David Marcus was for more than 60 years a major figure in the Irish literary landscape and considered the most important literary editor in Ireland during the second half of the twentieth century. He co-founded the journal Irish Writing in 1946 which was hugely successful in attracting literary contributions from many well-known writers. This and the Poetry Ireland Journal which he created in 1948 both fostered the skills of generations of young, aspiring writers. He established the “New Irish Writing” page in the Irish Press which he edited from 1968 until he retired in 1986 and is credited with the discovery of many of Ireland’s best-known writers.
The first of Marcus’s work to be published appeared in The Irish Times. This was a translation of An Bunán Buí, and in 1952 the Dolmen Press published his translation of Cúirt an Mheán Oíche, while poems and short stories were accepted by Irish, British and US magazines.
Marcus was born into a family of Lithuanian-Jewish descent who settled in Cork. He studied law but decided not to practice in that profession and instead spent 13 years in insurance in London before returning to Ireland in 1967 when he became the literary editor for the Irish Press, championing Irish writing from home and Abroad.
In 1976, with Philip McDermott, he started Poolbeg Press, publishing the work of established, and especially, new Irish writers.
As an editor, outside his newspaper work, Marcus created 30 anthologies of Irish short stories and poetry, including State of the Art (1992), Alternative Loves: Irish Gay and Lesbian Stories (1994) and, most recently, the Faber Book of Best New Irish Short Stories (2007).
His first novel To Next Year in Jerusalem was published in 1954. A Land Not Theirs (1986), was set in Cork’s Jewish community at the height of the Black and Tan presence and its sequel, A Land in Flames (1988) was set in Kerry during the War of Independence. Both were well-crafted popular successes. These were followed by his short-story collection Who Ever Heard of an Irish Jew? In most of these, and in his Oughtobiography: Leaves from the Diary of a Hyphenated Jew (2001) and its sequel Buried Memories (2004), he explored what he called “the ongoing trauma” of juggling a “hyphenated heritage of being a Jew in Ireland. His poetry collection Lost and Found was published in 2007.
Marcus’ secret ambition was to be a great concert pianist. He was married to the author Ita Daly.
In 2001, he was awarded the Rooney prize for services to Irish literature and in 2005 received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, University College, Cork.