Colm Tóibín

Portrait Colm Tóibín
© ilb 2009

Colm Tóibín was born in Enniscorthy, Ireland in 1955. He studied history and English at University College, Dublin, and subsequently worked as a language teacher in Barcelona for three years. After returning to Dublin in 1978, he worked mainly as a journalist for »In Dublin«, »Hiberna« and other publications. In the late eighties he travelled around Latin America – in particular Argentina – and visited Sudan and Egypt. By this point he had already written a draft of his first novel. Unable to find a publisher, he first published two non-fiction works, one of which was »Walk along the Borders« (1987).

The first of ten novels written by Tóibín so far, »The South« (1990) tells the story of a woman who flees to Barcelona to escape an unhappy marriage. Although Tóibín’s novels have a recurring fascination with escaping and living in foreign countries, it is commonly Ireland, his homeland, which he chooses for events to unfold. His novels focus on the slow transformation of human relationships, described through everyday details – dialogues, thoughts, observations and experiences – made all the more effective by avoiding unnecessary explanations. That which is unstated is central to the plot: underlying anguish, an elusive sense of bewilderment, a painstakingly maintained balance. »Brooklyn« (2009) tells the story of an Irish emigrant unable to extricate herself from a commitment, throwing the new life she has made in New York into jeopardy, to which, happily, she is able to return in the end. A review in the »Zeit« pointed out the almost mathematical precision with which Tóibín describes the milieu and atmosphere, and his avoidance of any psychologizing. »The Testament of Mary« and the ebook »Mothers and Sons« were translated into German in 2014. »Nora Webster« (2014), and earned Tóibín the Hawthornden Prize.

Tóibín has received the Whitbread First Novel Award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger. Tóibín is also a critic, publisher and non-fiction writer (in 2015 he published »On Elizabeth Bishop«, a deeply personal study of the work and life of the American poet). In addition to travelogues, political articles and anthologies of modern literature, he has written essays and a play. He was professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester, and now teaches at Columbia University in New York. He lives in Dublin.