Release date: Sept. 24, 2003
Contact: Deb Hammacher, Associate Director, University Media Relations,
at 404-727-0644 or

Emory Acquires Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney Letters

The Woodruff Library of Emory University has acquired a major portion of the archive of the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney. The collection of personal and literary papers includes thousands of letters spanning Heaney’s entire career as well as printed materials, tape recordings and photographs. Heaney made the announcement Tuesday, Sept. 23 prior to a reading at Emory in honor of the university’s recently retired president, William M. Chace.

This acquisition, the latest in a long series of major Irish literary acquisitions by Emory, establishes at the university the largest and most complete archive anywhere for the study of Heaney’s life and work, according to Stephen Enniss, the university’s director of special collections and archives. The acquisition of the Heaney papers is the culmination of a collecting initiative that has spanned more than 15 years and that now includes the archives of many of the finest contemporary poets.

“When I was here this summer for commencement, I came to the decision that the conclusion of President Chace’s tenure was the moment of truth, and that I should now lodge a substantial portion of my literary archive in the Woodruff Library, including the correspondence from many of the poets already represented in its special collections,” said Heaney in making the announcement. “So I am pleased to say these letters are now here and that even though President Chace is departing, as long as my papers stay here, they will be a memorial to the work he has done to extend the university’s resources and strengthen its purpose.”

“The Seamus Heaney papers join the archives of Ted Hughes, Paul Muldoon, Anthony Hecht and other major figures, and create at Emory a leading research center for the study of contemporary poetry,” says Enniss.

“No poet easily casts into the hands of others the record, intimate and telling, of his life’s work,” says Chace, who is himself a scholar of Irish literature and was president of the university during conversations with the poet about acquiring part of his archive. “That Seamus Heaney has chosen Emory as the repository of his correspondence represents the thoughtfulness and care he brings to all he does. I am profoundly grateful that he has chosen to honor Emory in this way.”

The Seamus Heaney papers which Emory has acquired span Heaney’s career from 1964 to the present and include correspondence with a wide literary circle including such writers as Brian Friel, Anthony Hecht, Ted Hughes, Michael Longley, Robert Lowell, Paul Muldoon and Robert Pinsky, to name only a few. The archive will cast light on the creative lives of a wide literary circle, while at the same time serving as the primary resource for future studies of Heaney’s own work, according to Enniss. Once processing of the collection is completed, the archive will be available for research use by students and scholars.

“We are honored by the recognition accorded Emory by Seamus, and we receive his papers with profound gratitude,” says Ronald Schuchard, Goodrich C. White Professor of English at Emory and an expert in contemporary Irish literature. “Seamus Heaney’s full literary life and his citizenship in what he calls ‘the republic of conscience’ have placed his voice and writings at the center of intellectual culture for many years. His correspondence comes to us through a tremendous personal act of trust and confidence built up over 20 years as a friend of Emory. These papers will bring scores of students and scholars from many countries to Emory every year, and we hope to prove worthy of the great and welcome responsibility that it brings.”

Heaney, who was born in County Derry in Northern Ireland in 1939, is widely regarded as one of the finest English language poets of our time. His critically acclaimed first book, “Death of a Naturalist,” marked the arrival of a major new poetic voice. During his distinguished career he has published numerous collections of poems, translations and works of literary criticism. In 1984 he was named Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Poetry at Harvard University, and in 1989 he was named to the prestigious Chair of Poetry at Oxford University. He received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1995, and the following year his collection of poems “The Spirit Level” was selected as the Whitbread Book of the Year. His 1999 verse translation of “Beowulf” was an international bestseller, the same year that his collected poems “Opened Ground” were published. More recently, Heaney was awarded the 2003 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism for “Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971-2001.”

This past May Heaney gave the keynote address at Emory’s commencement ceremony and received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree. His ties to Emory go back many years, dating to his selection as the inaugural Richard Ellmann Lecturer in Modern Literature in 1988. The lectures were published as “The Place of Writing,” and his notes for the series were deposited in Emory's special collections, a seed that has grown into what many scholars consider the finest archive of contemporary Irish poetry anywhere.


Emory University is a highly selective, comprehensive research university known for its academically demanding undergraduate college, highly ranked professional schools and world-class research facilities. For more than a decade, Emory has been named one of the country’s top 25 national universities by U.S. News & World Report. In addition to its nine schools, the university encompasses The Carter Center, Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Emory Healthcare, a comprehensive metropolitan health care system.


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