The Samuel Beckett Research Centre at the University of Reading is delighted to announce the appointment of two new Creative Fellows 2022-23: Claire-Louise Bennett and Simon Okotie.
Claire-Louise Bennett has written two acclaimed works of fiction. Her debut Pond was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in 2015. It was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2016. In 2022 the highly-anticipated novel Checkout 19 was a pick of the year in The Guardian, The Telegraph and the New Statesman. It was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize. Her short story ‘Invisible Bird recently appeared in The New Yorker.
Claire-Louise studied drama and has worked extensively in theatre, often speaking of her admiration for Samuel Beckett’s plays. Beckett’s prose too has been a major influence. In an interview in The Guardian she remarks how reading Beckett gives her ‘a sense of space and a kind of an ease, almost; you know, I don’t know if there is any kind of meaning and I don’t like to get too attached to ideas anyhow. I’m quite able to sort of just hang in a way.’ We are very pleased that Claire-Louise has taken the opportunity to hang a bit more with Beckett by engaging with Reading’s world-renowned collection of his papers.
Simon Okotie is a fiction writer and essayist. He is the author of Whatever Happened to Harold Absalon?, In the Absence of Absalon, and After Absalon, an acclaimed trilogy of novels, all published by Salt. In the Absence of Absalon was longlisted for the 2018 Republic of Consciousness Prize. Simon’s work has appeared in gorse, 3:AM Magazine, Firmament and The White Review. ‘Two Degrees of Freedom,’ a short story, is published by Nightjar Press. ‘Bindings’ was selected for the Best British Short Stories 2021 anthology.
Of the protagonist of Whatever Happened to Harold Absalon? Blake Morrison notes in the London Review of Books that ‘There’s a touch of Charlie Chaplin about him, or of John Cleese, as mediated by Beckett’. Okotie readily acknowledges the influence of Beckett on his work, and in particular the later short prose and ‘closed space’ pieces. The TLS has drawn attention to Simon’s ‘obsessive attention to the miraculous geometries of human movement’ and this is just one way in which his writing shows an affinity with Beckett’s. Simon is currently completing a novel and a collection of essays. We are very much looking forward to having him with us over the next year.
Over the course of their year-long Fellowships, Claire-Louise and Simon will engage with the contents, history and spaces of the world-leading archive relating to Samuel Beckett’s work which is held at the University’s Special Collections. Supported by colleagues at the Samuel Beckett Research Centre, through this engagement with the archives they will produce new creative work, to be premiered at the end of their time with us. Claire-Louise and Simon follow our previous fellows, Hannah Khalil, Duncan Campbell, Eimear McBride, and novelist Robert McCrum and composer Tim Parkinson, in accepting a Creative Fellowship at the Centre. We are very excited about the opportunity to work with them.