Few authors have the chance to personally present their books to heads of state. But Lucy McDiarmid, the Marie Frazee-Baldassare Professor of English at Montclair State, has done it twice.
McDiarmid presented a copy of her award-winning At Home in the Revolution: What Women Said and Did in 1916 to Irish President Michael D. Higgins last November. “I was able to spend an hour with him, and the whole event was very exciting,” she recalls. This was the second time McDiarmid presented an Irish president with one of her books: in 1995, she gave a copy of Lady Gregory: Selected Writings, which she co-edited, to then President Mary Robinson.
Long interested in Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising, McDiarmid commemorates the women of the historic six-day Irish rebellion in At Home in the Revolution. Internationally acclaimed for its originality and meticulous research, McDiarmid’s book contributes to women’s history by analyzing “small behaviors,” such as the ways women argued with priests, cooked with bayonets and entered male spaces during the revolution. It has received the bronze award for best history book of the year from Foreword Reviews.
McDiarmid notes that President Higgins is a former professor of sociology as well as a poet and politician who supports scholarship in the field of Irish culture. “I brought with me a copy of his collected poems, and because my next book is about contemporary Irish poetry, I asked him about some of his poems,” she says. “He asked his assistant to print out a copy of a recent poem and gave me a signed copy.” President Higgins also talked about subjects ranging from global debt to the Easter Rising.
McDiarmid encountered President Higgins again at a concert on the night before the official state ceremony marking the Rising’s centenary. Invited to the green room after the performance, she was reintroduced to President Higgins. “He said, ‘Thank you for all you have done,’ and hugged me,” she recalls. “I’ve never before been hugged by the president of a nation, and I’m going to save forever the denim jacket I was wearing.”