Reading Australian Literature 2016

Presented with the School of Literature, Art and Media at the University of Sydney

Writers’ festivals and other popular forums invite writers to talk about their own work and creative practices. But what might they have to say about the books that excite their imaginations? There are few opportunities for writers to substantially engage with literature in the public sphere.

Reading Australian Literature is a series in which acclaimed Australian writers reflect on the Australian books they value. In a thoughtful and engaging public lecture, each writer will discuss a favourite Australian literary text. What has led them to these books? What do they find remarkable about them? Have these encounters with Australian books left an imprint on the speakers’ own writing?

Reading Australian Literature offers a unique insight into an ongoing writerly dialogue with our literary heritage.

Reading Australian Literature is co-presented by the School of Literature, Arts and Media at the University of Sydney. The Australian Literature Program in the University’s Department of English is home of the oldest chair in Australian Literature, an exciting undergraduate major, a specialised honours stream and a variety of postgraduate and research options.


22 March - Tegan Bennett Daylight on Helen Garner’s Cosmo Cosmolino

"Cosmo Cosmolino is Helen Garner’s least understood and liked novel, and contemporary reviews were generally not favourable. But it’s always been my favourite of Garner’s works – it is the richest in metaphor, and the only one that deals in what we might call the supernatural, although Garner’s characteristically lucid prose makes the magical very real. Cosmo Cosmolino is a book written by a major Australian author in a period of great flux – it’s a key, I think, to her work, and both a privilege and an adventure to read."

Tegan Bennett Daylight is a fiction writer, teacher and critic. She is the author of three novels: Bombora, What Falls Away and Safety, as well as several books for children and teenagers. Her collection of short stories, Six Bedrooms, was published by Random House in 2015. She works as a lecturer in English at Charles Sturt University.

3 May - Nicholas Jose on Dorothy Hewett's Bobbin Up

" ‘I started writing again,’ Dorothy Hewett recalls in her introduction to the Virago reprint of Bobbin Up. The excitement of that new beginning can be felt on every page as Hewett creates her own form for an Australian novel and her own language for the mix of passion, struggle, pity and romance that is unique to her vision. I found this book incredibly evocative of a disappearing inner city Sydney world when I read it thirty years ago. Revisiting it now, the power of that evocation is even more intense. It’s an extraordinary song of life."

Nicholas Jose has published 7 novels, short stories, a memoir and essays on Australian and Chinese culture. He was general editor of the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature (2009) and teaches Creative Writing at The University of Adelaide. His most recent book is Bapo (‘eight broken’), a collection of short stories published by Giramondo.

13 September - Emily Bitto on David Malouf's An Imaginary Life

''An Imaginary Life was the first novel I read by David Malouf (I would soon become obsessed with his work, and would eventually dedicate my MA to a study of his poetry), and the only truly great novel I studied in high school. To me, it was a magical document, and showed me for the first time how a whole world can be created and contained within the pages of even the slimmest novel. It will be a joy to revisit this book, which is so dear to my heart, and to share some of my thoughts about its symbolism and significance, both culturally and to me personally, as a writer".

Emily Bitto lives in Melbourne. She has a Masters in Literary Studies and a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Melbourne. Her debut novel, The Strays was the winner of the 2015 Stella Prize. Emily also co-owns and runs Carlton wine-bar, Heartattack and Vine.

11 October - Debra Adelaide on Thea Astley's Drylands

"When Thea Astley died in 2004 it struck me with great force that Drylands would always remain her final novel: there would be no new ones. And so I have re-read this novel along with her others many times since then. Drylands will always engage my imagination, partly because it explores similar themes (or obsessions) found across all Astley’s work, yet it remains fresh, challenging, tender and shocking. And above all, it is a story for and about that object of desire, the reader".

Debra Adelaide is an author and academic who has published 15 books including four novels and several edited collections. Her most recent books are The Women’s Pages and The Simple Act of Reading. Debra Adelaide is an associate professor and coordinator of the Creative Writing program at the University of Technology Sydney.