In Memoriam: Ann Owens Weekes

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In Memoriam: Ann Owens Weekes

Department of English, College of Humanities
June 20, 2014

Ann Owens Weekes: Irish Literary Scholar (1941-2014)

When Ann Weekes entered graduate school in English Literature from the University of Arizona in the late 1970s, the whole field of women's studies was just emerging. During this time a student could ask a professor in a graduate literature class, "why are there no women writers on the syllabus?" and get the answer, "because there are no good women writers."

It is easy to forget this ignorant past because so much important academic, social and political work has been done to make such a question and answer unthinkable. Guided by a network of feminist professors across campus, an eager cadre of female graduate students from many disciplines began their studies in earnest: there was a lot of complex work to do simply by adding the factor "woman" and all its synergies to critical inquiry, research and teaching overall.  

Ann Weekes became a literary criticism pioneer through this process of re-education and breakthrough, and in 1990 published the very first critical study ever written on Irish Women Writers: An Uncharted Tradition. Ann exposed and analyzed a literary landscape made of 9 major authors---including Elizabeth Bowen, Kate O'Brien, Julia O'Faolain – in addition to offering the literary historical and theoretical foundations to begin filling in, complicating and upgrading the Irish women's literary map. She wrote "Unveiling Treasures: A Guide to Irish Women Writers," numerous scholarly articles and was a frequent invited speaker to Irish Studies conferences including the keynote on Irish women's literature in Leuven, Belgium in 2007. Ann interviewed in person many of the writers she studied, and one could say that all those writers and their many readers are indebted to her work.

She is also remembered for her teaching, exemplified by a former student of more than twenty years ago who recently wrote that his entire life had been changed by her single undergraduate humanities class. Her lilting Irish voice, warm and gentle, could soar high and drop low in a second, all storytelling precision. She also owned the Irish narrative gift for extension, and could draw her students in simply by speaking. Ann, a full professor, received teaching awards but was one of the directors of the late great undergraduate Humanities Program, a teaching unit eliminated by the university during reorganization in 2003. She continued teaching in the English department and after retirement for OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) as well as English as a Second Language classes.

Ann Weekes' husband Trevor died 8 days prior to her death on June 3. An astrophysicist with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and founder of the science of gamma ray astronomy, he was described in this newspaper by a noted scientist as a "visionary who opened a new window on the universe." Ann Weekes also opened a new window, a new window on the world of Irish Literature.

She is survived by her daughters Karina, Fiona and Lara; her grandchildren Catherine, Trevor, Frances and Lauren; her siblings Jimmy, Tim, Joseph, Matthew and Frances Owens, Pat Patton, Sheila Fitzgibbon, and Mary Kedroff, and was preceded in death by her brother Michael Owens.

Ní bheidh a cosúil lei, (there will never be another like her).

Written by Janice Dewey. Dewey teaches poetry for the Honors College at the University of Arizona.

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