This year marks a century since the publication of Dubliners by James Joyce, and a year since writer and editor Thomas Morris struck on an idea to riff on the literary classic. As Morris explained it, on the 99th anniversary of the short story collection’s release, he was walking down Dublin’s Grafton Street when he heard a busker playing the Jeff Buckley version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” The song made him wonder whether writers would be willing to “cover” a story from Dubliners. The result is Dubliners 100, an anthology of 15 new stories, each inspired by a selection from Joyce’s original. The new Dublin-based publisher Tramp Press will publish the book in June, to coincide with the centenary of Dubliners. It will be available in all major Irish bricks-and-mortar bookshops, as well as online.
John Boyne, author of The Boy in Striped Pajamas, was the first writer to sign on to the project; he agreed to produce a new version of “Araby.” He was soon followed by Skippy Dies author Paul Murray, who had already reinterpreted “A Painful Case” for the London magazine Five Dials. “Counterparts,” by Belinda McKeon (Solace), features an author who is greatly exercised by Twitter. For his take on “Eveline,” A Spinning Heart author Donal Ryan writes about an Irishman who falls in love with an immigrant. Evelyn Conlon’s “Two Gallants,” appropriately, is about a Joyce conference.
The project took about ten months to assemble. Initially Morris compared the stories he received with the originals, but he changed his approach about halfway through, treating the rest of the submissions as “spectacular vehicles in their own right.” Most stories represent a substantial reimagining of the original text. Some Joyceans will undoubtedly express horror at the concept, but it is likely that they will enjoy the opportunity to denounce it.
One of the biggest challenges that Morris anticipated was finding a new version of “The Dead,” the final story in the collection, which is widely considered to be a masterpiece of the form. Morris feared that he would be unable to convince any writer to take it on. To his surprise, Peter Murphy, author of the IMPAC-shortlisted John the Revelator, volunteered, seemingly “unbothered” by expectation.
That Dubliners 100 will be coming from Tramp Press, a small new player on the Irish publishing scene, is also of note. Davis Gough cofounded the press with her friend Lisa Coen, a former academic. Gough has also received recent accolades for her discovery of The Spinning Heart, by Dubliners 100 contributor Ryan. After the debut novel’s rescue from the slush pile and publication, it went on to be longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize.
Gough and Coen’s aim with the press, they said, is to “return to traditional values and to the intimacy that once existed between publishers and authors.” That relationship, Gough explained, is now much more common between agent and writer, with the agent often taking on the role formerly assumed by an editor. Tramp Press will read “every” manuscript it receives, Gough said, and acknowledge the sender within 24 hours. She is confident the small press will find great new work.
Times have also been exciting for the 28-year-old Morris, who is the newly appointed editor of the Irish literary magazine The Stinging Fly. A writer as well, Morris recently graduated from the prestigious creative writing master’s program at the University of East Anglia. He decided not to include his own work in Dubliners 100; adding his own writing to the project would have been, in his words, “a bit much.”
Dubliners 100 is being represented internationally by Irish “superagent” Marianne Gunn O’Connor, who has an eponymous shingle. According to Tramp Press, the response to the book at the London Book Fair was solid, with various European publishers expressing interest in acquiring rights. And, of course, both its publisher and editor would love Dubliners 100 to find a home in the U.S. If that happens, perhaps other “cover collections” will follow.