Valerie Bistany hosting the 2023 Christmas party (Photographer: George Hooker) 

After ten wonderful years, Valerie Bistany is stepping down as director of the Irish Writers Centre. While everyone will miss working with Valerie, we want to take the opportunity to celebrate her success steering the Irish Writers Centre as an advocate for writers across the island. As director, she has shaped many of our signature programmes and residencies, welcomed new collaborations, and championed writing as a career through professional development opportunities. Read our blog for a special message from Valerie, offering a snapshot of all she has accomplished over the last decade. 

I suppose I had an inkling of what was ahead at the end of my interview, when the panel, comprising of Jack Harte (founder), Jack Gilligan (chair) and Mia Gallagher and June Considine (board members) asked if I had any questions. I did. I said I’d seen the audited accounts for 2012 and noted that funds being what they were, was I right in assuming that I was expected to raise my own salary? They all laughed, and I joined in, because that was the truth of it.

Nevertheless, there was never any question that I wouldn’t I take the job. For me, coming from Lebanon, it was a true honour to have been entrusted with the oldest literary institution on the island. Given Ireland’s outstanding international reputation for literature, I was acutely aware of this awesome responsibility, amazed that I’d been selected as its leader.

The early years were all about engagement, access and footfall – not so different from now. But the difference was to send the message out that the IWC was back in action. I learned quickly that a good team was everything – and we had fantastically committed people, Lucy Healy-Kelly, then Arnold Fanning working part-time in administration and the dynamic duo Brendan Mac Evilly and Amy Herron (whose energy combined could power a small city). We put on over 100 events a year, focusing on the welcome and participation. We introduced professional membership and encouraged writers at all levels to become part of our community.

Collaboration was the magic key which unlocked the IWC’s hidden potential. There were two types, each important in equal measure: partnerships and collaborative programming.

In respect of partnerships, it was simple: we had no money to bring to the table, but we had a lot of innovative ideas, and a committed, professional team with the heart to deliver. When I look back, the range of partnerships over the years were astonishingly varied ranging from our peers in Words Ireland to local arts offices, from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties to the Harvard Club in Boston, universities across the island, community groups (such as Rainbow Project, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Irish Wheelchair Association, Dublin Youth Theatre), residency centres (Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Cill Rialaig), and festivals (Dublin Book Festival, Cuírt, ILFDublin, West Cork Lit Fest, Belfast Book Festival). Many of these partnerships are going strong today.

The collaborative programmes grew from my natural inclination as a former theatre and dance facilitator/producer to bring writers together through longer term supports. I’d been told repeatedly that writers want to work alone, not in groups, but in listening to them closely I saw that this was not really the case. XBorders, our first collaborative programme for 18 writers north and south of the border, broke the mould so successfully that this type of longer-term intervention to support writers collectively became a signature model of practice for the IWC (and the first of its kind in literature), which we replicated in many guises, targetting different sets of writers. Many of you will be familiar with their names, e.g.: Evolution for professional writers; Young Writers Delegates at festivals; Uplift and Foundation for underrepresented writers, and most recently, Writing the Earth for writers working with scientists on climate writing. All programmes feature facilitated workshops, mentoring and the opportunity to write and perform newly created work. Most importantly, they are all offered free of charge to selected writers. We even had a Roaming Writer in Residence programme on the Dublin, Coleraine, Belfast and Galway trains and into the Creative Writing courses in the universities in each location!

A year of note was 2016. The IWC’s 25th anniversary coincided with Ireland’s centenary commemorations and that year was a total blast. It began with the visit of our new Patron, An Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D. Higgins. With our dynamic chair Liz McManus as master of ceremonies, oh my goodness, the preparations! We even painted the front door and sections of the building. As well as running the usual programmes, courses, information and supports, we created a film and app entitled A Poet’s Rising, featuring many of our most eminent living poets and published a book Beyond The Centre edited by the iconic Declan Meade featuring 26 writers of our time.

The challenges of the pandemic became an opportunity, and we were ready, having already researched putting courses online under our first strategy. The week following lockdown, we had courses up and running online, breaking out of the building virtually for the first time. I know that many writers appreciated having that connection with us at a difficult time. Equally, the global move to create greater access and equality felt intuitive and we have actively embraced underrepresented writers offering bespoke supports, bursaries and programmes for them.

I’d like to acknowledge key supporters, colleagues, writer curators and to thank them wholeheartedly for their belief and support of my vision for the IWC.

Writer curators who took on the challenges of new, unusual ideas with gusto and excelled in delivering on them: Conor Kostick, Maria McManus, Fiona O’Rourke, Nessa O’Mahony, Jan Carson, Jessica Traynor.

The IWC Ambassadors who have been instrumental in copper fastening the notion of the IWC as a flagship organisation for literature and writers, by lending their names and so much more: John Banville, Anne Enright, Marian Keyes, Mike McCormack, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Ciara Ní É, Joseph O’Connor.

The funders, especially Sarah Bannan, Head of Literature in the Arts Council, Damian Smyth, Head of Literature in ACNI, and Ray Yeates, Arts Officer in Dublin City Council.

All my colleagues in Words Ireland: Declan Meade, Elaina Ryan, Sinead Mac Aodh, Liz Kelly, Pat Cotter, and the many Publishing Ireland representatives including Patsy Horton, Ruth Hegarty, Ruth McKee and especially MIchael McLoughlin as its clear-headed chair over several years. A special thanks to Maureen Kennelly with whom we did so many interesting things during her time in Poetry Ireland.

All the teams and boards who have worked with me, go raibh mille mille maith agat. Paudie Burke, Bernie Greenan, Kate Cunningham, Laura McCormack, Kiki Drost, Jess McKinney, you are class. Apologies for not naming everyone but you know who you are, thank you. Most especially, thanks to the current team: Paul Fitzgerald, Orla Martin, Betty Stenson, Teerth Chungh, Jo Morton, Emily O’Brien, Tom Jordan, Gloria McNeely. Team, it’s all about you – keep doing what you’re doing because you’re doing a great job. Also, IWC panel members Rafael Mendes, Jack Delaney and Cassia Gaden Gilmartin and Brendan Mac Evilly as coordinator of the National Mentoring Programme. A special thanks goes to Mary Neville, our longtime bookkeeper (and so much more,) the unsung hero of this story, behind the scenes with her perfect number crunching.

As I reflect back on my last decade at the IWC, what I will take away is the thrill to see my vision and ideas come to life in the form of supports and programmes that have nurtured writers across the island of Ireland. I hope that this has encouraged a resilience which has sustained them and an ambition to keep writing and giving us the joy of reading their work. I have learned so much from the experience and met so many wonderful, inspiring people on my journey. The IWC will always be a huge presence for me. Long may it flourish. I wish the new director every good wish for its continued success.





Valerie Bistany 

Irish Writers Centre director 

2013  –  2023 

Highlights and achievements  

2013: First Mindshift (professional development) training; New Irish Communities workshops; Words Ireland begins, a collaborative alliance of seven literary resource orgs and publishers. Jack Gilligan as Chair of the IWC. 

2014: New membership strands (inc. professional membership); introduction of new range of courses (inc. professional development); great partnership drive in programming (e.g. UNESCO book crawl); last leg of Italo-Irish literary exchange with 7 writers on tour in Rome and Bologna. Arts Council annual funding of €45K awarded for the first time in six years – back on the funding ladder. 2014 professional fees to writers: €71,572. Liz McManus was appointed Chair. 


Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, Joseph O’Connor, President Michael D Higgins, Liz McManus, Valerie Bistany and
Éilís Ni Dhuibhne at the Irish Writers Centre 2016


2015: President Michael D. Higgins becomes Patron and appointment of 6 Ambassadors; sharp increase in footfall and membership; events peaking at c.100 p.a.; leveraging of room hire to bolster income; larger team; residencies introduced with the Jack Harte Bursary. First-ever election of IWC member nominee to Board, Mary O’Donnell. WORD forum for professional writers arises from the ashes of Mindshift meet ups. 


Irish poet Paul Muldoon taking part in A Poet’s Rising 2016


2016: President visits Centre; as part of 1916 centenary celebrations A Poet’s Rising app and RTE short film; publication of Beyond the Centre: Writers in Their Own Words  25th anniversary anthology; REIC bi-lingual spoken word events with 

Ciara Ní É.  


Beyond the Centre An Irish Writers Centre Anthology edited by Declan Meade 2016


2017: Co-creation of Bualadh Boston showcase festival with Poetry Ireland and the Irish Consul in the Harvard Club, Boston; first five-year strategy 2017-21 created; international residencies; ACNI funding awarded for first time. WORD formally recruits IWC professional members.

WomenXBorders at the Irish Writers Centre 2018


2018: All island workshops/engagement; collaborative supports: such as the inception of XBorders and Young Writer Delegates programmes; WomenXBorders day for women writers; Aontas na Scríbhneoirí Gaeilge form in IWC. By 2018, up to 18 residencies offered – all island and international: two types: community-engaged (e.g. Falls and Shankill Rd women’s groups) or time/space to write (e.g. Irish Norwegian writer exchange programme and St Mark’s Church residency in Florence.) 

2019: Culmination of a three-year engagement with Cavan Arts Office with a Cavan WIR; Lead organisation on Best Banned in the Land on censorship & freedom of expression with ICCL, Project Arts Centre and others. Margaret Hayes becomes Chairperson; Partial sabbatical of director, Acting Director Hilary Copeland began in July for one year. 

2020: Covid-19 pandemic in March, courses pivot online immediately and successfully as per strategy goal 2 to put work online – a “prescient” move; creation of essential pandemic related information sessions for writers and Writers in their Residence bursaries. Excellent financial position in spite of pandemic. 


A Burning Tide film screening at Loughshinny (Fingal Co. Dublin) 2021


2021: 30th Anniversary video featuring John Banville, Anne Enright, Ciara Ni É, Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan and IWC Director Valerie BistanyBurning Tide film commissioned by Fingal County Council. Significant increases in funding from Arts Council and Dublin City Council affirm the relevance and importance of IWC to literature sector. Board signs off on Charities Governance Code. Evolution Programme for professional writers and Climate Writing Group online beginNational Mentoring Programme comes under IWC’s stewardship.  


Rafael Mendes, Olivia Fitzsimons, Éilís Ni Dhuibhne, Valerie Bistany, Breda Brown, and Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan celebrate the launch of the new five-year strategy 2022-2026 


2022: Launch of new five-year strategy 2022-26. Foundation Programme with Cuírt; Creation of Lacuna Bursary with Tyrone Guthrie Centre for underrepresented writers. Susanne Dirks as Acting Chair until Breda Brown appointed as new IWC Chair. 


Writing the Earth scientists, writers and programme facilitators in group photo at Pierce Street Library, Dublin. 17_08_2023

Writing the Earth scientists, writers and programme facilitators at Pearse Street Library, Dublin 2023

2023: Writing the Earth collaborative programme with scientists and writers. Young Writer Delegates crosses the border for the first time with Belfast Book FestivalLamplight International online programme with Varuna, the National Writers’ House in Australia. Second incarnation of Northern Soul Roadshow. Creation of three new Kylemore Notre Dame residencies (one accessible) at the Kylemore Global Centre. Novel Fair reached its highest number of manuscript submissions since its inception in 2011.