Interview: Emma Donoghue

The Brief


Emma Donoghue is an author of novels, short stories, stage plays, radio dramas, and screenplays. As a literary historian, she has also written monographs and scholarly articles, and has edited two anthologies. She has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize (for her novel Room), and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (for the film version of Room). Emma Donoghue's first children’s book, The Lotterys Plus One, was published in March 2017.

Which book would you recommend to our readers?
Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. A study of urban life that blew my little middle-class mind.

Which work of visual art would you recommend to our readers?
The Broken Column by Frida Kahlo. It manages to turn Kahlo’s lifelong pain from a freak accident into ambiguous, radiant art.

Which graphic novel would you recommend to our readers?
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Makes no concessions and takes no prisoners: dysfunctional childhood, adult intellectual analysis, and compassion.

Which stage work would you recommend to our readers?
Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play by Anne Washburn. Out of all the dystopic works I’ve read, it offers the most plausible future: swapping half-remembered jokes in the dark.


The following questions relate to our Perspectives column, in which two writers respond to an artwork that they are experiencing for the first time.

Can art turn back time?
No, but it’s all we’ve got: in the absence of time travel, I don’t know any other way to escape our contingent moment.

Do fireworks make music?
Certainly if I was trying to explain music to someone born deaf, I’d try fireworks. And the guilt of how expensive they are to set off only adds to the pleasure.

Is parenthood a creative process?
Yes, and not just in the obvious making-babies way, but in all sorts of subtler ways in which you and the child alter each other unexpectedly. Everything I’ve written in the past thirteen years is inspired by my kids.

States of the Arts

The following questions relate to our States of the Arts column, for which each article includes four artworks that share an association with a single nation or territory.

Which Congolese artwork would you recommend to our readers?
The Poisonwood Bible, a novel by Barbara Kingsolver. An appallingly funny and sad novel of the misguided missionary experience in the 1950s Belgian Congo. It includes the most grotesque baking scene I know. 

[Note: Though considered an American author, Barbara Kingsolver lived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during her childhood.]

Which artwork from the Dominican Republic would you recommend to our readers?
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a novel by Junot Diaz. A dazzling wow – a solidly comic and political novel in the most blow-your-socks-off language since James Joyce.

Which New Zealand artwork would you recommend to our readers?
The Piano, a film directed by Jane Campion. It captures so much about that colonial fantasy of civilising the wilderness, and makes something truly strange.

The art of discovery

The following questions relate to Silent Frame’s aim to celebrate the art of discovery.

Why discover?
If it’s not new to me, it’s boring. I’ve produced 400-page novels more easily than one 400-word article I didn’t have that yen to write.

What question would you like to ask our other interviewees?
How much does your everyday life feed your art and how much does it thwart it?

More to discover

Emma Donoghue: Visit Emma Donoghue's website here. Read about her stage works here, and read excerpts of her work below. Watch a trailer for the film adaptation of Room here. Her Twitter handle is @EDonoghueWriter.

Short stories: FallThe HuntLast Supper at Brown's, Night Vision'Onward.

Short story collections, excerpts: Astray, Three and a Half Deaths, Touchy Subjects, The Woman Who Gave Birth to RabbitsKissing the Witch.

Novels, excerpts: Stir-Fry, Hood, Slammerkin, Life Mask, Landing, The Sealed Letter, Room, Frog Music, The Wonder, The Lotterys Plus One.

Non-literature excerpts: Inseparable, We Are Michael FieldPassions Between Women.

Today's recommendations: Random Family (excerpt), The Broken Column (information), Fun Home (excerpt), Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play (excerpt), The Poisonwood Bible (excerpt), The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (excerpt), The Piano (trailer). 

Read more: Interviews with authors