Colm Toibin was born in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford in 1955. He studied at University College Dublin and lived in Barcelona between 1975 and 1978. Out of his experience in Barcelona be produced two books, the novel ‘The South’ (shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and winner of the Irish Times/ Aer Lingus First Fiction Award) and ‘Homage to Barcelona’, both published in 1990. When he returned to Ireland in 1978 he worked as a journalist for ‘In Dublin’, ‘Hibernia’ and ‘The Sunday Tribune’, becoming features editor of ‘In Dublin’ in 1981 and editor of Magill, Ireland’s current affairs magazine, in 1982. He left Magill in 1985 and travelled in Africa and South America.
His journalism from the 1980s was collected in ‘The Trial of the Generals’ (1990). His other work as a journalist and travel writer includes ‘Bad Blood: A Walk Along the Irish Border’ (1987) and ‘The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic Europe’ (1994). His other novels are: ‘The Heather Blazing (1992, winner of the Encore Award); ‘The Story of the Night’ (1996, winner of the Ferro-Grumley Prize); ‘The Blackwater Lightship’ (1999, shortlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Prize and the Booker Prize and made into a film starring Angela Lansbury); ‘The Master’ (2004, winner of the Dublin IMPAC Prize; the Prix du Meilleur Livre; the LA Times Novel of the Year; and shortlisted for the Booker Prize); ‘Brooklyn’ (2009, winner of the Costa Novel of the Year). His short story collections are ‘Mothers and Sons’ (2006, winner of the Edge Hill Prize) and ‘The Empty Family (2010). His play ‘Beauty in a Broken Place’ was performed at the Peacock Theatre in Dublin in 2004.
His other books include: ‘The Modern Library: the 200 Best Novels Since 1950’ (with Carmen Callil); ‘Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush’ (2002); ‘Love in a Dark Time: Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodovar’ (2002) and ‘All a Novelist Needs: Essays on Henry James’ (2010). He has edited ‘The Penguin Book of Irish Fiction’. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. Three books on his work have been published: ‘Reading Colm Toibin’, edited by Paul Delaney (2008); ‘Mother/Country: Politics of the Personal in the Fiction of Colm Toibin’ by Kathleen Costello-Sullivan (2012); and Eibhear Walshe’s ‘A Different Story: The Writings of Colm Toibin’ (2013).
He has received honorary doctorates from the University of Ulster, University College Dublin, the University of East Anglia and the Open University. He is a regular contributor to the New York Review of books and a contributing editor at the London Review of Books. Between 2006 and 2013 he was a member of the Irish Arts Council. He has twice been Visiting Stein Writer at Stanford University and has also been a visiting writing at the University of Texas at Austin. He taught at Princeton from 2009 to 2011 and was Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Manchester in 2011. He is currently Mellon Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia and Chancellor of Liverpool University. He is President of Listowel Writers Week and a member of the Board of Druid Theatre.
His second collection of stories ‘The Empty Family’, published in 2010, was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor Prize. His book of essays on Henry James ‘All a Novelist Needs’, appeared also in 2010
In 2011, his play ‘Testament’, directed by Garry Hynes, was performed at the Dublin Theatre Festival with Marie Mullen in the lead role. Also in 2011, his memoir, ‘A Guest at the Feast’ was published by Penguin UK as a Kindle original. In 2012, ‘New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers & Their Families’ was published, as was his edition for Penguin Classics of ‘De Profundis and Other Writings’ by Oscar Wilde.
Also, in 2012, his novel ‘The Testament of Mary’ was published and short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. In April 2013, ‘The Testament of Mary’ opened on Broadway, with Fiona Shaw, and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play. In 2013 it was released as an audiobook with Meryl Streep.
Colm Toibin’s novel ‘Nora Webster’, published in 2014, won the Hawthornden Prize, and his ‘On Elizabeth Bishop’, published in 2015, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. His ninth novel ‘House of Names’ appeared in 2017. In May 2017, he co-curated ‘Henry James and American Painting’ at the Morgan Library’.