Monday musings on Australian literature: Untapped (The Australian Literary Heritage Project)

I have Lisa (ANZLitLovers) to thank for this Monday Musings because, commenting on my recent Margaret Barbalet post, she mentioned this Untapped project, which, embarrassingly, was unknown to me. Then, seeing our discussion, novelist Dorothy Johnston joined in, and offered to send me some information, which she did. So, I now have a copy of the launch announcement press release. This eased my embarrassment a little, as the project was announced two months ago, on 18 November 2021, and was launched on 6 December (at this gala event). Easy to miss, says she, at such a busy time of year!

Yes, yes, but what is it, I hear you all saying? Essentially, Untapped aims “to identify Australia’s lost literary treasures and bring them back to life”. In other words, it’s about bringing to the fore again those books that have been published in the past but are now out-of-print. The books are produced in eBook format, and are available for borrowing from libraries and purchase from several eBooksellers.

I like that it’s “a collaboration between authors, libraries and researchers”, and that “it creates a new income source for Australian authors, who currently have few options for getting their out-of-print titles available in libraries”. The project has some significant partners, including the Australian Society of Authors, National State and Territory Libraries, the Australian Library and Information Association and Ligature Press. 

What a visionary and practical project. I am particularly thrilled about it because it ties in somewhat with our reframing this year of the Australian Women Writers Challenge (AWW) to focus on forgotten and past women writers. The two activities don’t completely align: the new AWW is focusing on works published fifty or more years ago, whereas Untapped focuses on books that have gone out of print, and many of these are far more recent than 50 years old.

On the Untapped website, linked above, they have clearly outlined the steps:

  1. Identify missing books: it seems that the current collection comprises 161 books, which they describe as an “inclusive and diverse selection of lost books in need of rescue”.
  2. Find the authors and obtain the rights: this, I imagine, would have been particularly time consuming, tracking down the appropriate people to deal with – authors, estates and/or literary agents.
  3. Digitise the works: this involved scanning, then using OCR to convert the text, followed by careful proof-reading and scan quality checking. For this proofreading they focused on “hiring arts workers affected by COVID”. Then there’s all the work involved in (digital) publication, including design, metadata, royalty accounting, and uploading onto the library lending and other platforms.
  4. Promote the collection: this is where the libraries come into their own, promoting the collection in their various ways, and ensuring payment to the authors. Dorothy Johnston mentioned in her comment on my post that “we’re hoping to generate some publicity through the Geelong Regional Libraries this year”. She’d love to find any other “current or past writers living in or writing about Geelong” who might be covered by the collection. If you live in Geelong, keep an eye out for this.
  5. Collect the data and crunch the numbers: like any good project, its managers will analyse the sales and loan data. Their aim is “to understand the value of out-of-print rights to authors, the value of libraries’ book promotion efforts, and the relationship between library lending and sales”. They will feed this data, they say, “into public policy discussions about how we can best support Australian authors and literary culture”. They also hope the project might encourage new interest from commercial publishers. This research aspect is led by Rebecca Giblin, Associate Professor of Law, University of Melbourne.

As I understand it, the initial project involves this collection of 161 books, and the research will be based on this, but having created the infrastructure, they plan to “keep rescuing lost literary treasures” for as long as they have the resources to do so. The books will also be lodged at the National Library as part of its e-deposit scheme, ensuring that they’ll be available “for as long as libraries exist”.

It’s a great initiative that will spotlight work from beloved Australian authors and provide new access to those works. (Olivia Lanchester, CEO, Australian Society of Authors from Press Release)

The books

When Lisa mentioned the project, it was to say she’d bought Margaret Barbalet’s non-fiction book, Low gutter girl: The forgotten world of state wards, South Australia, 1887–1940. So, curious, I checked the site out, and bought Canberra tales, the anthology of short stories by Canberra’s Seven Writers (Margaret Barbalet, Sara Dowse, Suzanne Edgar, Marian Eldridge, Marion Halligan, Dorothy Horsfield, Dorothy Johnston) .

However, Lisa’s purchase should tell you something interesting about the collection, which is that it contains not only fiction. It includes a wide range of genres and forms, including novels, histories, memoirs, and poetry. The project also wanted a diverse collection, so there are works by First Nations author Anita Heiss, Greek-born Vogel/The Australian award winning author Jim Sakkas, and Lebanese-born writer and academic Abbas El-Zein, to name a few. Their books are all 21st century, but, there are also significantly older books, like Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Intimate strangers (1937) and M. Barnard Eldershaw’s Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow (1947).

I thought, of course, to check my own library, the ACT Library Service, and found an announcement on their website. Not surprisingly, they draw attention to a Canberra connection, as Johnston would like to do in Geelong:

The books include some with a connection to Canberra, through the author or substantial Canberra-related content. For example: The golden dress by Marion Halligan, One for the master by Dorothy Johnston, The moth hunters by Josephine Flood, The schoonermaster’s dance by Alan Gould, and others.

I should add that all of Canberra’s Seven Writers are included.

So, a wonderful project. The question is, will it achieve its goal of ensuring the long tail of authors’ works stay available in a world where money not culture rules?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Reflections of a 1970s feminist

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a feminist, but Bill suggested that, for his AWW Gen 4 week, I “could ‘review’ The female eunuch by discussing your experience of Women’s Lib at uni”.

I replied that I could probably do “Reflections of a 1970s feminist” but that it wouldn’t be exactly what he was thinking. The thing is, I chose to go to a new, progressive university (Macquarie) though many of my peers from school preferred the “name” one (Sydney). I’m sure things weren’t perfect at Macquarie, but in my experience women were treated well, there. It had no baggage of “traditions” that the older male-dominated universities had, and its academics seemed invested in creating something new. I think that made a difference.

Macquarie’s motto is Chaucer’s “and gladly teche” (from the lines “gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche”). I always thought it a bit strange that the motto focused on “teaching” more than “learning” but now I think it’s inspired, because it reminds the academics that “teaching” is where it all starts. All this is to say that, although I read The female eunuch during this time and was strongly affected by it personally, I wasn’t aware of an active feminist presence on my campus. However, there are things I could say about growing up from the 50s to 70s and why Greer made such an impact on me. 

A baby-boomer childhood

My father, like many men of his between-the-wars generation, wanted a son, but his first two children were daughters, me first, then my sister. A son came along, but a few years later. I never felt unloved or unwanted – indeed, I was very much loved – but we grew up, in the main, in a traditional role-oriented household. We had an intellectually frustrated but devoted stay-at-home mum and breadwinning father. Household tasks were largely gendered, with Mum looking after inside, and Dad outside – and we children followed suit. That’s how it mostly was back then, so it didn’t seem particularly strange.

Conversely, it also didn’t seem strange that my sister and I were encouraged in our education, that it was assumed that we’d go to university and on to work, and that marriage and children were sort of assumed some time down the track but were never focused on. Consequently, while my sister and I were expected to help with “women’s work” like washing and drying dishes after meals, it was only on weekends and holidays. Schoolwork came first.

They were schizophrenic times, then, and jokes were often gendered. One, I particularly remember, concerned junk car yards, which were called, by the menfolk as we drove past, “ladies’ driving school”. Yet, my Mum drove and we were encouraged to get our licences. It didn’t make sense. Was it a “little” attempt by men to retain their superiority as we encroached on their domain?

Feminism to the fore

As the 60s moved into the 70s, however, Women’s Liberation, as we called the second wave of feminism, came to popular attention. I read The female eunuch within a year or so of its publication, in my first year of university. It bowled me over, giving structure and a theoretical underpinning for how my thoughts were developing. It was both easy and not easy being a young woman then. The free-love hippy movement of the 60s gave women increasing freedom to be themselves in dress and behaviour – but old habits die hard and the pressure to conform to ideals of beauty ran alongside. Moreover, as Kate Jennings made clear in her famous Front Lawn speech in 1970, the appearance of increasing freedom for women was not matched by the reality. The recent documentary Brazen hussies documents these times very well. I was forging my own path through this, eschewing the trappings of “beauty” and dressing naturally, comfortably, sans make-up, hair colour, high heels, and so on.

Again, my family supported me. No comments were made – to my face anyhow! – but the women’s movement did not pass unnoticed. Another little anecdote, I remember, concerns my paternal grandparents, born in 1889 and 1893. They were kind, generous people, but Grandpa wasn’t averse to little digs at “women’s libbers”, including a time when Gran surprised him by suggesting she occupy the front seat of the car when my Dad was driving them home after a visit. Gran got the seat, and their marriage continued its loving way. Gran was great fun, and did her best to keep up with the times.

Moving along into the 1980s and 90s, I did marry and have children, and I chose – it was a choice – to work part-time at a time when part-time work was not well-supported in the Australian (then Commonwealth) Public Service. My good friend and work colleague had a child at the same time, so we proposed that we job-share. That was quite a saga, one too long to fully tell here. We were supported by our immediate boss, a woman a few years older than we were, and, generally, by the rest of the senior management, but we did face opposition from a few, including the female head of HR. With no regulations in place at the time for administering permanent part-time work, we needed the support of HR to make it work on paper (which included applying for leave-without-pay every week for the hours we weren’t working). We got there, eventually, but it was disappointing to find the greatest opposition coming from (some) women.

Through all of this and other feminist challenges along the way, Germanine Greer’s arguments – and those of the writers I was reading in Ms magazine, edited for a while by Australia’s Anne Summers* – underpinned my confidence that my choices and ideas were valid.

Reading women writers

It was around this time – that is, in the 1980s – that I started prioritising women writers in my reading, a priority I have maintained ever since. Virago Press was one of the inspirations for this, and I regularly scanned bookshop shelves, looking for the identifying green spine. There were other women-focused presses around, but Virago editions, in particular, inspired many of us, as we realised just how many great women writers had been forgotten. This is when I fell in love with Elizabeth von Arnim, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston and E.H. Young, to name a few.

Book cover

However, this is Monday Musings on Australian literature, so I thought I’d close on the Australian novelists who inspired me at the time. But first, back to my Mum. I grew up with reading parents, and my Mum had on her shelves – besides Jane Austen and other favourite classics – Henry Handel Richardon’s Australia Felix trilogy, Eleanor Dark’s The timeless land, M. Barnard Eldershaw’s A house is built, Eve Langley’s The pea pickers, and Thea Astley’s first novels.

So, when women’s writing started to really take off again in the 1980s I was attuned – and started reading, in that decade, novels by Thea Astley, Jessica Anderson, Elizabeth Jolley, and Olga Masters, to name a few. These writers, their contemporaries and those who followed them, including now, First Nations women writers, have added immeasurably to my understanding of myself as a woman and a person. They have helped me be comfortable in my shoes, but have also shown me where things need to change, personally and politically. I would not be who I am today without them.

A fundamental feminist principle – obvious to those who understand, but not to those who, for their own reasons, wish to remain obtuse – is that feminism is not about the sexes being the same but about all people being equal in terms of rights and respect. Germaine Greer puts it a different way in her Preface to the 21st Anniversary Paladin edition of The female eunuch. She says it’s about freedom, “the freedom to be a person, with the dignity, integrity, nobility, passion, pride that constitute personhood”, freedom from fear and hunger, freedom of speech and belief. As she says in this 1991 edition – and unfortunately it’s still true – things have changed, but not enough. It’s therefore wonderful seeing a new generation of feminists picking up the baton. They don’t always get it right, anymore than previous generations did, but womanhood – and personhood – is, I believe, in good hands.

* Anne Summers, of course, wrote another now-classic Australian feminist work, Damned whores and God’s police (Lisa’s post)

Monday musings on Australian literature: Thinking about historiography

Last week I wrote a post on Cindy Solonec’s hybrid biography-memoir, Debesa: The story of Frank and Katie Rodriguez. This book, as I explained in my post, is a rewriting of her 2016 PhD thesis which “explored a social history in the West Kimberley based on the way her parents and extended family lived during the mid-1900s.” Immediately, perhaps, you can see what inspired this post.

It has been accepted for some time now that social history, particularly that involving the stories of ordinary people, is a valid and important part of history, of the historical record. But, ordinary people’s lives aren’t well documented, history normally being, as we know, the province of the victors.

Solonec did have significant documentary sources to draw on, as the Kimberley has fascinated people for a long time. She also had her Spanish-born father’s diaries, which were not particularly detailed but they did provide the book’s “chronological framework”. Diaries are a common source for historians, so there’s nothing new about that. But, what about the First Nations side of her family? For that she had to rely on the stories her mother and extended family passed on through oral tradition. She writes that, fortunately,

Aboriginal peoples still uphold past events through oral histories … I was excited to find that their stories were not that hard to cross reference with the literature. Their memory vaults with stories that have been handed down served them well, confirming the reliability of Indigenous intelligence.

This comment reminded me of an essay “On listening to new national storytellers” in The Conversation. Written five years ago by academic Anna Clark, it considers Australian historiography and the historical record, and covers some issues that are discussed in longer tomes like Tom Griffiths’ The art of time travel. But her focus is specific.

Clark refers briefly to the “history wars” before moving on to say that

Debates over Australian history aren’t simply ideological, but also disciplinary, and reflect the historical challenges wrought by changing approaches to the past. 

She makes the point that history isn’t a simple matter of what happened and why, but is affected by “persuasions, politics and prejudices” of the historians writing it. So, a history of the “first settlement” written in, say, the 1930s, is very different to one written today, though the actual events are the same.

Clark goes on to say that Australia’s history has been viewed, at least until the 1960s, in terms of “progress” or advancement. It “privileged the written record” which is “located in archives, libraries and universities (themselves imperial institutions)”. Where did that leave the story of First Nations’ people? Clark writes that:

Dispossessed from their country, Indigenous people were in turn dispossessed from Australian historiography. It was, in the words of the anthropologist, W.E.H. Stanner, our “Great Australian Silence”, and his phrase has come to characterise the nation’s own historiographical “dark ages”.

Gradually, historians, inspired by the likes of Henry Reynolds, started to write histories that looked through lenses different to the “simple story of progress and advancement”. To do this, they used “Indigenous testimony and oral history sources”. This challenged traditional “historical research methods, which depended on written primary sources”.

Contributing to this shift have been Indigenous historians – such as Steve Kinnane, Noel Pearson and Larissa Behrendt – who have promoted “the inclusion of new historical lenses to read between the lines of colonial sources”.

Other storytellers?

That’s a good thing, but Clark has more questions, such as: while historians were “erasing the impact of settler-colonial society on Indigenous people in Australia”, were other “national storytellers” doing the same? And here is where it becomes interesting in terms of what we call “history”.

Take poetry, for example. Clark writes that

the sound of colonial violence and Aboriginal dispossession was ringing loud and clear in Judith Wright’s poem Nigger’s Leap, New England. Published in 1945, it’s based on the story of an Aboriginal massacre told to Wright by her father, and is a powerful antidote to Australian historiography of the time.

Or novels, like Eleanor Dark’s The timeless land (1941). In it “Dark tries to capture the cultural clash between the Eora people and the British colonisers in early Sydney”. This might be historical fiction, but Tom Griffiths, she says, argued in his book that “Dark deserves recognition as a historian for the work she did, and her impact on Australians’ historical consciousness”.

This doesn’t mean, she continues, that historians should ignore

the conventions of truth-seeking and critical inquiry. But as Griffiths intimates in his recent book, the relationship between history and fiction is surely more a dance than a clash, despite the heated debate over Kate Grenville’s historical novel, The Secret River. And historians who ignore the potential of fiction to imagine their way into some of those undocumented encounters diminish their own historical imaginations, he concludes.

Regular readers here will know that this accords with my – admittedly non-expert – views on the matter.

Anyhow, she goes on … mentions Mudrooroo’s Doctor Wooreddy’s Prescription for Enduring the Ending of the World, and other potential sources of history …

I think you get the gist. The point she is making is that there is increasing recognition of “the need to broaden our conception of historiography to reflect the many ways we make history, and consume it”. Aboriginal rock art is an obvious example, and other forms of “material culture”. Clark argues, and here we loop back to Cindy Solonec, that there is a need:

in Australia to expand and reconceptualise our understanding of historiography in order to recognise that history is frequently captured and made outside the academy ­– in fiction, poetry, art and even beyond the public domain altogether, such as local and family histories.

Clark has more to say, but concludes that she’s interested in how less traditional records or stories, these “vernacular epistemologies”, “can add both to our understanding of the past and the discipline itself”. I’ve been fascinated by historiography since I read EH Carr’s What is history at university, and so I loved this article.

Any thoughts?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Some New Releases in 2022

For several years now, my first Monday Musings of the year has focused on “new releases”. As before, it is mostly drawn from the Sydney Morning Herald. Their writers do a wonderful job of surveying publishers large and small, but I have found a few more on my own! Also, remember, this is Monday musings on Australian literature post, so focuses on Australian authors. Do click on the SMH link to see the full list, which includes non-Aussies, Aussies I haven’t selected, and some additional book info.

Links on the authors’ names are to my posts on those authors.

Fiction

Last year, I listed over 30 fiction works, including short story collections, and read very few – though have some on my TBR. Here’s this year’s selection:

  • Robbie Arnott, Limberlost (October, Text)
  • Jessica Au, Cold enough for snow (February, Giramondo): Brona’s advanced review
  • Mandy Beaumont, The furies (February, Hachette)
  • Geraldine BrooksHorse (June, Hachette)
  • Michelle Cahill, Daisy and Woolf (April, Hachette)
  • Jay Carmichael, Marlo, 1953 (August, Scribe)
  • Steven Carroll, Goodnight, Vivienne, Goodnight (March, 4th Estate): final in the Eliot Quartet
  • Shankari Chandran, Chai time at Cinnamon Gardens (January, Ultimo Press)
  • Claire G. ColemanEnclave (July, Hachette) 
  • Gregory Day, The bell in the world (December, Transit Lounge)
  • Ceridwen Dovey and Eliza Bell, Mothertongues (April, PRH): “experimental book of bio-autofiction about early motherhood”, a genre-bender?
  • Robert Drewe, Nimblefoot (June, PRH)
  • Nigel Featherstone, My heart is a little wild thing (no date, Ultimo Press)
  • Victoria Hannan, Marshmallow (September, Hachette)
  • Hilde Hinton, The loudness of unsaid things (April, Hachette)
  • Gail Jones, no title yet (November, Text)
  • Yumna Kassab, Australiana (March, Ultimo)
  • Tom Keneally, Dancing the Liberty Dance (August, PRH)
  • Tom Lee, Object coach (November, Upswell)
  • Robert Lukins, Loveland (Allen & Unwin, March)  
  • Fiona McGregor, Iris (October, Picador)
  • Holly Ringland, The seven skins of Esther Wilding (June, 4th Estate) 
  • Philip Salom, Sweeney and the bicycles (November, Transit Lounge)
  • Wendy Scarfe, One bright morning (March, Wakefield)
  • Jock Serong, The settlement (September, Text)
  • Craig Sherborne, The Grass Hotel (February, Text)
  • Inga Simpson, Willowman (November, Hachette)
  • Steve Toltz, Here goes nothing (May, PRH)
  • Pip Williams, The bookbinder of Jericho (November, Affirm). 
  • Dominique Wilson, Orphan Rock (March, Transit Lounge)
  • Alexis WrightPraiseworthy (October, Giramondo)

SMH lists many books under Thrills and Chills, but this is not my area of expertise. So, I’m going to leave you to check SMH’s link if you are interested, and just bring a couple to your attention:

SMH also lists Debut Australian fiction. Most of these names are, by definition, unknown, so I’m sharing them by publisher:

  • Affirm: Omar Sakr, Son of Sin (February: poet moving into fiction)
  • Allen & Unwin (A&U): Isobel Beech, Sunbathing (May); Emily Brugman, The Islands (February)
  • Finlay Lloyd: Sandy Gordon, Leaving Owl Creek (February: on my TBR)
  • Fremantle Press: Brooke Dunnell, The glass house (November: Fogarty Literary Award winner)
  • Hachette: Megan Albany, The very last list of Vivian Walker (February: First Nations); Rhett Davis, Hovering (February: won the 2020 Victorian Premier’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript)
  • Harper/Collins: Kimberley Allsopp, Love and other puzzles (February)
  • Picador: Jessica Stanley, A Great Hope (February)
  • Penguin Random House (PRH): Clare Fletcher, Five bush weddings (September); Ashley Goldberg, Abomination (May); Lizzie Pook, Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter (February); Justin Smith, Cooper not out (January)
  • S&S: James Weir, The Hemsworth effect (June)
  • Scribe: Sam Wallman, Our members be unlimited (May: graphic novel)
  • Transit Lounge: Brendan Colley, The signal line (May); Alan Fyfe (T, September); Adriane Howell, Hydra (August)
  • Ultimo: Pirooz Jafari, Forty nights (July)
  • UQP: Al Campbell, The keepers (February); George Haddad, Losing face (May)

Short stories

  • Ennis Cehic, Sadvertising (March, PRH)
  • lse Fitzgerald, Everything feels like the end of the world (April, A&U)
  • Chris Flynn, Here be Leviathans (second half, UQP)
  • Kat Gibson, Women I know (May, Scribner)
  • Mirandi Riwoe,The burnished sun (April, UQP)
  • Andrew Roff, The teeth of a slow machine (March, Wakefield Press) 
  • Maria Samuela, Beats of the Pa’u (March, Victoria University Press)

Non-fiction

SMH provides a long, long list of new non-fiction books covering a huge range of topics, so my lists here are highly selective.

Life-writing (loosely defined, and focused mainly on the arts and activism)

  • Carmel BirdTelltale: Reading, writing, remembering (July, Transit Lounge): need I say more?
  • Nick Cave, Faith, hope and carnage (October, Text): reflection on son Arthur’s death
  • Jessie Cole, Desire (August, Text): memoir
  • Jim Davidson, Emperors in Liliput: Clem Christesen of Meanjin and Stephen Murray-Smith of Overland (October, MUP): on these two literary journals and their editors
  • Aaron Fa’Aoso, So far, so good, (September, Pantera Press): memoir of Black Comedy star
  • Anna Funder, Wifedom (September, PRH): on George Orwell’s first wife; billed as a “blazing feminist masterpiece”
  • Hannah Gadsby, Ten steps to Nanette (April, A&U): memoir
  • Kate GrenvilleA room made of leaves: Elizabeth Macarthur’s letters (April, Text): non-fiction accompaniment to the novel 
  • Brittany Higgins, no title (October, PRH): memoir of activist
  • Nathan Hobby, The red witch (May, MUP): biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard (been waiting for this) 
  • Anita Jacoby, Secrets beyond the screen, May, Ventura): television producer’s memoir
  • Lee Kofman, The writer laid bare (March, Ventura)
  • Wendy McCarthy, Don’t be too polite, girls (March, A&U): activist/feminist’s memoir
  • Paddy Manning, Sly fox (November, Black Inc): unauthorised biography of Lachlan Murdoch
  • Patti Miller,True Friends (April, UQP): memoir
  • Brenda NiallMy accidental career (March, Text): biographer’s memoir 
  • Rick Morton (ed), Growing up in country Australia (April, Black Inc)
  • Ann-Marie Priest, My tongue is my own (May, La Trobe University Press): biography of poet Gwen Harwood
  • Magda Szubanski, no title (second half, Text): memoir
  • Simon Tedeschi, Fugitive (May, Upswell): pianist, “straddles the borders of poetry and prose, fiction and fact, trauma and testimony”
  • Tom Tilley, Speaking in tongues (September, ABC Books): broadcaster’s memoir

SMH also lists several biographies and memoirs on/by politicians, past and present, but, as last year, I’m taking a break from parliamentary politics. (Do check SMH’s link, if you are interested.)

Essay collections

  • Eda Gunaydin, Root and branch (May, NewSouth): race, genre and migration
  • Eliza Hull (ed), We’ve got this (March, Black Inc): by parents who identify as deaf, disabled or chronically ill
  • Kim Mahood, Wandering with Intent (October, Scribe)
  • Pantera Press anthology of Liminal and Pantera Press Nonfiction Prize longlist (August)

History and other non-fiction

  • Anna Clark, Making Australian history (February, PRH)
  • David Duffy, Nabbing Ned Kelly (March, A&U)
  • Meg Foster, Boundary crossers (November, NewSouth): Aboriginal, African-American, Chinese and female bushrangers
  • Duane Hamacher, The first astronomers (March, A&U): First Peoples’ knowledge of the stars; Hamacher is not First Nations, but did I believe work closely with Indigenous elders
  • Leah Lui-Chivizhe, Masked histories: Turtle shell masks and Torres Straight Islander People (July, MUP): First Nations author
  • David Marr, A family business (November, Black Inc): our colonial past
  • Elizabeth Tynan, The secret of Emu Field (May, NewSouth): the first British atomic test site, South Australia
  • Don Watson, The passion of Private White (October, Scribner): the 50-year-old relationship between anthropologist and veteran Neville White and Aboriginal clans of remote northern Australia

Some current-interest topics being written about, include:

  • Women and the “home-front”: Tabitha Carvan, This is not a book about Benedict Cumberbatch (March, HarperCollins: joy in women’s lives); Eloise Grills, Big beautiful female theory (July, Affirm); Sonia Orchard, The female of the species (September, Affirm: the “science of womanhood”); Sian Prior, Childless (April, Text: living without children); Gina Rushton, The most important job in the world (April, Pan Macmillan: choosing motherhood).
  • Politics and current affairs: Allan Behm, No enemies, no friends (March, Upswell: on Australia’s diplomatic relationships); Ed Coper, Facts and other lies (February, A&U: on disinformation); Jo Dyer, Burning down the house (February, Monash University Press: rethinking our political system); Osman Faruqi, The racist country (August, PRH); Samantha Maiden, Open secrets (no date, HarperCollins: on the Canberra bubble); Andrew Quilty, Fall of Kabul (August, MUP); Matthew Ricketson and Patrick Mullins, Who needs the ABC? (April, Scribe).

Interestingly, I see little this year on COVID-19 and climate change, compared with last year. Nor much about our big women’s issue of 2021, except for Brittany Higgins’ memoir coming out. Why?

Poetry

Finally, if you love poetry, do check the link, but these might whet your appetite:

  • Lisa Gorton, Mirabilia (August, Giramondo)
  • Sarah Holland-Batt, The Jaguar (May, UQP)
  • John Kinsella and Charmaine Papertalk Green, Art (June, Magabala Books)
  • Les Murray, Continous creation (March, Black Inc): final posthumous collection
  • Tracy Ryan, Rose interior (April, Giramondo)

New publisher Upswell and the established Fremantle Press also have poetry collections coming …

Anything here grab your attention?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

Challenge logo

For the last time, I am devoting my last Monday Musings of the year to the Australian Women Writers Challenge ( in its current form at least, see below). What a couple of years we’ve had. It’s hard to know whether it has affected the challenge or not but, anecdotally, our numbers did not increase over a period when more people were stuck at home. Were we too discombobulated to focus on reading or were many of our participants too tired from the challenges of working from home and home-schooling to read and review as well? I look forward in the future to seeing what sociologists and other researchers make of these years and how we behaved.

Anyhow, the challenge … it has continued to go very well. The full database now contains reviews for nearly 7,700 different books across all forms and genres, from all periods, of Australian women’s writing. This means that the number of books reviewed on our database increased in 2021 by nearly 700 books, less than the number added last year, but still a healthy 10% increase to the database.

My personal round-up for the year

These last two years have not been stellar ones for me, so my posting to the challenge was down (mirroring the overall trajectory for the challenge!) I posted only 23 reviews to the Challenge over the year, a few less than last year, but I did also read three essays I didn’t post to the challenge. I will include them here as they were by women and appeared in a book edited by a woman, Belinda Castles’ Reading like an Australian writer. I’m disappointed in my reading achievements this year, but it is what it is! Here they are, with links to my reviews:

Fiction

Non-fiction

Anthologies/Essays

This year, fiction (including short stories) represented around 53% of my AWW challenge reading, which is a little less than last year’s 61%, and only two were classics by my loose definitions. One, Elizabeth Harrower’s, was read for Bill’s (The Australian Legend) Gen 4 week (Part 1). As always, I appreciate the impetus to read books from the past, because they do not deserve to be forgotten! In terms of that problematic word “diversity”, I read four books by First Nations Australia women.

My non-fiction reading was even more heavily slanted towards memoir/life-writing than usual, though the essays shift the balance a little, with a focus there on writing about writing.

Finally, as always, a big thanks to Theresa, Elizabeth and the rest of the team. I have loved being part of this challenge, partly of course because it equates with my reading goals so has never really been a challenge, but also because it’s been a generous and supportive team working on an important goal.

And so, 2022

Challenge logo

Most of you will know that this challenge was instigated by Elizabeth Lhuede in 2012 in response to concerns in Australian literary circles about the lack of recognition for women writers. I have been involved as a volunteer since 2013. In many ways, we feel that ten years on, the goal has been achieved, as women writers seem to be well-established on Australia’s literary scene, at least by observable measures.

Partly for this reason, the challenge will change tack in 2022 and focus on past and often under-recognised or overlooked women writers, from the 19th- and 20th-centuries. The new team overseeing this new phase comprises Elizabeth, Bill (The Australian Legend) and me. We plan to offer articles and reviews about earlier writers, and publish their actual writings – in full or excerpt form, as appropriate. We three feel that Australia’s rich heritage of Australian women’s writing hasn’t been fully explored and we’re keen to nudge it a bit more into the limelight.

This does not mean that the always popular contemporary aspect of the challenge will cease, but it will now be carried through our Facebook groups, Love Reading Books by Aussie Women and Australian Women Writers News and Events. Please join those groups if you are interested and haven’t already joined them.

Meanwhile, you will hear more about AWW 2022, when we get going in February.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Favourite books 2021, Part 2: Nonfiction and Poetry

Last week, as most of you will know, I shared the favourite Aussie fiction books named by writers in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Books we loved in 2021 and ABR’s Books of the Year 2021. This week, as promised, I’m sharing the nonfiction and poetry favourites. Again, I’m only including Australian titles (as this is a Monday Musings post). It’s a much longer and more varied list than last week’s.

Nonfiction

Nonfiction picks tend to speak to the professional interests of their nominators – historians, for example, tend to choose histories, while literary critics might range across essays and literary biographies, and social commentators tend to like other analyses of contemporary life and behaviour. The result is a rich, and tempting, list.

Despite this variety, a few books were picked multiple times, like Bernadette Brennan’s biography of Gillian Mears, Leaping into waterfalls, and Delia Falconer’s essay collection, Signs and wonders. Political biographies/analyses are usually popular and so it is here with Gideon Haigh’s The brilliant boy: Doc Evatt and the great Australian dissent and Sean Kelly’s Sean Kelly’s The game: A portrait of Scott Morrison.

A few other titles appeared more than once, including a couple on my TBR, but one stood out because it was new to me and sounds different: Anwen Crawford’s No document.

As for the most popular form of nonfiction favourited this year, you could probably say that the memoirs have it.

  • Ruth Balint’s Destination elsewhere: Displaced persons and their quest to leave postwar Europe (history): (Sheila Fitzpatrick)
  • Clem Bastow’s Late bloomer: How an autism diagnosis changed my life (memoir): “frank and fearless” (Graeme Simsion); “astute and illuminating” (Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen)
  • Lech Blaine’s Quarterly Essay: Top blokes (essay): “hilarious and incredibly illuminating explanation of how identity politics shapes actual politics” (Bri Lee)
  • Lech Blaine’s Car Crash (memoir): “deeply moving” (Bri Lee) 
  • Bernadette Brennan’s Leaping into waterfalls (biography): “verve and sensitivity … intimate and often unsettling” (Caroline Baum); “a skilful, unforgettable distillation of a writer’s creative imagination” (Mark McKenna); “scholarly, passionate, readable” (Don Anderson); “The book I never wanted to end” (Zora Simic); “an exceptional work” (Brenda Walker)
  • David Brophy’s China panic: Australia’s alternative to paranoia and pandering (nonfiction): “some uncommon common sense on Australia’s current hyped-up alarm” (Sheila Fitzpatrick)
  • Edmund Campion’s Then and now: Australian Catholic experiences (essays, theology): “humane, literate, hospitable, engaging essays” (Don Anderson)  
  • Anwen Crawford’s No document (book-length essay): “superb … resonant power, about grief, politics, ephemerality and art” (Lucy Treloar); “sophisticated, moving lament” (Bernadette Brennan); “a striking collage-like essay written in a spirit of lucid grief and righteous anger” (James Ley); “so beguiling I read it twice” (Zora Simic); (Declan Fry) (Lisa’s review)
  • Emma Do and Kim Lam’s Working from home (may ở nhà) (social commentary): “this book!” (Declan Fry)
  • Delia Falconer’s Signs and wonders (essays): “both solace and alarm as she renders the impact of living in the anthropocene” (Anna Funder); “exquisite writing that swerves with heartbreaking facts, into hidden realms of our broken world, luminous with humanity” (Robert Adamson); “illuminating book on the climate crisis ” (Brenda Walker); “captures the fragility and incredulity of living at a tipping point of earthly life” (Tom Griffiths) (Lisa’s review)
  • Fiona Foley’s Biting the clouds (history): (Anita Heiss)
  • Helen Garner’s How to end a story (diaries):”reads like a thriller, gripping us in the quotidian, real-time horror of her unravelling marriage” (Clare Wright); “the taut shape of a fine novel” (Brenda Walker); “the most formidable book of excerpts from the diaries so far” (Peter Craven) (on my TBR)
  • Caroline Graham and Kylie Stevenson’s Larrimah (nonfiction): “strange and extraordinary” (Craig Silvey)
  • Stan Grant’s With the falling of the dusk (memoir/politics): “an insightful analysis of a world unravelling since the 1990s” (Andrew West)
  • Bella Green’s Happy endings (memoir): “astute and illuminating” (Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen)
  • Gideon Haigh’s The brilliant boy: Doc Evatt and the great Australian dissent (history): “concerns H.V. Evatt’s compassion as a High Court judge in a negligence case” (Judith Brett); “exemplary in its forensic analysis and sympathetic treatment of a brilliant man” (Jacqueline Kent); “a fascinating and moving story of callousness, compassion, and creativity” (Frank Bongiorno)
  • Amani Haydar’s The mother wound (memoir): “poetic rumination on the false binaries between “public” and “private” violence, and modern Australia” (Bri Lee); “narrated with unsentimental intelligence” (Bernadette Brennan); “powerful” (Zora Simic); “astute and illuminating” (Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen)
  • Veronica Heritage-Gorrie’s Black and blue (memoir): “an eye-opening and heartbreaking examination of how messed-up policing is in Australia” (Bri Lee); “powerful” (Zora Simic)
  • Jennifer Higgie’s The mirror and the palette (feminism): “spellbinding update of Germaine Greer’s and Linda Nochlin’s seminal feminist research” (A. Frances Johnson)
  • Kate Holden’s The winter road: A story of legacy, land and a killing at Croppa Creek (true crime/terrorism): “powerful environmental parable … brilliant, sensitive” (Tom Griffiths)
  • Eleanor Hogan’s Into the loneliness (biography): “the delicately handled story of the friendship between writers Ernestine Hill and Daisy Bates … a complex and moving book” (Delia Falconer)
  • Sarah Holland-Batt’s  Fishing for lightning: The spark of poetry (essays): “luminous” (Mindy Gill)
  • Terri Janke’s True tracks (nonfiction): (Anita Heiss)
  • Evelyn Juers’ The dancer: A biography for Philippa Cullen (biography): “richly researched cultural history” (Georgie Williamson) (Lisa’s review)
  • Sean Kelly’s The game: A portrait of Scott Morrison (political profile): “outstanding for the subtlety of its psychological insights, weighing of evidence, and the breadth of reading” (Mark McKenna); “illuminating psychological exposé of Scott Morrison … grim but essential reading” (Peter Rose); “the best thing I have read on our current prime minister … full of insights and ideas” (Judith Brett); “deserves to become a political classic” (Frank Bongiorno)
  • Krissy Kneen’s The three burials of Lotty Kneen (memoir): “fascinating and powerful” (Favel Parrett); (Anita Heiss)
  • Sarah Krasnostein’s The believer (nonfiction): “the nutty given dignity by her sharp, empathetic eye” (Jock Serong) (my review)
  • Janet McCalman’s Vandemonians: The repressed history of colonial Victoria (history): “her trademark approach: take the local and specific and use them to illuminate a whole stratum of life” (Glyn Davis) (Lisa’s review)
  • Mark McKenna’s Return to Uluru (history): “profoundly moving” (Jock Serong); “a powerful microhistory and meditation on frontier violence and its legacies” (Frank Bongiorno); “metaphysical true crime story … may it change hearts and mind” (Geordie Williamson); “challenge[s] Australians with the responsibility of truth-telling” (Tom Griffiths) (on my TBR) (Janine’s review)
  • Sylvia Martin’s Sky swimming (memoir): “intimate, generous, written with modesty and great empathy … a gem of a book from the heart of a deeply intelligent writer” (Alex Miller)
  • Fiona Murphy’s The shape of sound (memoir): “deft explorations of disability and self-discovery” (Fiona Wright)
  • Cassandra Pybus’ Truganini (biography): “essential reading for understanding Tasmania” (Jock Serong) (Janine’s review)
  • Stephanie Radok’s Becoming a bird (essays): “an unassuming gem of a book” (Michelle de Kretser); “a marvellous book about the freedom of the mind to take wing” (Nicholas Jose) (Lisa’s review).
  • Yves Rees’ All about Yves: Notes on a transition (memoir): “a new and important critical voice” (Clare Wright)
  • Henry Reynolds’s Truth-telling: History, sovereignty and the Uluru Statement (history): “challenge[s] Australians with the responsibility of truth-telling” (Tom Griffiths) (Janine’s review)
  • Della Rowley and Lynn Buchanan’s (ed.) Life As Art: The biographical writing of Hazel Rowley (essays): “vibrant collection of essays” (Brenda Niall)
  • Chelsea Watego’s Another day in the colony (memoir): “you should read” (Declan Fry)
  • David Williamson’s Home truths: A memoir (memoir): “big book for a big life” (Don Anderson)
  • Michael Winkler’s Grimmish (experimental nonfiction): “a brilliant experimental stroll through pain, boxing and sweary goats” (Jock Serong): “a feral, unpinnable creature” (Beejay Wilcox)
  • Ghil’ad Zuckermann and Emmalene Richards’ Mangiri Yarda (Healthy Country): Barngarla wellbeing and nature (language/culture): “an inspirational examination of the …. benefits of language revival and the profound importance of reawakening languages” (Alice Nelson)

Poetry

  • Eunice Andrada’s Take care: “thank you for your care” (Declan Fry)
  • Evelyn Araluen’s Dropbear: “with subtlety and an occasional razor” (Tony Birch); “discourse-altering” (John Kinsella); “showed us where it’s at!” (Declan Fry) (Brona’s review)
  • Eileen Chong’s A thousand crimson blooms: “piercing reflections on memory and loss” (Lucy Treloar): “a nuanced, tender volume of deceptively complex and disarmingly emotive verse that is at once deeply personal and universal” (Maxine Beneba Clarke) (Jonathan’s review)
  • Jelena Dinic’s In the room with the she wolf: “an understated wonder, a journey from war to peace, and from one poetic tradition to another” (Peter Goldsworthy)
  • Toby Fitch’s Sydney spleen: “existential linguistic meltdown” (John Kinsella) (Jonathan’s review)
  • JS Harry’s New and selected poems (posthumous): “imaginative genius” (Robert Adamson)
  • John Hawke’s Whirlwind duststorm: “innovative, intelligently creative, almost fearless” (Jennifer Harrison)
  • A. Frances Johnson’s Save as: “some of the most moving confessional and elegiac poems you’ll read anywhere” (Gregory Day)
  • Bella Li’s Theory of colours (poetry/art): “gloriously disquieting combo of image and text” (Declan Fry)
  • Kate Llewellyn’s Harbour: “more meditative book overall, a safer haven, but she is still plenty naughty” (Peter Goldsworthy)
  • Mal McKimmie’s At the foot of the mountain: “innovative, intelligently creative, almost fearless” (Jennifer Harrison)
  • Caitlin Maling’s Fish work: “has the terseness of an Anthropocene novella” (Tony Hughes-d’Aeth)
  • Jazz Money’s How to make a basket: “tender and sharp, clear-eyed and lyrical” (Jennifer Down); “a powerful and accomplished debut” (Maxine Beneba Clarke)
  • Omar Musa’s Killernova (woodcuts/poetry): “a unique hybrid creature – a beautifully designed, stunning combination of woodcuts and poetry” (Maxine Beneba Clarke) (my post on the launch)
  • Pi O’s Heide: “staggering in its audacity, and an intoxicating thrill to read. It is history as ode, and a bold vindication of art … also wickedly funny and heretical” (Christos Tsiolkas)
  • Elfie Shiosaki’s Homecoming: “exquisite hybrid work” (Tony Hughes-d’Aeth)
  • Emily Sun’s  Vociferate | 詠: “cultural-presumption-shredding” (John Kinsella); “bristling with spiky maternal reclamations and intercultural electricity” (Tony Hughes-d’Aeth)
  • Maria Takolander’s Trigger warning: “confronting and sculpted” (John Kinsella); “some of the most moving confessional and elegiac poems you’ll read anywhere” (Gregory Day)
  • Lucy Van’s The open: “read it with an increasing sense of excitement” (Declan Fry)

As I said last week, the lists will come thick and fast over the next month, but I’d be interested in any thoughts you have on these, particularly if you like nonfiction and poetry.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Favourite books 2021, Part 1: Fiction

For a few years now, I’ve shared favourite Aussie reads of the year, from the ABC and, last year, other sources.

This year I’m doing it a bit differently. I’m focusing on the Sydney Morning Herald’s Books we loved in 2021 and ABR’s Books of the Year 2021. Both these contain favourites from a large number of Australian writers. Both also include fiction and nonfiction, Australian and non-Australian works – and there are a lot. So, I’m writing two posts, one on fiction (this week) and the other on nonfiction and poetry (next week). I am only including their Australian favourites – this is a Monday Musings after all.

Novels

Book cover
  • David Allan-Petale’s Locust summer: (Toni Jordan) (Lisa’s review)
  • Miles Allinson’s In moorland: “lays out his territory with authority and a quiet, complex beauty” (Helen Garner); “darkly funny novel of generational bonds, a dazzling ride that is full of heart” (Lucy Treloar); “insightful and ambitious” (Toni Jordan); (Emily Bitto); “engrossing portrayal of obsession, loyalty and destruction within a family” (Robbie Arnott); “very smart novel” (Robbie Arnott) (Lisa’s review)
  • Amal Awad’s The things we see in the light: (Toni Jordan)
  • Larissa Behrendt’s After story: “ambitious in conception and masterful in execution” (Clare Wright); (Anita Heiss) (on my TBR, Lisa’s review)
  • Hannah Bent’s When things are alive they hum: “heartfelt and sweet” (Trent Dalton)
  • Emily Bitto’s Wild abandon: “kicks over the traces and breaks hearts” (Helen Garner); “brilliant and inventive” (Craig Silvey); “wonderful novel, daring and surprising, and profoundly humane” (Christos Tsiolkas); “thrilling and audacious” (Michelle de Kretser); lushly baroque, ruinous, and fantastically inventive … style in spades: its lyricism is exhilarating” (Sarah Holland-Batt)
  • Katherine Brabon’s The shut ins: “a poignant conceit, reminiscent of the work of W.G. Sebald and Patrick Modiano” (Anders Villani)
  • Brendan Cowell’s Plum: “the brain-damaged-rugby-league-poet-book I was waiting all my life to find” (Trent Dalton)
  • Garry Disher, The way it is now: (Judith Brett)
  • Jennifer Down’s Bodies of light: “witness to the creation of a resilient self” (Bernadette Brennan); “mesmerising chronicle … of one of the most sharply drawn characters I’ve encountered in recent fiction … extraordinary” (Robbie Arnott); “an epic Bildungsroman that honours the dignity of crafting a life in the wake of childhood trauma” (Yves Rees); “equal parts devastating and hopeful” (Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen)
  • Stephen Downes’ The hands of pianists: “an extraordinary book which appropriates the style and strategies of W.B. Sebald but then succeeds in equalling him” (Peter Craven)
  • Robert Gott’s The orchard murders: “perfectly executed Melbourne noir” (Jock Serong)
  • Anita Heiss’s Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray: “much-needed look at white settlement from an Indigenous maid’s point of view” (Jane Sullivan) (on my TBR, Lisa’s review)
  • Sally Hepworth’s The younger wife: “delivered wit, warmth and suspense” (Jane Harper) (Theresa’s review)
  • Kathryn Heyman’s Fury: (Fiona Wright); (Anita Heiss)
  • Antoni Jach’s Travelling companions: “funny, layered” (Toni Jordan) (Lisa’s review)
  • Mette Jakobsen’s The wingmaker: ‘dare I say “uplifiting”‘ (Graeme Simsion); “exquisite” (Favel Parrett)
  • Susan Johnson’s From where I fell: “inspired me as an author” (Anita Heiss) (Lisa’s review)
  • Michelle de Kretser’s Scary monsters: “about the thought crimes that divide us, but also stunning, profound and funny” (Anna Funder); (Fiona Wright); (Emily Bitto); “its riskiness, unashamed intellectualism, and rage against ageism, misogyny and racism” (Bernadette Brennan); “brilliant, chimeric” (Sarah Holland-Batt); “creatively repositions contemporary concerns around race, immigration, and national identity” (Paul Giles)
  • Amanda Lohrey’s The labyrinth: “luminous, meditative and richly layered fiction” (Cassandra Pybus): “moody and allegorical with overcast skies, distant waves, and silences” (Glyn Davis) (On my TBR, Lisa’s review)
  • Laura Jean McKay’s The animals in that country: (Emily Bitto) (kimbofo’s review)
  • Emily Maguire’s Love objects: (Fiona Wright); “a tender and aching story” (Tony Birch) (Lisa’s review)
  • Meg Mason’s Sorrow and bliss: “contemporary laughter and heartbreak” (Mick Herron)
  • Jennifer Mills’ The airways: (Fiona Wright); “subtle and fierce” (Geordie Williamson) (Lisa’s review)
  • Liane Moriarty’s Apples never fall: (Jane Harper)
  • Alice Pung’s One hundred days: ” the quiet, bold power of Pung’s writing, the commanding precision of her prose” (Christos Tsiolkas); “warm, funny, compelling read” (Judith Brett) (kimbofo’s review)
  • Diana Reid’s Love and virtue: “discomfiting ambiguities” (Hannah Kent); ‘restores what’s gone missing from contemporary sexual politics: the distinction between “being hurt and being wronged”’ (Helen Garner); “sharp” (Victoria Hannan) (Brona’s review)
  • Nicolas Rothwell’s Red heaven: “an engrossing novel of ideas” (Glyn Davis)
  • Claire Thomas’ The performance: (Emily Bitto) (on my TBR, Brona’s review
  • Evie Wyld’s The bass rock (Emily Bitto) (on my TBR)

Short stories

  • Tony Birch’s Dark as last night: “richly evocative and deeply empathetic … Birch is more at home with his material than any other modern writer I know” (Alex Miller)
  • Paige Clark’s She is haunted: “deft and original” (Craig Silvey); “stayed with me long after the last word” (Victoria Hannan); “fresh and fantastic” (Bri Lee); (Jennifer Down)
  • Melissa Manning’s Smokehouse: “exquisite” (Jennifer Down) 
  • SJ Norman’s Permafrost: “ghost stories that queer and disrupt the Western gothic tradition” (Hannah Kent); “a beguiling collection of queer ghost stories” (Yves Rees)
  • Chloe Wilson’s Hold your fire: “enthralled and amazed” (Anna Funder)

Finally …

It’s always interesting to see what books feature more than once – which is not to say that popularity equals quality, but it does say what has most captured attention this year. And it seems that Miles Allinson’s In moorland, Emily Bitto’s Wild abandon, Jennifer Down’s Bodies of light, Michelle de Kretser’s Scary monsters, Diana Reid’s Love and virtue, and Paige Clark’s She is haunted are this year’s ones. Most by women writers. I wonder if they’ll all be longlisted (at least) for the Stella?

Another interesting thing about lists is discovering new books. Paige Clark and Chloe Wilson’s short story collections, for example, are new to me – and appeal. Dare I put them on the wishlist?

I know lists will appear constantly over the next month, but I’d be interested in any thoughts you have on these (or on your own list, if you’d prefer!)

Monday musings on Australian literature: Greek-Australian literature

In a Sydney Writers Festival conversation with Michelle de Kretser, Andrew Pippos, winner of the 2021 Readings Prize for his debut novel, Lucky’s, said “the fact that we can talk about a Greek-Australian literary tradition is a sign that Australian literature is developing”. It made me think about Greek-Australian literature and what I know about it, which is not a lot, really.

First, though, what does he mean by his statement? I’m assuming he means that Australian literature is enriched by encompassing significant, identifiable bodies of work from Australia’s constituent cultures, that when there are such bodies of work they reflect on, feed into and, therefore, change and expand the majority culture?

When I think about my own reading of Greek-Australian literature, it is, of course, Christos Tsiolkas who comes to mind. Before him was Beverley Farmer. She is not Greek, but she married a Greek man and lived for some time in Greece, which experience fed into her early writing. I loved her insight into village life and relationships – but that was more about an Australian experiencing Greek culture in Greece.

Greek-Australian literature “proper” goes way back and, in my superficial Internet search I uncovered rather a lot about it, most, though, behind paywalls. Some of those had useful abstracts, and some I could access via my membership of the National Library. I skim-read a couple. But, I also found a blog, From the plastic pen, containing a post that had also been published in Meanjin in 2017. The post is titled “Living in a hyphe-nation: Exploring the Greek-Australian identity through literature”, and the author is Peter Papathanasiou. Papathanasiou is Greek-born and Australian-raised, and has just published a debut crime novel, The stoning, featuring a Greek-Australian detective.

Concerned about the next generation, the Greek-Australian-Australians, Papathanasiou posed the question:

How had Greek writers in Australia explored their hyphenated identity, and what could future generations—including other ethnic minorities—learn from their writings?

And then, he shares some literary history that I had found in those pay-walled academic articles. The earliest example of Greek-Australian literature, he says, was oral poetry at the start of the 1900s, which was shared “at events such as family celebrations, social gatherings, and entertainment in smoke-filled coffee houses (kafeneia)”. Poetry, Papathanasiou, says “has traditionally played a central role in Greek literature” and it continues here “although all types of Greek-Australian literature (poetry, prose, drama, theatre) have been represented, poetry collections have predominated”. Not reading a lot of poetry, I wasn’t aware of this, though I have read Komninos (1991), by Greek-Australian performance poet, Komninos Zervos.

Anyhow, Papathanasiou says that the first Greek-Australian literary work to be published was George Nicolaides’ short story “To gramma tis manas (Letter to mother)”, in 1913  Afstralia. From the beginning, he says, “family was a central theme, along with social issues, community activities, and migrant experiences”. He discusses the various waves of migration. In the 1920s, Orthodox Christians driven out of Asia Minor following the Turkish War of Independence brought well-educated immigrants who “introduced new subjects to the local literary scene because of the atrocities, poverty, and political upheavals they witnessed”. Then World War 2 and post-war migration brought stories of “the Greek army’s heroic fight against the Axis powers, and the united struggle of Greek and Australian soldiers against a common enemy”.

However, he said these waves did not result in much exploration of the Greek-Australian identity. These first-generation migrants wrote mainly in Greek and were “largely preoccupied with exile and dislocation, and haunted by trauma”. They wrote about “the fear of ageing and dying far from the homeland, patriotism (to Greece, not Australia), communication difficulties, and problems adapting and assimilating”. A change in theme came when second-generation migrants started writing in English, and their “connection to the fatherland” grew increasingly distant. They were were interested in “ethnicity and hybridity”, and their writing changed “from loss and yearning to identity and self” and

the rigid identity of the alienated migrant fell away, replaced by a new entity: the hyphenated Australian, whose conflict was more internal than external. These writers explored the dilemma of living between two worlds and with dual identities, the use and maintenance of Greek language and traditions, and surviving in a modern Australia while still bound by conservative parents. It was tense writing, fraught with internal conflict and doubt.

With third generation Greek-Australians now on the scene, Papathanasiou suggests that the subject-matter is changing again. There are still explorations of migration and identity, but these are no longer exclusive. Contemporary “Greek-Australian writers deal with a broad range of subjects including class, culture, gender, sexuality, faith, politics, economics, and sport, and blend various genres including memoir, autobiography, travelogue, and magic realism”.

Interestingly, alongside his discussion of subject matter, Papathanasiou also tracks changes in the publishing of Greek-Australian writing from self-publishing, at the start, through small independent publishers, like UQP and Fremantle Press, to the bigger publishers like Allen and Unwin, who have not only published some Greek Vogel award-winners but also publish Christos Tsiolkas. Pippos’ Lucky’s was published by Pan Macmillan.

Papathanasiou’s perspective, written in 2017, is similar to that written in 2014 by Penni Pappas on the Neo Kosmos website. She describes a similar trajectory in publishing and subject-matter, drawing in particular on the work of Helen Nickas who established Owl Publishing in 1992, to publish writing by Greek-Australian writers. George Kanarakis, writing in The Cud, provides another, and similar, but more detailed survey of Greek writing in Australia. All are worth reading if you are interested in the subject.

The cafes

Meanwhile, I thought I’d conclude on a quick reference to cafes, because most Australians of a certain age will remember at least one Greek cafe in their neighbourhood or on roadtrips. Pippos’ publisher, Pan Macmillan writes that, as a child, he regularly visited the family’s café in Brewarrina, NSW. These early experiences “laid the foundation of his work as a writer”:

The compelling role of the Greek-Australian café within modern Australian identity is increasingly documented in popular culture and history books alike. While sadly few exist now, for much of the second half of the twentieth century these cafés could be found on urban shopping streets and in rural country towns. They represented a new Australian zeitgeist and symbolised every-day multiculturalism. The Greek-Australian cafe milieu gave Andrew his earliest sense of community.

Lucky’s is set around a restaurant chain. You can read Lisa’s thoughts in her review.

A few years ago, I reviewed a little (literally) memoir – from the FL smalls collection – Growing up cafe (my review) by Greek-Australian, Phillip Stamatellis. I enjoyed his evocation of a cafe-based childhood.

The aforementioned Komninos also has cafe heritage. On his website we are told that “his maternal grandfather came to Australia in 1908 to work in a café”, and he, himself, born in Melbourne in 1950, grew up living above his family’s cafe-fish shop. There are poems about cafes in his collections.

It’s pretty clear that the Greeks enjoyed cafe culture long before we Anglo-origin Australians ever did (and in so doing they enriched our culture). But, for many second generation Greeks, as Stamatellis shares, the cafe which provided a living for the parents also brought challenges for the children

my nostalgia is burdened by an unseen weight, a sense of entrapment.

Anyhow, I enjoyed my brief foray into Greek-Australian literature, partly because its trajectory seems similar to those of other diaspora literatures here, albeit they may be on different points on the continuum. It brought to mind my recent post on Diversity and memoir and the idea that writers from culturally diverse backgrounds do not want to be tied to writing about that background. In the Greek-Australian case it seems like there’s been a progression from a close focus on their heritage to broader concerns. Is this is the trajectory that most immigrant literatures will naturally take – or is it forced upon them for lack of support and opportunity?

Thoughts?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Short Australian nonfiction

There’s been a little discussion going on during this Novella November month concerning nonfiction novellas. I contend – yes, I’m putting myself out there – that a “novella” is fiction, and that you can no more have a nonfiction novella than, well, fly. However, I am not going to get into this debate now, because, fundamentally, it doesn’t really matter, does it? What matters is that we read good writing, regardless of what it is, what we call it, or how we categorise it.

Instead, I’m going to do a quick post sharing some short Australian nonfiction. I have written Monday Musings posts about short books before – on little books and on small books. This post covers a bit of the same ground, but it also extends and so complements those two.

In some ways, nonfiction is ideal content for short or little books. Essays are a prime example. They can be commissioned and published in small form or can be extracted from previous publications (books, journals, websites) and published separately in short form. There are many examples of both, and some I have discussed before. Short Blacks, published by Black Inc, epitomises the latter, with some having originally been published in Black Inc’s journal, Quarterly Essays. And here I should say that the Quarterly Essays themselves are another example of short nonfiction, given each issue primarily comprises one essay of up to 25,000 words, plus correspondence relating to the previous essay.

However, Black Inc has also got into commissioning short nonfiction to publish in book form, with its recent Writers on Writers series. I have read two, and have more on my TBR. They are great reads for those of us interested in hearing what one writer has to say about another writer’s work. The next one I have up is Nam Le on David Malouf.

Dorothy Porter, On passion

Then there’s the On seriesLittle Books on Big Ideas. You can find them most easily at Booktopia online bookseller, because the publisher, Hachette, does not seem to list them separately as a series on their website, which is a shame. I have reviewed Dorothy Porter’s On passion and Stan Grant’s On identity. They were published by Melbourne University Press, but it seems that the series has been taken over by Hachette Australia. These are commissioned (I believe) essays by some of Australia’s best-known fiction and nonfiction writers on issues they wanted (or were happy to?) to explore.

All these little books make great reading, if you enjoy essays like I do. Most are under 100 pages.

FL Smalls 7: Carmel Bird's Fair Game

But are there other examples of short nonfiction published in Australia? Any histories, or memoirs, for example? Finlay Lloyd‘s FL Smalls, which I’ve discussed before, is an example. as this series includes memoirs (like Philip Stamatellis’ Growing up café: A short memoir) and creative nonfiction (like Carmel Bird’s Fair game). Great reads, but they are still little books. What about books that are a bit bigger, but still short, books between 100 and 200 pages?

There are, apparently, some short memoirs, but I don’t know many. Vicki Laveau-Harvie’s Stella Prize winning The erratics (my review) is close, at 217 pages.

But, what I’m really wondering about are the books we are looking for that will increase our understanding of contemporary issues. Some of these could benefit by being short. Many of us want to read something a bit more longform about the issues important to us, but not that long! Tim Flannery’s The climate cure, which I mentioned in my Ask the expert post, is described as 224 pages, but the actual text ends at around page 190.

First Nations rights is another area where brevity might attract more readers. It’s hard to find, but My tidda, my sister, which was published in 2020, comes in under 200 pages. It shares the experiences of Indigenous women and girls, and was compiled by podcaster Marlee Silva. Readings Bookshop describes this book as “a celebration of the Indigenous female experience through truth-telling”.

Bruce Pasco, Dark emu

A slightly older book raising awareness about First Nations cultures, but now surely a “classic”, is Bruce Pascoe’s 2014 book, Dark emu (my review). It’s around 175 pages.

On another subject, Annabel Crabb’s 2020 book, Men at work: Australia’s parenthood trap, is 160 pages. It apparently argues that true gender equity “cannot be achieved until men are as free to leave the workplace (when their lives demand it) as women are to enter it”. Hmmm … This is not the only thing needed, I’d say, but it is part of the picture.

Finally, I thought I’d share something pandemic-related. It comes from prolific, award-winning journalist-author, Gideon Haigh. He has tackled the impact of the pandemic on the workplace, in The momentous, uneventful day: A requiem for the office. Published in December 2020, it’s just 144 pages. Readings says “Enlivened by copious citations from literature, film, memoir, and corporate history, and interspersed with relevant images, The momentous, uneventful day is the ideal companion for a lively current debate about the post-pandemic office”. The pandemic is surely going spawn books for decades to come!

I have no idea whether this post will interest anyone, whether any of you care about the idea of short nonfiction, but I’ve enjoyed thinking about it. That said it’s been a challenge to research because, well, there is no equivalent word to fiction’s novella for short nonfiction!

Now, over to you. Do you like short nonfiction? Or is length irrelevant to you? Why or why not? And do you have any favourites?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Supporting genres, 6: Novellas

Yes, I know, novellas aren’t really a genre, but when I started this sub-series I couldn’t find one word to cover all the types of literary works I thought I might end up covering, so we are all going to have to live with “genres”. OK? Many of you will know why I’ve chosen novellas as my next in the series: it’s because one of the several blogger memes running this month is Novellas in November.

Regular readers here will know that I love a novella – and it’s not because they are short, per se, but what the shortness implies. You know that I love short stories, so you will probably know what it is that I love about novellas – it is the ability to condense a story to its essence, while still engaging my heart and mind. In an interview post on my blog, author Nigel Featherstone who has a few novellas under his belt said this:

If short stories are about brevity, novels are about complexity. So that’s what I might love about working with the novella: they offer the best of both worlds: succinctness and sophistication. Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and George Orwell’s Animal Farm are cases in point.

Featherstone, Fall on me

Of course, as he goes on to say, definitions like this “are ultimately meaningless: some short stories are about complexity, while some novels use up 200,000 words by saying not much about anything. A story must find its natural length, that’s the beginning and end of it”. True, but I do like the idea that novellas offer “succinctness and sophistication”. Kate Jennings’ Snake, on which I posted last week, is a perfect example.

I should, I suppose, discuss definition. The problem is that novella definitions tend to be based on word count, but we readers have no idea of the number of words in the books we buy. Consequently, we tend to go by number of pages, which has to be rough because the number of words per page can vary significantly from book to book. However, my rule of thumb is the same as that offered by the Novellas in November crew, which is “150 pages or under, with a firm upper limit of 200 pages”.

However, I do want to make the point that for me – and for all serious definitions I’ve read – a novella must be fiction (despite Griffith Review’s including creative nonfiction in its criteria!)

Publishers

There is a sense that publishers are loath to publish novellas because they believe readers equate length with value and feel cheated paying a book price for something that’s 150 pages versus, say, 300 pages. However, some publishers do actively support novellas. They are often the smaller independent publishers. Most of the Australian-published novellas that I’ve reviewed on this blog have come from, in no particular order, Spinifex, Wakefield, Hybrid, Xoum, Scribe, Text, UQP, Blemish (no longer in existence), and Inkerman and Blunt (which published Nick Earls’ acclaimed Wisdom Tree series). Classic novellas, and novellas by “big” names are, of course, published by the big publishers like Penguin.

One publisher which has been actively promoting and supporting novellas is Griffith Review. Primarily a literary journal, Griffith Review has, since issue 38 in 2012, devoted one issue a year to novellas, which they call The Novella Project. Introducing the project, then editor Julianne Schultz discussed the changes that were happening in publishing, and said,

In this context we believe that the time is right for the revival of the novella – of those stories that are longer and more complex than a short story, shorter than a novel, with fewer plot twists, but strong characters. Condensed tales that are intense, detailed, often grounded in the times, and perfectly designed for busy people to read in one sitting.

They have a page on their website titled Notes on the novella. It comprises a collection of “notes” from contemporary Australian novella writers, including those published in the Novella Project editions. If you are interested in what writers think about the form, here is a good place to start. Holden Sheppard, for example, sees it as a “very pure form of storytelling”:

Novellas promise readers a direct flight to their destination – no layovers in Singapore or Dubai. 

Love it …

Competitions

Who would have thought there’d be a prize for novellas but, it seems, where there’s a form or genre, there’s likely to be a prize. Here are three for novellas:

Julie Proudfoot, The neighbour
  • Griffith Review Novella Project is a competition that commenced in 2012, and sees winning entries being published in an edition of the journal. Entries can be fiction or creative non-fiction, ranging between 15,000–25,000 words. Winners have included established writers like Nick Earls, Cate Kennedy, John Kinsella and Stephen Orr. Catherine McKinnon worked her Novella Project III winner, “Will Martin”, into a novel, Storyland (my review).
  • Viva La Novella Prize was also established in 2012 – by Seizure – with the first winner announced in 2013. It’s an annual prize awarded for works of 20,000-50,000 words. Seizure is “a social endeavour which runs under the auspices of Xoum Publishing“. Since the award’s inception, Brio/Xoum has published 20 short novels, meaning there’s been more than one winner per year. I’ve read two, and have a couple more on my TBR. It’s another wonderful initiative.
  • Storyfest National Novella Writing Competition is an annual competition for high school students, that seems to have been running since 2018. The entries have to be between 8,000 and 20,000 words. You can see and read the overall and state winners on the Somerset Storyfest website. Lovely to see such encouragement for student writers.

Lists

Just search “novellas” in your browser and you will find a multitude of lists, but for a useful list of Australian novellas, check out Brona’s blog.

Are you a novella fan? If so, would you care to share some favourites?

Previous supporting genre posts: 1. Historical fiction; 2. Short stories; 3. Biography; 4. Literary nonfiction; 5. Crime.