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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.