Five of the Most Influential Welsh Writers of All Time
Today I’m handing the blog over to the team at Rowanvale Books, to give their take on a question that I’m frequently asked: Who are the most influential authors from Wales?
Here’s how Tegan Oldfield from Rowanvale answers the question…
Wales is home to some of the most prolific and talented literary giants of our time; this list handpicks not only some of the more iconic names among them, but also some of the lesser known — but no less gifted — writers. Each has had their hand, in one way or the other, in shaping the Welsh literary canon and forging the way for their successors.
27th October 1914 – 9 November 1953
Though dogged by a turbulent personal life of excess, Dylan Thomas remains one of the most iconic and prestigious writers to have hailed from Wales.
Born in Swansea, Thomas’ artistic output began from an incredibly early age; and his teenage years saw some of his most enduring poems published to critical acclaim.
His literary canon is near impossible to condense into a paragraph: from iconic poems such as ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’, to his ‘play for voices’ Under Milk Wood, to his radio broadcasts such as A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, his artistic outpouring across his 39 years was remarkable.
His command of language was formidable, invoking acutely lucid imagery with dexterity and playing with meaning incomparably. Whilst he may have openly resisted being allayed into the Welsh bardic tradition, so much of his writing is rooted in the Welsh landscape and reflective of the shifting culture of his home country; and though he vacillated between Wales and London in his lifetime, it appears his heart remained firmly in Laugharne in Carmarthenshire.
13 September 1916 – 23 November 1993
Born: Llandaff, Cardiff
It would be a cliché to say “this is a man who needs no introduction” — but it might very well be true.
Born in Llandaff, Cardiff, Roald Dahl is perhaps best known for his iconic children’s stories such as Matilda, The BFG and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to name a few, many of which have been adapted into legendary film and TV productions. Though his children’s stories are the most firmly planted in popular culture, his literary canon stretches far beyond it.
He was also an accomplished screen writer, writing the script for the James Bond epic You Only Live Twice and the iconic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as well as a series of short stories for adults.
His work can be linked to his Welsh heritage in a myriad of ways. While at Cumberland Lodge in Cardiff, Dahl struck up a friendship with the gardener Joss, an ex-miner. Some afficianados of his work suggest the glass elevator in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was inspired by the mechanism used by Welsh colliers to descend into mine shafts. There is even speculation that the Oompa-Loompas, who sing as they harvest, are pseudo-Welsh miners.
13 February 1891 – 14 April 1985
Born: Rhosgadfan, Gwynedd (formerly known as Caernarfonshire)
Known as Brenhines ein llên — translating literally into the Queen of our Literature — Kate Roberts was a paragon of both feminine and Welsh artistry.
One of the most renowned Welsh-language authors of the 20th century, Roberts wrote a series of anthologies of short stories, novellas and novels, though she is best known for her short stories, her first published anthology being O gors y bryniau (From the Swamp of the Hills) in 1925.
Born into a large family headed by a slate quarryman, it’s evident that her work takes inspiration from these pastoral and industrial roots, and also is a testament to the troubles and intensity of such an upbringing.
She was also a prominent Welsh nationalist and was actively involved in writing political material such as pamphlets and manifestos for Plaid Cymru from her and her husband’s publishing house Gwasg Gee. Of all her works, her most resonant and moving is perhaps Traed mewn cyffion (Feet in Chains), recounting the life of a slate-quarrying family.
13 January 1887 – 31 July 1917
Born: Trawsfynydd, Meirionydd
Born Ellis Humphrey Evans, Hedd Wyn (his bardic alias) was a prolific and celebrated poet.
Writing the majority of his canon whilst working as a shepherd on his family’s farm in Cwm Prysor, his poetry is rich with nature and infused with the relics of Romantic poetry; the sublime, the melancholic and a reverential adulation for his landscape.
Religion also factored into his artistic influences. He was a Christian pacifist who did not enlist when war broke out in Europe in 1914. Yet, when his family was called upon in 1916 to deliver one son to the war effort, he offered himself in lieu of his little brother Robert.
It was during his training that he wrote his most best remembered poem, Yr Arwr (‘The Hero’). The poem earned him the Bardic Chair at the 1917 National Eisteddfod, held just six weeks after his death at the Battle of Passchendaele. At the event the Archdruid called the name of the winning bard three times but when (understandably) there was no response, the Bardic Chair was solemnly draped in a black cloak. To this day, the 1917 festival is known as ‘Eisteddfod y Gadair Ddu’ (the Eisteddfod of the Black Chair.)
From the breath-taking vistas of the Meirionydd valleys, to the bitter and blood-soaked reality of the frontline, Hedd Wyn captured all with such acute lucidity and emotion that his words cannot help but resonate through the generations.
26 July 1923 – 13 October 2004
Born: Splott, Cardiff
The daughter of a Lithuanian Jewish father and a Polish mother and one of four children, Bernice Rubens grew up in a busy, eclectic household. While her three siblings headed into the musical arts, she pursued literature, reading English at the University of Wales. Her childhood and her family heritage have been a key feature and inspiration of many of her novels such as Brothers published in 1983.
Her bibliography is vast and rich, containing such works as A Solitary Grief published in 1991, the tale of a psychiatrist wrestling with guilt, and Yesterday in Brick Lane published in 1995, a powerful and extremely moving tale about a rape victim.
Crucially, in 1970, Rubens became not just the first woman to win the Booker Prize for her novel The Elected Member, but also the first Welsh national — an incredible achievement.
About Rowanvale Books
Rowanvale Books are the largest assisted self-publishing company in Wales with a strong ethos of ethicality, caring and inclusivity. Founded in Cardiff in 2021, the company has grown into small team of dedicated blog writers who create content on a myriad of topics relating to all things books, the publishing industry, writerly advice and more general literary posts.
Alongside providing free helpful advice to aspiring authors, Rowanvale Books also provides individually tailored pre-publication services, publication packages, global distribution and marketing options, To learn more about Rowanvale or how to get into publishing, you can contact them at email@example.com.
What do you think of Tegan’s choices? Have you heard about any of these authors or read their works? If you’re looking for more inspiration, take a look at my list of 80 Books From Wales.
19 thoughts on “Five of the Most Influential Welsh Writers of All Time”
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Wonderful Welsh writers! Thanks for sharing! I’ve read only Dylan Thomas from this list. I want to read Hedd Wyn. He looks very fascinating!
A super list!
I hadn’t heard of Hedd Wyn, or his poetry. I read about Kate Roberts when I was researching for Suffragists and politics for one of my books. It seems she wasn’t recognised ( perhaps still isn’t – but should be in these better-informed, more understanding times, surely?) As for Bernice Rubens – I have her book Nine Lives, probably one of her lesser intellectual works – but I liked it. I wonder if @Honno will one day pick up the gauntlet for these two women.
Shame it’s always the first two who are instantly recognised..
Checking out Rowanvale Books. The first link didn’t work for me though.
Many thanks for this.
Parthian has published one of the Kate Roberts books https://www.parthianbooks.com/products/feet-in-chains but oddly she didn’t make it into their Library of Wales series. She would indeed be a good option for Honno. You have some influence there I think!!!
One can only ask the question! Great idea.
Two new names for me too!
As I said to Lisa, Kate Roberts would fit well with the Virago modern classics imprint
I had to stop at 1 – I have a DVD of Richard Burton reading Under Milkwood. I didn’t know Roald Dahl was Welsh. I searched on Hedd Wyn and came up with the poem Rhyfel (War) – “the scream of the boys filling the wind/ And their blood mixed with the rain.” seems pretty apt for a pacifist dragged into and killed in WWI.
Dahl spent his childhood in Wales and went to school here too. I did a piece about his family home and the little shop where he bought his sweets (do Australians say candy?) https://bookertalk.com/at-home-with-roald-dahl/.
If you have the Burton version of Under Milk Wood then you have the best version that has ever been produced. His voice just can’t be surpassed
Australians call them ‘lollies’ but with my British childhood, LOL I call them sweets and people understand me.
I have Welsh family on my grandmother’s side. We have a family photo of a group of them in Welsh national dress with the aprons and the tall hats. It was taken about the turn of the century I think, but I have no idea whether that was their usual attire or dressed for some occasion that required it.
I have that BBC version of Under Milkwood too…
So if lollies are sweets to Australians, what do they call the iced fruity things on sticks that in my childhood were called lollies! Frivolous question maybe but its a good distraction from all the depressing Covid news 🙂
If the family lived in rural Wales (west or north) then they may have worn the aprons for everyday use but the hats very unlikely. Was it done in a studio?
Gosh, I don’t know what they called those iced fruity things, you’ll have to ask an Aussie born and bred for that, and even then you may get a different answers from different states. (Australians swim in bathers, togs, or cossies depending on where they live).
I really don’t know where the photo was taken. It used to hang framed on the wall in my mother’s sitting-room, but what became of it, I don’t know.
Icy poles, yes, I remember that too. But they were made from sweet sticky cordials, weren’t they? They bore no traces of fruit…
Thanks! I only knew the top 2
I’m not surprised.
Well, I’ve read Dylan Thomas and Roald Dahl, plus also Bernice Rubens, but I’m sorry, I’d never heard of the others.
One day I’m hoping that Virago or Persephone will give Kate Roberts the attention she deserves