Frank O'Connor (born Michael Francis O'Connor O'Donovan) (17 September 1903 – 10 March 1966) was an Irish writer of over 150 works, best known for his short stories and memoirs. The Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award is named in his honour.
Raised in Cork, the only child of Minnie O'Connor and Michael O'Donovan, he attended school in the famous North Monastery CBS. O'Connor's early life was marked by his father'salcoholism, debt, and ill-treatment of his mother. O'Connor's childhood was shaped in part by his mother, who supplied much of the family's income because his father was unable to keep steady employment due to his drunkenness.
In 1918 O'Connor joined the First Brigade of the Irish Republican Army and served in combat during the Irish War of Independence. He opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and joined the Anti-Treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War, working in a small propaganda unit in Cork City. He was one of twelve thousand Anti-Treaty combatants who were interned by the government of the new Irish Free State, O'Connor's imprisonment being in Gormanston, County Meath between 1922 and 1923.
Following his release, O'Connor took various positions including that of teacher of Irish, theatre director, and librarian. In 1935, O'Connor became a member of the Board of Directors of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, founded by W. B. Yeats and other members of the Irish National Theatre Society. In 1937, he became managing director of the Abbey. Following Yeats's death in 1939, O'Connor's long-standing conflict with other board members came to a head and he left the Abbey later that year. In 1950, he accepted invitations to teach in the United States, where many of his short stories had been published in The New Yorker and won great acclaim.
Frank O'Connor had a stroke while teaching at Stanford University in 1961, and later died from a heart attack in Dublin, Ireland on 10 March 1966. He was buried in Deans Grange Cemetery on 12 March 1966.
In 1939 O'Connor married Evelyn Bowen (who had previously been married to the actor Robert Speaight): they had two sons and a daughter. They were divorced in 1953. O'Connor married secondly Harriet Rich of Baltimore, whom he met while lecturing at Northwestern University. They had one daughter.
O'Connor was perhaps best known for his varied and comprehensive short stories but also for his work as a literary critic, essayist, travel writer, translator and biographer. He was also a novelist, poet and dramatist.
From the 1930s to the 1960s he was a prolific writer of short stories, poems, plays, and novellas. His work as an Irish teacher complemented his plethora of translations into English of Irish poetry, including his initially banned translation of Brian Merriman's Cúirt an Mheán Oíche ("The Midnight Court"). Many of O'Connor's writings were based on his own life experiences — notably his well-known The Man of the House in which he reveals childhood details concerning his early life in County Cork. The Sullivan family in this short story, like his own boyhood family, is lacking a proper father figure. Also, evocative descriptions of the Irish countryside are featured in this bitter-sweet tale. In other stories, his character Larry Delaney, in particular, is reminiscent of events in O'Connor's own life. O'Connor's experiences in the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War are reflected in The Big Fellow, his biography of Irish revolutionary leader Michael Collins, published in 1937, and one of his best-known short stories, Guests of the Nation (1931), published in various forms during O'Connor's lifetime and included in Frank O'Connor — Collected Stories, published in 1981.
O'Connor's early years are recounted in An Only Child, a memoir published in 1961 which has the immediacy of a precocious diary. U.S. President John F. Kennedy remarked anecdotally from An Only Child at the conclusion of his speech at the dedication of the Aerospace Medical Health Center in San Antonio on November 21, 1963: "Frank O'Connor, the Irish writer, tells in one of his books how, as a boy, he and his friends would make their way across the countryside, and when they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high and too doubtful to try and too difficult to permit their voyage to continue, they took off their hats and tossed them over the wall--and then they had no choice but to follow them. This nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space and we have no choice but to follow it."
O'Connor continued his autobiography through his time with the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, which ended in 1939, in his book, My Father's Son, which was published in 1968, after O'Connor's death,
Frank O'Connor Festival and Prize
Since 2000, The Munster Literature Centre in O'Connor's hometown of Cork has run a festival dedicated to the short story form in O'Connor's name. The longest established annual festival dedicated to the short story form in an English-speaking country, it regularly hosts readings, workshops and masterclasses for contemporary practitioners of the form, as well as celebrating the work of O'Connor and other local short fiction writers such as Elizabeth Bowen, Seán Ó Faoláin and William Trevor.
The festival has hosted readings by : Richard Ford, Julia O'Faolain, James Lasdun, Alasdair Gray, Dan Rhodes, Eugene McCabe, Bernard MacLaverty, Desmond Hogan, James Plunkett, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Rebecca Miller, Anne Enright, Mike McCormack, Etgar Keret, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Cónal Creedon, Samrat Upadhyay, Philip Ó Ceallaigh, Rachel Sherman, David Marcus, Panos Karnezis, Nisha da Cunha, William Wall, Bret Anthony Johnston, David Means, Claire Keegan, Miranda July, Rick Moody, Jhumpa Lahiri, Yiyun Li,Julie Orringer, ZZ Packer, Simon Van Booy, Wells Tower, Charlotte Grimshaw and Kevin Barry among others. It also has a tradition of encouraging younger writers at the start of their career, Jon Boilard for example.
The Cork City - Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, is awarded to the best short fiction collection published in English anywhere in the world in the year preceding the festival. The prize is also open to translated works and in the event of a translation winning the prize is divided equally between author and translator. The award is described as "the richest prize for the short story form" and at €35,000 in 2010 is one of the most valuable literary prizes for any category of literature.
In popular culture
Neil Jordan's award winning film The Crying Game was inspired in part by O'Connor's short story, "Guests of the Nation". The story is set during the Irish War of Independence and chronicles the doomed friendship between the members of an I.R.A. unit and the two British Army hostages whom they are guarding.