Last week’s Monday musings surveyed Australian literature in 1965. As I researched that post in Trove, I came across some fascinating newspaper articles from the year, which I thought worth sharing in separate posts. I’ve divided them into two groups – one on overseas visitors (today’s post) and the other local writers (next week’s, probably!)
An American academic
Bruce Sutherland, Professor of English Literature at Pennsylvania State University, visited Australia to research Miles Franklin’s time in America. He is, apparently, credited with establishing and teaching the first exclusively Australian literature course in the USA – in 1942. (He’s interesting, so I might return to him another day.)
Anyhow, speaking on an ABC program, he said (according to The Canberra Times), that Australian literature was more widely read now than at any time since the 1890s, and that, compared with his visit in the early 1950s, now “every Australian university is encouraging Australian studies to some degree”. Publishers too, he said, were rising to the challenge:
Not only are many of the older books kept in print, but more and more, the works of promising young authors are being published.
He noted the importance of reprints, to students and the general public, saying that “a literature that is not read can hardly be said to exist”. Good point, and one that publishers like Text have taken on board in their Classics series. Prof. Sutherland was particularly interested in the fact that the biggest change since 1951 had been in drama.
However, Australians shouldn’t rest on their laurels, because
Quite frankly, Australian literature has a long way to go before it attains the pedestal reserved for the English and American in the English-speaking world. … But it has made great strides, and is now well beyond the toddling stage.
Hmm … no wonder we suffered from cultural cringe! Still, he was a great proponent of our literature, and as a result, in 1993 at least, Pennsylvania State University had one of the best research collections outside Australia.
A Soviet novelist
Soviet novelist, Daniil Granin (1919-2017) was visiting Australia as guest of the Fellowship of Australian Writers (FAW), reciprocating author Alan Marshall’s visit to the USSR the previous year. His focus was a bit different, as he was interested in what Australian literature was offering Soviet readers. “Australian literature,” he said at a FAW reception, “is the only window Soviet people have on Australian life.” DK, the Tribune article’s writer, tells us that the attendees included novelist Mena Calthorpe (whose realist novel The dyehouse I’ve reviewed), short story writer Dal Stivens, and poet Kath Walker (later, Oodgeroo Noonuccal).
Granin told the group that interest in Australia had grown “enormously” in the last decade. In 1964, for example, one and a half million copies of Australian authors were printed and sold in the Soviet Union. Amazing. Did you know? Apparently, writes DK in another Tribune article, this interest is because these Aussie writers’ characters are “flesh and blood” people with an “active attitude to reality”.
Anyhow, he also spoke with various Australian literati including Colin Simpson (who wrote Take me to Russia), Roland Robinson (a poet), Leonie Kramer (the first female professor of English in Australia), Clem Christesen (editor of Meanjin), Alan Marshall (whose memoir I can jump puddles is a classic), and Nancy Cato (author of All the rivers run). That’s interesting, but even more interesting are his comments on some significant, and still remembered, Australian writers at the time:
Of Patrick White: “He is a man who feels a great responsibility for his own literary work, and has a genuine interest in contemporary literature. He has achieved for himself a very high standard of literary craftsmanship.”
Of Katharine Susannah Prichard: “She is a human being who uplifts you from your first meeting. She has an indomitable spirit, throws aside all trifles, and gets down to the main issues.”
Of Kath Walker: “I admire her just because she is the first successful Aboriginal poetess writing in English. She has a keen interest in all new Aboriginal writers and a vital concern with problems facing them.”
Note: For copyright reasons, most of the articles available for the 1960s come only from The Canberra Times and the Tribune, because they made an agreement with the NLA to allow digitisation. For other newspapers, the library must wait until they come into the public domain – and then, I guess, wait their time in the digitisation queue!