About the Author

Chris Arthur was born in Belfast and lived for many years in County Antrim. Following a period working as warden on a nature reserve beside the shores of Lough Neagh, the largest lake in the British Isles and Northern Ireland's enigmatic geographical heart, Arthur went to university in Scotland. After graduation he spent some time as a TV researcher and then as a schoolteacher before taking up academic posts at the Universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews (where he held the first Gifford Research Fellowship). On being appointed to a lectureship at what was then St David's University College (later the University of Wales, Lampeter), he moved to Welsh-speaking rural Ceredigion and lived there for over a decade. When Lampeter merged with a neighbouring college and began to embrace priorities and policies with which he disagreed, he resigned and returned to Scotland to concentrate full-time on writing. In 2014 he became a Fellow with the Royal Literary Fund.

He received a Theodore Christian Hoepfner Award from Southern Humanities Review in 2004. Other awards include the Akegarasu Haya International Essay Prize (1986); the Beverly Hayne Memorial Award (1989); Times Higher/Palgrave Macmillan Writing Prize (2002 and 2003); and the Gandhi Foundation's Aitchtey Memorial Essay Prize (2004). He was awarded the Monroe K. Spears Essay Prize by the Sewanee review in 2015. Extracts from Irish Nocturnes, Irish Willow and Irish Haiku were included in the landmark Ulster Anthology, edited by Patricia Craig, which was published by Belfast's Blackstaff Press in 2006.

Arthur's essays have appeared in many of the leading North American literary journals, including The American Scholar, Descant, Hotel Amerika, The Literary Review, North American Review, Northwest Review, Orion, Southern Humanities Review, Southwest Review, and Threepenny Review. He has also published in Irish Pages.

His work has frequently been included in the "Notable Essays of the Year" lists compiled annually by Robert Atwan and published in The Best American Essays volumes (published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). These lists include work by writers of the calibre of Joan Didion, E. L. Doctorow, William Gass, Edward Hoagland, Jamaica Kincaid, Ursula Le Guin, Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer, Stephen Jay Gould, Ursula Le Guin, Phillip Lopate, Barry Lopez, Salman Rushdie, Gore Vidal, Edmund White etc. The following essays have been listed as “notables”:

  • “Linen,” in Cynthia Ozick (ed.), The Best American Essays 1998, p.255.
  • “Miracle Story,” in Susan Orleans (ed), The Best American Essays 2005, p.285.
  • “Swan Song,” in Lauren Slater (ed.), The Best American Essays 2006, p.270.
  • “Room, Empty,” in David Foster Wallace (ed.), The Best American Essays 2007, p.300.
  • “Mistletoe,” in Adam Gopnik (ed.), The Best American Essays 2008, p.286.
  • “Level Crossing,” in Edwidge Danticat (ed.), The Best American Essays 2011, p.233.
  • “Reading Life,” in David Brooks (ed.), The Best American Essays 2012, p.302.
  • “Looking Behind Nothing’s Door,” in Cheryl Strayed (ed.), The Best American Essays 2013, p.302.
  • “How’s the Enemy,” in John Jeremiah Sullivan (ed.), The Best American Essays 2014, p.221.
  • “Putting Two and Two Together,” in Ariel Levy (ed.), The Best American Essays 2015, p.224.
  • “Memory Sticks,” in Jonathan Franzen (ed.), The Best American Essays 2016, p.309.
  • “Glass,” in in Jonathan Franzen (ed.), The Best American Essays 2016, p.309.
  • “Crux,” in Leslie Jamison (ed.), The Best American Essays 2017, p.291.
  • “Sleepers,” in Hilton Als (ed.), The Best American Essays 2018, p.285.
  • “Watchwords,” in Rebecca Solnit (ed.), The Best American Essays 2019, p.213.
  • “Voice Box,” in André Aciman (ed.), The Best American Essays 2020, p.279.
  • “Listening to the Music of a Vulture’s Egg,” in Kathryn Schulz (ed), The Best American Essays 2021, p.206.
  • “Letters,” in Alexander Chee (ed), The Best American Essays 2022, p.291.
  • “Seeing Starlings,” in Vivian Gornick (ed), The Best American Essays 2023, p.255.

"(En)trance", the opening essay of Irish Elegies — which originally appeared in the Winter 2008 issue of The Literary Review — was chosen for inclusion in The Best American Essays 2009, guest edited by Mary Oliver.

According to Graham Good, Professor of English at the University of British Columbia, author of The Observing Self: Rediscovering the Essay (1988) and adviser to Encyclopedia of the Essay, edited by Tracy Chevalier (1997):

"Chris Arthur's recently completed 'Irish trilogy' of essay collections should not only put him on the map as the contemporary Irish essayist, but also raise general interest in the possibilities of the essay form in our time … Arthur's aim in his essays is to move from immediacy to immensity, from the vivid concrete particulars of an incident, an object, or a sight, to the most universal ideas: the human condition, the infinity of space and time, the complexity and connexity of the world … Arthur has had the wisdom to see that the personal essay is … exactly the right vehicle for the investigations he wants to undertake into the complexities of personal, social and religious identity. In an intellectual climate which usually treats meaning as 'socially constructed' it is refreshing to see it being created by what Arthur calls 'a richly textured individuality.' In this he shows himself a worthy inheritor of the tradition of Montaigne."

(Taken from Good's assessment of the three books, Southern Humanities Review Vol. 41 no. 4 (2007), pp.390-394.) The full review may be read here (826 KB PDF).

Interviews, Articles & Conference Presentations

  • Cherise Saywell’s interview with Chris Arthur, Episode 199 in the Royal Literary Fund’s Writers Aloud series.
  • Robin Earhart’s conversation with Chris Arthur for Water~Stone Review’s “In the Field Series (2021).
  • Writers Read: David Robinson & Chris Arthur in conversation with Kirsty Gunn, recorded in Dundee, November 14 2018
  • CNF Conversations: An Interview with Essayist Chris Arthur — A two part interview with Julija Sukys, conducted in November 2012. (Part I; Part II).
  • Interview with Chris Arthur in The Charlotte Austin Review
  • Heidi Evans's interview with Chris Arthur (89 KB PDF) was published in the inaugural issue of the Swansea Review, which unfortunately has not been archived.
  • Samuel Saint Thomas, "Scribbles, Fragments, and Ideas: A Conversation with Chris Arthur", The Literary Review Vol.51 no.2 (2008), pp.38-53.
  • "'The elusive substance of true wonderment': Metaphysics, Metaphor and Essay Form in the Work of Chris Arthur", paper delivered by Professor Billy Gray [Dalarna University Centre for Irish Studies] at the international NAES-FINSSE conference, University of Oulu, Finland. 9-13 June 2010.
  • Poster There is considerable interest in Arthur's work in Brazil. Some of his essays have appeared in the ABEI journal, which has also carried reviews of his books. The annual Symposia of Irish Studies in South America have included papers on his writing. In the 2006 Symposium, Magda Velloso F. de Tolentino (UFSJ) gave a presentation entitled "Going Home: Memory in Chris Arthur"; Luci Collin Lavalle (Universidade Federal do Paraná) delivered a paper on "Contemporary Irish Essayists — O'Toole, Kiberd and Arthur translated into Portuguese" at the Third Symposium in September 2008 (454 KB PDF). At the most recent Symposium, held in Curitiba, a research student — Marina Kazumi Okumura — gave a poster presentation, "Chris Arthur ensaios:possibilidades criativas" ("Chris Arthur's Essays: Creative Possibilities"), pictured (photo courtesy of Professor Laura Izarra, University of Sao Paulo).
  • Mairtin Howard, "The Otherworld and the here and now: An Introduction to religious themes in Chris Arthur's essays," an article in Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses, Vol.33 no.1 (2004), pp.71-89.
  • 'Less like marching, more like meditation': Zen Buddhism, Haiku, and the Theme of Tolerance in the Work of Chris Arthur (165 KB PDF), by Billy Gray, published in Hedda Friberg-Harnesk, Gerald Porter & Joakim Wrethed (eds), Beyond Ireland: Encounters Across Cultures, Peter Lang: Oxford 2011, in the Reimagining Ireland series, Vol. 42, edited by Eamon Maher.
  • Eoin Flannery, "Everyday Epiphanies: Buddhism, Ecocriticism and Form in the Essays of Chris Arthur", Chapter Six (pp.182-219) of Flannery's Literature, History and Environmental Justice (Routledge Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Literature), Routledge, London: 2015.
  • Karen Babine, "Tim Robinson and Chris Arthur: in defence of the Irish essay", Chapter 8 (pp.127-143) in Derek Gladwin & Christine Cusick (eds) Unfolding Irish Landscapes: Tim Robinson, Culture and Environment, Manchester University Press: Manchester, 2016.
  • Małgorzata Warchał, “Buddhist Ecocriticism in Selected Works of Aldous Huxley’s and Chris Arthur’s Essays” in Malgorzata Martynuska & Elzbieta Rokosz-Piejko (eds), New Developments in Postcolonial Studies, Peter Lang GmbH, Frankfurt am Main: 2017 (Vol 6 in the series “Studies in Linguistics, Anglophone Literatures and Cultures”), pp.69-78.
  • Walter Cummins, Knowing Writers, Del Sol Press, Washington: 2017, contains a section (pp.112-117) on Chris Arthur's work.
  • Billy Gray, “Zen Buddhism, Tolerance and Wonder in the essays of Chris Arthur” conference paper at “Ireland: Spectres and Chimeras”, the Annual Conference of the SOFEIR (Societe Francaise d’etudes Irlandaises), University of Reims, France. March 13-14 2020.
  • Billy Gray, “Transcultural Crossings in the Work of Chris Arthur.” A conference paper given at the annual conference of SOFEIR, Université de Lille, March 9-10 2023. (The 2023 conference theme, “The Presence of the Past: Problematising Temporalities in Irish Studies,” was explored in various panels. Professor Gray [University of Dalarna, Sweden] delivered his paper in the one for “Religion and Spirituality”).

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Arthur's notebooks

All of the essays start off being handwritten and go through many revisions before appearing in their final published form. Writing, for Arthur, is a time-intensive business that involves the discipline of repeated drafting.

"The world is everywhere whispering essays, and one need only be the world's amanuensis."

Alexander Smith

Chris Arthur in St. Andrews

Chris Arthur in St. Andrews, where most of the first draft of Irish Willow was written.

The Ulster Anthology

The Ulster Anthology, which includes extracts from Irish Nocturnes, Irish Willow and Irish Haiku.

Dr Mathieson's Hill

"Pencil Marks", written for a special Irish issue of Wasafiri (Summer 2010, Vol.25 no.2, pp.42-45), is concerned with a particular locale known as "Dr Mathieson's Hill", near where the author grew up in Lisburn, County Antrim.

One of the picturesque fishing villages on Scotland's east coast, near where Chris Arthur now lives.

Chris Arthur with his daughters

Chris with his daughters.

Chris Arthur in 2014

Chris Arthur, photographed in Scotland in 2014.

Chris Arthur teaching a masterclass at Dundee University

Teaching a masterclass at the University of Dundee in 2017.

St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews

St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, where Chris Arthur was Gifford Research Fellow.