Polly Devlin joins Joan Bakewell to discuss the latest collection of her work, Writing Home, and to reflect on a rich career as a writer, her working as features editor of Vogue in London in the Swinging Sixties, to encounters with Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Barbara Streisand, John Lennon…In the pieces brought together in Writing Home, Polly Devlin OBE, covers subjects that range over her whole life and thought. She writes about places: about her childhood deep in the countryside of Northern Ireland (where, in the late 1950s, the first electricity poles looked ‘literally out of place’); her sudden transition, at the age of twenty-one, to Swinging Sixties London, where she worked for Vogue and became very much part of the scene (although – ‘it’s like being a provincial at Versailles’), on to New York, back to London, then to the English countryside, and to Paris, Venice, the world over – and always back to Ireland, London and New York.
She writes about the people she has known, among them Yoko Ono, Mick Jagger, Peggy Guggenheim, Diana Vreeland (‘as fantastical as a unicorn’), Jean Shrimpton (‘she looks as though she sleeps in cathedral pews and sucks artichoke hearts for sustenance’), Princess Margaret (who came to dinner and did the washing up, ‘which I gabbled she didn’t need to – she looked at me frostily and the royal hands went back into the Fairy Liquid’). And she writes about the issues that have preoccupied her: about emigration, feminism (‘I grew up in a society where men were fundamental and women were secondary’), reading, writing, collecting, shopping, houses, dogs, rooks, hares, dreams, friendship and the kindness of strangers; about daughters and mothers.
“…affectionate sketches of friends including Nuala O’Faolain and her brother-in-law Seamus Heaney…ring with truth and tenderness.”
The event will be followed by a book sale and signing by the author.
Our thanks to the publishers of Writing Home:
Speaker: Joan Bakewell
Joan Bakewell has a distinguished career as an author, journalist and broadcaster. She has served on the board of the National Theatre and as Chair of the British Film Institute and of the National Campaign for the Arts. Joan was made a CBE is 1999 and Dame in 2008. In January 2011 she took her seat in the House of Lords as Baroness Bakewell of Stockport. In April 2013, she became President of Birkbeck College.She has led some of the BBC’s most well-remembered documentaries and news programmes, challenging taboos around sex; examining religion from a critical, objective standpoint; and being a champion for arts and culture and their relevance to life.
Speaker: Polly Devlin
Polly Devlin is a writer, broadcaster and filmmaker. She holds an OBE for services to literature. After spending her childhood in Northern Ireland, at the age of twenty-two she took up her first job – as a writer, and soon features editor, on British Vogue, at the heart of 1960s London. A couple of years later she was again transported, to New York, to work for Diana Vreeland on American Vogue – where, once more, she was very much part of the scene she wrote about in her newspaper column and articles including for The Sunday Times, New Statesman and Observer. Her first book, All of Us There, is now a Virago Modern Classic. The most recent, New York: Places to Write Home About (Pimpernel Press, 2017; published in the United States by Gibbs Smith, as New York: Behind Closed Doors) was greeted with delight on both sides of the Atlantic. She now divides her time between London and New York, where, until her recent retirement, she taught Creative Non-Fiction at Barnard College, Columbia University.