Belfast Telegraph

Ex-teacher tells of joy with first Seamus Heaney poetry prize

By Steven Alexander

A teacher whose career was ended by a debilitating and painful condition has told of her joy after she won the first ever Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing.

Stephanie Conn (38) was a teacher at Ballyclare Primary School until she developed fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes pain all over the body.

But last night she was delighted that her poem - Lavender Fields - had claimed the top prize in the inaugural awards in memory of Nobel Laureate Heaney, who died in 2013.

Stephanie has been writing poetry for the past 10 years, but has been taking it more seriously recently, as it had helped her cope with her condition.

"I was a primary school teacher, but have had fibromyalgia for the last two years and wasn't able to go back to work," she said.

"Fibromyalgia changed my life.

"I've found that writing has been a big positive for me. It's very much something that I can still enjoy."

Stephanie, who lives in Ballyclare but is originally from Newtownards, said her winning poem was inspired by a trip to Tasmania a few years ago.

When Stephanie returned home, she further researched the island off the south coast of Australia and images of lavender fields caught her imagination.

She discovered the Poetry in Motion community project organised by the Community Arts Partnership, which was holding workshops in the community and schools. Each year, it seeks submissions for an annual anthology, and Stephanie entered a number of poems - and took the top prize for New Writing.

Chelley McLear, literature and verbal arts co-ordinator at the Community Arts Partnership, said: "We are delighted to be able to award the Seamus Heaney Award to Stephanie. She achieved not just one but two poems in the shortlist and we are thrilled to support new and emerging writing with the support of the Arts Council and the Heaney family."

Today, the inaugural Seamus Heaney Award for Achievement for schools will be presented in the Ulster Hall.

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