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Dr Emma Claire Sweeney

Dr Emma Claire Sweeney

Profile summary

Professional biography

I am Director of the Ruppin Agency Writers' Studio, a nationwide literary mentorship scheme, and I co-founded City University's Novel Studio. I completed my undergraduate studies in English at the University of Cambridge, my MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and my PhD at the OU, where my thesis explored literary representations of learning disability. 

I was named as both an Amazon Rising Star and a Hive Rising Writer for my debut novel, Owl Song at Dawn (Legend, 2016). Inspired by my sister who has cerebral palsy and autism, it went on to win Nudge Literary Book of the Year. 

Stemming from Something Rhymed, the website on female literary friendship that I run with my own friend Emily Midorikawa, we co-wrote our debut non-fiction book, A Secret Sisterhood: The hidden friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf (Aurum 2017). In her foreword, Margaret Atwood described the work as a great 'service to literary history' and The Financial Times called it ‘an exceptional act of literary espionage’.  

I have won Society of Authors, Arts Council and Royal Literary Fund Awards, have been Writer in Residence for disability and care organisations such as Mencap, and I have written for the likes of The Paris Review, TIME and The Washington Post


 A Secret Sisterhood by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire SweeneyOwl Song at Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney The Memoir Garden book cover







Research interests

My research is focused on writing practice – the production of original work, both fiction and creative non-fiction, and I am a member of the Contemporary Cultures of Writing research group.

There are three inter-related strands to my research profile: literary representations of learning disability (the focus of my PhD, and the dominant theme of my novel Owl Song at Dawn); the history of female literary friendship (the subject of my co-written creative non-fiction book A Secret Sisterhood: The hidden friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf); and the life and work of Virginia Woolf.

I welcome applications from PhD candidates proposing to work in my fields of research. Please see our advice pages about creative writing PhD study.

Teaching interests

I am a module team member of A363 Advanced Creative Writing, A803 MA Creative Writing Part 2 and short courses.

Impact and engagement

Learning Disability and Autism Writing Workshops

2019-20   Arts Council-funded Writer in Residence at Mencap – the UK’s leading learning disability charity

2017        Mainspring Arts, Square Peg Stories, ‘Redrafting and Editing Workshop’, led workshop for autistic writers on mentoring programme

2012-13  Arts Council-funded Writer in Residence at Sunnyside Rural Trust – a social enterprise for adults with learning disabilities 


2018     ‘The Business of a Woman’s Life’: female authorship, celebrity, and fandom in the long 19th century, University of Reading, ‘A Secret Sisterhood: Female Literary Friendship’, Invited Speaker, along with Emily Midorikawa

2017       46th Annual George Eliot Lecture, ‘George Eliot’s Literary Friendship with Harriet Beecher Stowe’, with Emily Midorikawa, George Eliot Fellowship

2016       Mencap Annual Conference, ‘Representations of Learning Disability’, keynote speech

University public panels and talks

2019     Doris Lessing 100, University of East Anglia, ‘Women Writers Discuss Lessing’s Legacy’, panel with Rachel Cusk and Prof Lara Feigel

2017      Department of English and Friends of English, UCLA, panel chaired by Dr Michelle Carriger

2017      London School of Economics, ‘Viewing Autism Through the Arts Lens’, paper and panel with Ros Blackburn and Jem Lester, chaired by Prof Martin Knapp

2017     Association of Writing Programs, ‘The Special Relationship: Transatlantic Literary Alliances’, Organiser, Moderator and Presenter

2017     City, University of London, co-chaired panel on Writing Friendships

2017     University of Keele, Creative Writing MA programme, reading and talk on Owl Song at Dawn

2015     City, University of London, ‘The Art of Collaboration’, presentation

2015     Writing School Lecture Series, Kingston University, in conversation with Dr Wendy Vaizey

2014     National Association of Writers in Education, ‘Setting: what lies above, what lies below?’, presented paper

New Media


Co-founder and co-host of Something Rhymed, a website celebrating female literary friendship

Public Talks

2020     Lyceum Theatre, Talk Show: How Jane Austen Invented the Modern World, in conversation with Dr Helena Kelly and Helen McClory chaired by Mariella Frostrup

2019     Alliance of Literary Societies AGM, hosted by The George Eliot Fellowship, ‘A Secret Sisterhood: Female Literary Friendship’, lecture

2018     Chawton House Library: home to early women’s writing, ‘Jane Austen’s Unlikely Friendship’, lecture with Emily Midorikawa

2017     The Jane Austen Society of North America and the Brontë Society American Chapter, interview with Emily Midorikawa

2017      British Library, ‘How Female Friendship Feeds Creativity, panel with Rachel Holmes, Emily Midorikawa and Kate Mosse chaired by Amanda Craig

2016      Something Rhymed Salon Series on Gender Equality in the Literary Industries, New York University London, Director, Chair and Co-host

BBC Interviews

2018     BBC Radio Nottingham Afternoon Show Book Club, Interview about Owl Song at Dawn

2017     BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, Interview with Emily Midorikawa on female literary friendship and our exploration of it in A Secret Sisterhood: The hidden friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf

2016     BBC Radio London, Interview about Owl Song at Dawn

2016     BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, Interview on history of attitudes towards disability and my exploration of it in Owl Song at Dawn

2016     BBC Radio Merseyside, Interview about Owl Song at Dawn

Selected Press

December 14, 2017     The Washington Post, ‘Jane Austen: A role model for the #MeToo generation’,  co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

November 21, 2017      TIME, ‘The Famous ,Women Writers Whose Friendships We've Forgotten’,co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

October 16, 2017           The Paris Review, ‘Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, and the Benefits of Jealous Friends’, co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

August 11, 2017            Smithsonian Magazine VIP, ‘Jane Austen’s BFF: And other overlooked tales of friendship between great women writers’, interview of Emma Claire Sweeney and Emily Midorikawa by 

August 11, 2017             Irish Times, ‘The female friendships that sustained four great writers’,  co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

July 16, 2017                  Irish Independent, ‘Written out of history - the secret literary sisterhood’, co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

 July 14, 2017                 The Financial Times, Review of Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight by Naoki Higashida and The Valentine House by Emma Henderson,

July 12, 2017                  BBC History Extra, ‘From Austen & Brontë to Woolf: literature’s forgotten female friendships’, co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

June 08, 2017                 Times Literary Supplement,‘Harriet Beecher Stowe and George Eliot’s long-distance relationship’,  co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

June 07, 2017                i newspaper, ‘The secret sisterhood of women writers, from Austen to Woolf’, co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

June 02, 2017                Daily Telegraph, ‘The secret sisterhood unmasked’, co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

July 06, 2014                 Independent on Sunday, ‘Feminist Writers’ Friendships: feel the fear and do it anyway’ – a feature about Virginia Woolf’s creative collaborations with other women, co-authored by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

External collaborations

  • Arts Council funded writing residency at Mencap – the UK’s leading learning disability charity – from September 2020 to June 2020 to celebrate Mencap’s status as the official charity of the London 2020 marathon. Outputs to include narrative storytelling podcast, poetry collection and song lyrics devised in collaboration with writers with learning disabilities.
  • I still run a learning disability poetry group at Sunnyside Rural Trust, following my 2012-2013 Arts Council-funded writing residency.

International Publishers

  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, USA Publisher
  • Lübbe, German Publisher
  • White Horse, Chinese Publisher

Fellowships and Residencies

  • New York University Visiting Scholar, USA (2014 & 2016)
  • Circle of Misse, France, Writer in Residence
  • Byrdcliffe Arts Colony, USA, Fellow
  • Art and Cultural Studies Laboratory, Armenia, Fellow 


Articulating the Other (2014)
Bullock, Emily; Harlow, Nicky; Richardson, Heather and Sweeney, Emma
Writing in Education, 62 (pp. 52-55)

A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Bronte, Eliot and Woolf (2017)
Midorikawa, Emily and Sweeney, Emma Claire
ISBN : 978-1781315941 | Publisher : Aurum Press

Owl Song at Dawn (2016-07-01)
Sweeney, Emma Claire
ISBN : 978-1785079672 | Publisher : Legend Press | Published : London

The Roseate Tern (2016)
Sweeney, Emma Claire
Jigsaw Journal

The Taj Mahal of the North (2012)
Sweeney, Emma
Prole, poetry and prose, Issue 6