Do we Welsh shine, out there on the world stage? We like to think we do. We have the history and the confidence. We’ve got two languages, a former world coal trade everyone remembers us for and a load of desirable mountains. They love us in California, in Cracow, in Calcutta, in Minsk.
But do they? Ask abroad what they know of our spanner-end shaped country and they’ll say Ryan Giggs then scratch their heads. After a while, if you are talking to an older person, they might say Dylan T, and then they’ll smile and tell you that they were so sorry to have heard about the death of our beautiful princess.
Ah, but what about Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones? Haven’t their names gone round the planet? Certainly. But as singers rather than Welsh ex-pats. And it’s only in the last decade that Shirl has started wearing a dress made from the Draig Goch.
R.S. Thomas, when he lived, was nominated for the Nobel Prize. Didn’t get it but was thought worthy. The world respected what he’d done. How many of our writers today are known well, even in England, never mind about further afield? Check off the list: Menna Elfyn, Owen Sheers, Gillian Clarke, Ken Follett, Sarah Waters, Gwyneth Lewis. Robert Minhinnick. John Williams. Niall Griffiths. Head scratching starts in earnest after that.
Why is this? Is our literature somehow less than perfect? Do we fail to hack it in the battle for world domination. Are the south Americans and the Turks ahead of us in the world literary order? It’s quite probable that they are. But that’s not through lack of talent. It’s the problem of identity that’s not working for Wales here. Ireland’s a nation. The Americans know that. So, too, is Scotland. The kilts sway among the pipe bands that march through New York. But Wales. What is that place? They don’t know. We don’t make enough noise.
Welsh literature is producing some of the best of world writing in the new twenty-first century. The novelists have never been so many and so active. The poets swarm. It’s as if we’ve been keeping all this creativity dry for decades and now decided to set the lot alight.
During the past year Jan Morris, Jon Gower, Philip Gross, Owen Sheers, Russell Celyn Jones, Gillian Clarke, Gwyneth Lewis, Malcolm Pryce, John Williams, Emyr Humphreys, Horatio Clare, Rhys Thomas, Byron Rogers and a dozen others have published humdingers. Get to your library and take them out. Catch up, know who we are. Buy at Waterstone’s or your local bookseller. Buying keeps the book world alive. Buying works from Wales keeps our identity flying.
Anyone in there you think we should nominate for a future Nobel? If you think there is then please let me know.
A version of this posting appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of Saturday 13th March, 2010