Seamus Francis Deane, Irish poet, novelist, critic, and intellectual historian, is born in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland on February 9, 1940. He is noted for his debut novel, Reading in the Dark, which wins several literary awards and is nominated for the Booker Prize in 1996.
Deane is the fourth child of Frank Deane and Winifred (Doherty), and is brought up as part of a Catholic nationalist family. He attends St. Columb’s College in his hometown, where he befriends fellow student Seamus Heaney. He then attends Queen’s University Belfast (BA and MA) and Pembroke College, Cambridge (PhD). Although he too becomes noted for his poetry, he chooses to go into academia instead. He workws as a teacher in Derry, with Martin McGuinness being one of his students. McGuinness later recalls how Deane was “gentle, kind and never raised his voice at all, an ideal teacher who was very highly thought of.”
After graduating from Cambridge, Deane teaches at the Reed College in Portland, Oregon during the 1960s and the University of California, Berkeley during the 1970s. Over the next two decades, he teaches American college juniors part-time at the School of Irish Studies in the Ballsbridge section of Dublin. He is a professor of Modern English and American Literature at University College Dublin (UCD) until 1992. He subsequently relocates to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, as the Donald and Marilyn Keough Chair of Irish Studies, from which he retires as professor emeritus.
Deane is a member of the Royal Irish Academy and a founding director of the Field Day Theatre Company, together with Heaney, Tom Paulin, and David Hammond.
Deane is the co-editor of Field Day Review, an annual journal of Irish studies. He also serves as general editor of the Penguin Classic James Joyce series and of Critical Conditions, a series in Irish Studies which is jointly published by the University of Notre Dame Press and Cork University Press. He co-founds the book series Field Day Files, which contains key works by David Lloyd, Joe Cleary, Marjorie Howes, and Kerby A. Miller.
The first collection of Deane’s poetry, Gradual Wars, is published in 1972 and receives the AE Memorial Award for Literature. His first novel, Reading in the Dark, is published in 1996 and is partly autobiographical. It wins the 1996 Guardian Fiction Prize and the 1996 South Bank Show Award for Literature, is a New York Times Notable Book, wins The Irish Times International Fiction Prize and the Irish Literature Prize in 1997, besides being shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1996. The novel is translated into more than twenty languages. He is also the general editor of the monumental Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, which is 4,000 pages long and whose first volumes are released in 1990. It is later criticised for excluding the voices and experiences of Irish women. He responds to this by stating, “To my astonishment and dismay, I have found that I myself have been subject to the same kind of critique to which I have subjected colonialism … I find that I exemplify some of the faults and erasures which I analyse and characterize in the earlier period.”
Deane’s first marriage is to Marion Treacy. Together, they have four children. He is in a civil partnership with Emer Nolan until his death. They have one child together.
Following a short illness, Deane dies at the age of 81 on May 12, 2021 at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.