrated from Sligo to New York in 1882 to work as a servant. Groarke’s lyrical act of historical investigation will surely become a classic of Irish literature." ~Frances Wilson, The Spectator
"A groundbreaking blend of history, poetry, and prose, a triumph of negative capability. This is a rich, rewarding, and heartbreaking read. Groarke restores not just Ellen, but all the other women who ‘left to live in other peoples’ houses.’" ~Martina Evans, The Irish Times
"Groarke not only exquisitely explores the nature of belonging in one family but also how Irish immigrant women transformed history both at home and abroad." ~Janet Somerville, Toronto Star
"[Y]ou should grab a copy of Vona Groarke’s Hereafter: The Telling Life of Ellen O’Hara. It is an inventive, fascinating twist on the life story of one so-called Irish 'biddy.' It is also a collage of poetry, history, and memoir. Just like George Saunders re-invented Honest Abe with his dazzling 2017 book Lincoln in the Bardo, Groarke gives us a new way to think about immigrant women, from her great-grandmother to herself." ~Tom Deignan, IrishCentral
Ellen O’Hara was a young immigrant from Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century who, with courage and resilience, made a life for herself in New York while financially supporting those at home. Hereafter is her story, told by Vona Groarke, her descendant, in a beautiful blend of poetry, prose, and history.
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