Honoring Heaney

Exhibition celebrates the poet’s life
Several books, a picture and a document

Kay Hinton

Old photographs, personal correspondence with other writers, and the surface of his onetime writing desk are a few of the rarely seen treasures in the first major exhibition to celebrate the life and work of late Irish poet and Nobel Prize–winner Seamus Heaney since his death.

Seamus Heaney: The Music of What Happens opened in February in the Schatten Gallery of the Robert W. Woodruff Library and will remain on view through November 25, 2014.

Among the other evocative materials on display, most of them from the Heaney collection held by Emory’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL), are Heaney’s poems and drafts showing his handwritten revisions, rare publications, and artists’ books containing Heaney’s poetry. The exhibition also features recordings of his poetry read by Heaney himself and by other poets, artists, and well-known figures including world-renowned Irish actor Liam Neeson and novelist Salman Rushdie, whose papers are also held by MARBL.

A paper kite and Heaney's signature above the lintel of the doorway to the exhibit

Symbol: A kite is suspended in the gallery in homage to Heaney’s poem A Kite for Michael and Christopher.

Heaney, who died August 30, 2013, was known for his generous spirit and inclusiveness, and his death was a devastating blow, says Geraldine Higgins, director of Emory’s Irish Studies program and curator of the long-planned exhibition.

Heaney had a special connection to Emory that can be traced back to his first reading in March 1981. He delivered the inaugural Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature in 1988, donated his lecture notes to MARBL (then called Special Collections), and conducted readings and poetry workshops in the 1980s and 1990s. His last visit to Emory was in March 2013, when he read his poems before a capacity crowd at Glenn Auditorium.

A desk and an empty frame

Work Bench: Heaney’s old desk was made from a decommissioned bench at Carysfort College, where Heaney taught from 1975 to 1982. It was donated by Rand Brandes 85PhD, whose first job as a Fulbright scholar and bibliographer was to organize Heaney’s attic office.

Irish posters behind a book and document

Tangible Reminders: The first major exhibition to celebrate the life and work of late Irish poet and Nobel Prize–winner Seamus Heaney, who gave Emory’s inaugural Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature in 1988, is on view in the Robert W. Woodruff Library through November.

Email the editor