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John Boyd Biography

(1912–2002), Out of My Class, The Middle of My Journey, Lagan, Threshold

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Edward Bond (Thomas Edward Bond) Biography to Bridge

Northern Irish playwright, born in working-class East Belfast, educated at Queen's University, Belfast and Trinity College, Dublin. Boyd refers to himself as ‘an Irish playwright with a Protestant background’. The first volume of his autobiography, Out of My Class (1985), recalls a childhood filled with the mythology of sectarian rivalry and hatred. He has said that ‘the sectarian divide that poisons the air of the community I write about is a smokescreen, a camouflage to obscure the social problems’. Boyd taught at schools in Newry, Lisburn, and Belfast before working as a producer for BBC Northern Ireland, a career which he recounts in The Middle of My Journey (1990). He was the editor of the literary journal Lagan in 19426; he became literary adviser to the Lyric Theatre, Belfast (see Ulster Literary Theatre), and edited its publication, Threshold, from 1971. Boyd's first play, The Blood of Colonel Lamb, written in 1967, was considered too controversial for the North in its attack on Protestant extremism; it was revised as The Assassin (1969) and successfully staged at the Dublin Theatre Festival. His next play, The Flats (1971), with a set that expresses the claustrophobic bleakness of Belfast, presents the tragedy of a Catholic family's struggle to survive a single day of ‘the Troubles’. Boyd represents an entire community under siege while establishing a difference between the universal needs of an individual and the blind particularity of collective violence. The Farm (1972), Guests (1974), The Street (1977), and Facing North (1981) further examine these themes. Boyd has been noted for his ability to reproduce the speech of working-class Belfast which, as a common language, is used tragically to express factional hatred. He is widely regarded as Northern Ireland's most important playwright.

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