'Lost' Stewart Parker novel a posthumous gift says Stephen Rea

ACTOR Stephen Rea has described the newly published autobiographical novel by the late Belfast writer Stewart Parker as a "posthumous gift" from a dear friend.

Hopdance, written by Parker about the amputation of his left leg due to bone cancer when he was 19, is billed as being by turns serious and hilarious, "a penetrating look at life and mortality". Fellow Belfast native Rea was speaking while giving a reading from the book at its Dublin launch.

Parker, who died of stomach cancer in 1988 at age 47, is best known as the author of such classic northern plays as Spokesong, Pentecost and Northern Star. But he began his career as a poet and writer of experimental prose, and Hopdance showcases the wordplay and rich sense of character for which his stage plays are praised.

Parker wrote the novel in the early 1970s, about a decade after the amputation, to help him finally put the experience into perspective. He was working to publish Hopdance when he died; the book is his final artistic effort.

Next week editor and Parker biographer Marilynn Richtarik, a professor of English at Georgia State University in Atlanta and author of Stewart Parker: A Life, will discuss Hopdance at an event hosted by author Glenn Patterson in Belfast's Linen Hall Library, where the manuscript of Hopdance is held.

Richtarik prepared Hopdance for publication, believing that this autobiographical work would be appreciated beyond the few lucky people who had read it previously. With the approval of Parker’s executor, she transcribed his original manuscript, arranged the scenes according to Parker’s final plan for the novel, edited the text, and added a preface and appendices that show his thinking about the work as it developed.

However, Richtarik stresses that Hopdance was complete when she first encountered it in 1994.

"When I read it for the first time, I recognised that Hopdance was compelling," Richtarik says. "Although Parker had planned to add several scenes and make certain themes more explicit, the episodic nature of the novel meant that it could be enjoyed as he wrote it in 1973 and revised it throughout his life. With the support of Parker’s family, particularly his niece Lynne Parker, readers everywhere can now enjoy this final creative effort from one of Ireland’s best-loved writers."

:: Hopdance, by Stewart Parker is published by The Lilliput Press, priced €12. Stewart's biographer Marilynn Richtarik will discuss the novel at its Belfast launch in the Linen Hall Library on Tuesday May 23 at 1pm.

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