The Ginger Man Letters

The Ginger Man Letters

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Correspondence by J. P. Donleavy, Gainor Crist, and A. K. Donoghue

Edited and annotated by Bill Dunn

ISBN: 9781628974652

Publication Date: 5/20/25

The riveting backstory of the classic novel set in post-war bohemian Dublin is finally told in 220 intimate and revealing letters between author J.P. Donleavy and his Trinity College Dublin friends Gainor Steven Crist and Arthur Kenneth Donoghue, inspirations for the main characters, Sebastian Dangerfield and Kenneth O’Keefe.

This scrupulously edited and annotated collection throws extraordinary light on the genesis, composition and publication of The Ginger Man, a masterpiece that censors and critics could not stop, going on to sell 50 million copies worldwide. 

Spanning the late 1940s to the early 1980s, the letters create a compelling narrative, told in three distinct voices, that reads like Donleavy fiction – hilarious, reflective and brawling by turn, always revealing of these colourful individuals, the special time and place they shared and what came after as they ventured into the wider world.

Among the many interesting people popping up in the letters are: Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh, Trinity pals James Hillman and George Roy Hill, Maurice Girodias who published The Ginger Man becoming embroiled in a 21-year legal battle with the author, Seymour Lawrence who published Donleavy’s second novel and lost his job because of it. Making appearances are film director John Huston who took Donleavy fishing and ‘a pop star’ (Mick Jagger) who failed in his attempt to be inconspicuous at a Donleavy party.

This unique collection is richly illustrated with period photos and facsimiles of letters and pages from the first draft of what became The Ginger Man. Mariana Crist contributed a loving reminiscence of her father. She presents the real man behind the fictional character. She also recalls being babysat by Brendan Behan, making her the only toddler then permitted in the pubs of Dublin.

The Ginger Man Letters is essential reading for fans of the author and his masterpiece, as well as literary scholars and those interested in bohemian Dublin days and is sure to attract a new generation of readers.   

Biographical note

Bill Dunn, a longtime J.P. Donleavy fan and collector of his work, was determined to meet him and did so in 1990. Then a newspaper reporter, Dunn interviewed Donleavy during a US book tour. Instead of the scheduled 45-minute interview, they spent the entire day together. They hit it off and went on to become good friends. During a prolonged 2005 visit to Levington Park, Dunn researched and wrote the bibliographic inventory of Donleavy’s archive, which became the reference document in the author’s discussions with universities interested in acquiring his papers. In his archive research, Dunn read Donleavy’s correspondence with Gainor Crist and Arthur Kenneth Donoghue, recommending they be collected in a book. Permissions were eventually obtained. Bill Dunn is the author of six previous books, including two on lighthouses. He lives in Sea Girt, New Jersey, two blocks from a lighthouse where he is a docent and the historian.