Local writers celebrate Steinbeck’s birthday with exhibition

US novelist John Steinbeck (1902 - 1968).   (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
US novelist John Steinbeck (1902 - 1968). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

ON the birthdate of one of the most celebrated writers with a connection to the Roe Valley, an exhibition of literary work by a local writer’s group is to be put on display in Limavady.

On February 27, the birthday of Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck whose grandfather was a Ballykelly man, the Jane Ross Writer’s Group are launching an exhibition of their work under the title ‘Voices from the Valley.’

Chris Morrow, who calls himself a “relatively new member of the group”, explained that the exhibition is still a “work in progress”.

Speaking to the Sentinel, he said: “Our Jane Ross Writers exhibition is a work in progress at the moment, with all the group busy getting it up and running.

“It is show casing in Limavady library from February 27 through to March 27. The launch night on the February 27 will kick off at 6.30pm with a special guest opening it (hopefully the mayor but not confirmed yet.)

“The launch date has special significance with the local writing community as it is the birth date the famous writer John Steinbeck. He won the nobel prize for literature and his grandfather Samuel Hamilton hailed from Mulkeeragh, Ballykelly. In fact John Steinbeck visited Ballykelly in 1952 to see his ancestral home.”

Steinbeck, one of the 20th Century’s most celebrated authors, visited the area in 1952, documenting his trip for an article I Go Back To Ireland.

His maternal grandfather, Samuel Hamilton, hailed from Mulkeraugh in Ballykelly.

His famous novel East Of Eden was published in the same year and the major character of Samuel Hamilton was inspired by and based upon his Ballykelly-born grandfather.

East Of Eden was later adapted as a film released in 1955 and starred James Dean in his first movie role. Shortly after his arrival in the Roe Valley village, Steinbeck penned a letter to his friend Pascal Covici, saying: “We’re on a hunt for the seat of the Hamiltons. The place they are supposed to have lived is not on any map no matter how large scaled but we have found a taxi driver who thinks he knows where it is and tomorrow we start out to try to find it.

“It should be a very interesting experience. I can’t imagine any of them are still alive since the last I heard of them was 15 years ago and they were then two old, old ladies and an old, old gentleman and none of them had been married.”

Now, those hoping to follow in the Roe Valley’s rich literary tradition are displaying their work in the Limavady library later this month.

Christopher Morrow explained: “The exhibition celebrates the work of the creative writing community in Limavady and will showcase the history of the group through photos, clippings, accolades and more. The name we have chosen for the exhibition is Voices from the Valley.”

“Books, anthologies, articles and of course the groups writing will all be on display. Members of the group will perform a few readings of their work in front of family and friends and the assembled press. Anyone else who is interested in attending is welcome to come along. A founding member will give a talk on the history of the group too.

“Tea and refreshments will be served to all at the launch night as well. I would also like to thank the staff at the library in Limavady for all their help on behalf of the group, Linzi in particular.”

Mary Hayward, a founding member of the Jane Ross Writers, explained how the group came about: “The Jane Ross Writers is a group of people from the Borough of Limavady who have an interest in writing poems, memoirs, stories, essays or scripts. Some write to get published, others wrte just for the love of writing and to meet like-minded people. Some attend a weekly class at the North West Regional College in the town under the tutelage of Liam Campbell.

The first creative writing class was organised by Limavady College in 2002. It was held in the kitchen at Christ Church. Anne McKay was the tutor. Within a few months the first anthology, Flowing with the Roe, by the Roe Writers was produced. Two years later ‘I’ll take you there’ was published. In order to reflect the whole catchment area of members, the name was changed to Roe Valley Writers.

In 2008 the college cancelled the class because of falling numbers. Undaunted, the group re-organised to form the Jane Ross Writers. With the help of a small start-up grant from Limavady Council, they met in LCDI to write, give feedback and generally encourage each other. When funding allowed, they Bernie McGill as facilitator. The rest of the time they took turns to organise writing exercises and visits by guest authors. Weekly classes returned to the College in September 2010.”

Chris Morrow added: “At the moment our group meets every week at ‘creative writing’ at Limavady tech, on Thursdays at 10.30am. Under the guidance of our tutor Liam Campbell we study a wide range of writing genre, like poetry, short story writing, script writing and lots more.”

He concluded: “This year the class has swelled with a few new members and we encourage anyone with a love for writing to come along and enjoy their writing in a friendly and comradely environment.”