Monday musings on Australian literature: Annual anthologies

This post would possibly be better done at the end of the year given that its subject – annual anthologies – relates most commonly to end-of-year publishing. However, not all such anthologies are published at year’s end, and, anyhow, I was inspired to write this post because my reading group is about to do one of these publications. Why not strike while the inspiration is upon me?

I’m going to share just a few that I’ve come across in recent years – ordered by publisher.

Black Inc

BestOf2009PoemsBlackIncMelbourne publisher Black Inc is the company which has made, in recent years anyhow, the biggest contribution to this form. I’m not sure when they started their “Best Australian” series but I’ve found titles going back to 2007 at least. They currently publish three annual editions: Best Australian stories, Best Australian poems and Best Australian essays. I’ve received, or given as gifts, various of these volumes over the years. Their editors change regularly, though not necessarily annually, so, for example, the 2016 edition of Best Australian stories will be selected by Charlotte Wood (whose The natural way of things won this year’s Stella Prize, among other awards). Previous editions have been edited by writers like Amanda Lohrey and Kim Scott. Recent Best Australian poems have been edited by poets Geoff Page, Lisa Gorton and Robert Adamson, and recent Best Australian essays by essayists Geordie Williamson and Robert Manne. These three annual anthologies are books that many of us Australians start looking for as the year draws to an end – and they do make good Christmas gifts for the reader who has read everything!

Griffith Review

The Queensland-based literary quarterly, the Griffith Review, published for several years (issues 26, 30, 34, 38 and 42) an Annual Fiction Edition (though the first one was called the Fiction Issue). The last of these, issue 42 published in 2013, was edited by Griffith Review’s editor Julianne Schultz and author Carmel Bird, and contained stories by recognised writers including Cate Kennedy, Arnold Zable, Tony Birch, Marion Halligan, Margo Lanagan and Bruce Pascoe. These editions focus on fiction, as their name implies, but they also include a smattering of pieces written in other forms, such as essays and poems.

However, in the last couple of years, Griffith Review seems to have abandoned this series, and has published instead what it calls The Novella Project. Numbered II (issue 46) and III (issue 50), these built on what was initially a one-off edition, issue 38 published in 2012. The novellas published were chosen from submissions to novella competitions run by the Review. One of last year’s winners was Nick Earls whom I featured in an earlier post this week. Issue 50 was published in October last year. I have no idea what Griffith Review plans for its last issue of 2016, but it would be lovely if it were a similarly focused “annual”.

Margaret River Press

Richard Rossiter, Knitting

Courtesy: Margaret River Press

For four or five years now, Western Australia’s Margaret River Press has been running an annual short story competition, the conclusion of which is the publication of the winning and shortlisted titles in an anthology, usually edited by the judges. I have reviewed, and thoroughly enjoyed, a couple of these anthologies, the 2013 titled Knitting and other stories, edited by Richard Rossiter, and the 2014 one titled The trouble with flying and other stories, edited by Richard Rossiter and Susan Midalia.

The competition attracts both new and established short story writers. In 2015, they received 323 entries, of which 24 were shortlisted for inclusion in the anthology. This initiative represents a wonderful commitment by a small publisher to the short story form.

New South Books

New South Wales based New South Books contributes something a little different to this annual anthology arena – and this is the one my reading group will be discussing next month. I’m talking their Best Australian Science Writing anthology. We will be reading the 2015 edition which was edited by science journalist Bianca Nogrady whose book about death, No end, I’ve reviewed. The 2015 edition is the fifth they’ve published but, not surprising, given my main reading interests, I had not heard of it. However, I’m looking forward to being introduced to, as its promo says, “the knowledge and insight of Australia’s brightest thinkers in examining the world around us”. Its subjects apparently range from “our obsession with Mars to the mating habits of fish”. I’m intrigued. One thing I know is that I’ll be introduced to a whole bunch of writers I’ve never read before! Like Black Inc, New South Books is already promoting this year’s edition. It’s being edited by Jo Chandler, and promotion for it says:

Good writing about science can be moving, funny, exhilarating or poetic, but it will always be honest and rigorous about the research that underlies it.

Do you read annuals? If so, I’d love to know which one/s and why. 

(PS I should add here that I did buy, about a decade ago, one of the O Henry Prize Stories anthologies. It was great reading.)


14 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Annual anthologies

  1. I love anthologies (particularly short story collections) and am always surprised that more people don’t embrace them. I will never forget holding my copy of the first Margaret River Press anthology – a gorgeous little book that nestled into the hand perfectly. The Sleepers Almanac is another good one, although I have a feeling they may not be publishing any more of them. Of course, I simply HAVE to mention Forty South Publishing’s annual collection because *smile* one of my stories was included last year and another will feature this year (the 2016 anthology will be launched in August). I think story collections are such good value in these modern time-strapped days; a short story for a train commute, one or for a Sunday afternoon laze in the park, a perfect half-hour read at bedtime.

  2. I’m a big fan of essay anthologies and usually read the Black Inc one every year. But given that I also read many of the sources from which the essays are drawn, I’ve often read many of the essays before (so I borrow my copy these days, rather than buy one). I’ve very much enjoyed both the ‘Best Australian Science Writing’ and the ‘Best Australian Business Writing’ anthologies in the past – both for the quality of the writing and the interesting issues discussed. Both of the latter anthologies were topical, fascinating and full of surprises.

  3. I’m not a big short story fan, but a friend gave me a Black Inc Essays a few years ago which I really liked. In the main though, I get so much good short form writing through ABR, Crikey and these blogs that that is about all I have time for.

    • Yes, I know exactly what you mean about time … Not about not being a fan though! I really enjoy short stories and essays. They do take a different mindset though. You can’t always just read on and on, one story after another as you can with chapters in a book as you often need to sit, think and debrief after one story before progressing to another, I find.

  4. I love both the Best Stories and the Best Essays anthologies by Black Inc and have reviewed them for many years for my radio program. Because I can’t afford to subscribe to literary magazines, they allow me access to gems in both fiction and non-fiction, and I love discovering new writers, such as the amazingly original Julie Koh who has just published a short story collection I can’t wait to read.
    I also love the annual novella anthologies by Griffith Review, which seem to be getting better every year – can’t wait for this year’s!

    • Thanks Annette. That’s a very good point re not being able to afford all those literary magazines. There are too many of them to keep up with now, aren’t there – which is a good problem to have really.

  5. I do like anthologies of short stories and essays. I especially like the Best Science Stories for the year. My creative writing group produces an anthology of our best stories for the year. We are the only buyers – lol.

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