Australian Literary Studies in New York

28 September 2012

From 6-8 September, Professor Robert Dixon and Dr. Brigid Rooney represented the University's Australian Literature Program and the Department of English at an exciting series of events in New York, convened by Dr Brigitta Olubas (UNSW) and Dr Nicholas Birns (Eugene Lang College, The New School, New York), celebrating the lives and works of Australian writers Patrick White and Shirley Hazzard.

"These events confirm the fact that Australian Literary Studies is now a subject with international scope and impacts," Professor Dixon says.

Dr. Rooney was at the Australian Consulate on 6th September for a public panel on Australia's Nobel Laureate Patrick White. The panel marked White's centenary year, and coincided with the US release of Fred Schepisi's film, The Eye of the Storm. The film, starring Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis, is the first big-screen adaptation of a White novel.

Life and work of Patrick White
Dr Brigid Rooney, Dr Elizabeth McMahon, Dr Fiona Morrison and Dr Brigitta Olubas discuss the life and work of Patrick White

Shirley Hazzard, another of Australia's most esteemed international writers, was also celebrated in New York, where she has been a resident since 1951. Hazzard's novels trace the fate of a series of young expatriate female protagonists in the geographical and emotional vistas opening up after World War II. Her most famous works include The Bay of Noon (1970), The Transit of Venus (1980) and The Great Fire (2003), which won the National Book Award. A reception for Hazzard was hosted on 7th September at the New York Society Library and was attended by Hazzard herself.

"I'll never forget the reception for Shirley Hazzard," says Dr. Rooney. "Though recently unwell, she came and was obviously delighted. Her warm and lively responses were very memorable."

A symposium on Hazzard's body of work was convened the following day at the Heyman Center, Columbia University.

"Hazzard commands tremendous prestige among literary, intellectual and scholarly circles in New York", explains Dr. Rooney. "Events were attended by luminaries such as Jay Parini, Jonathan Galassi and Edward Mendelson."

The symposium on Hazzard's work involved presentations and contributions from US, UK and Australian scholars. Both Professor Dixon and Dr. Rooney presented papers on the author.

"Shirley Hazzard's fiction holds enormous appeal for both Australian and non Australian readers. It is meticulous, beautiful, emotionally charged and ethically searching," says Dr. Rooney.

Hazzard left Australia with her family back in 1947, and, says Dr. Rooney, her fictional versions of Australia reflect her experience of its cultural insularity at that time, but even so, Hazzard's fiction "evokes its beauty, and knits her Australian outlook into a world context."

Dr. Rooney believes the Patrick White panel and the two Shirley Hazzard events were perfectly complemented.

"Hazzard has a lot in common with White," she states. "What they share is literary cosmopolitanism that aspires to non-nationalistic and outward looking views."

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