Reading Australian Literature 2017

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 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 literary encounters left an imprint on the speakers’ own writing?

Reading Australian Literature offers valuable insights into an ongoing writerly dialogue with our literary heritage. Read one of the early talks for a flavour of this unique series: Charlotte Wood discusses Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus in the Sydney Review of Books

Reading Australian Literature is co-presented by the School of Literature, Art 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, and offers an exciting undergraduate major, a specialised honours stream and a variety of postgraduate and research options.

View the past series for 2014, 2015 and 2016.


Tuesday 12 September – Sophie Cunningham on Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse

“As both an editor and a writer I’ve always been inspired by Frank Moorhouse’s fiction, both stylistically and thematically, be it the linked short stories of Forty-seventeen, or the expansive scope of the 'Edith' trilogy. When I first read Cold Light, the third novel in that trilogy, I was thrilled by Moorhouse’s capacity to celebrate both political idealism and pragmatism as well as to inhabit ambiguous identities (sexual and otherwise). Moorhouse’s dexterity and commitment to detail cast an erotic glow upon a derided decade, the fifties, and a derided city, Canberra. The literary achievement of the entire trilogy, and Cold Light in particular, is nothing short of extraordinary. “

Soph C

Sophie Cunningham is a former editor and publisher; she is also the author of four books. She is currently writing her third novel, This Devastating Fever, which is based on Leonard Woolf’s life, as well as a book of linked essays called Diary From The End Times. Sophie is an Adjunct Professor at RMIT University’s Non/fiction Lab.

Register online now

Wednesday 26 April – Fiona Wright on The Cook by Wayne Macauley

"I’ve chosen to speak about Wayne Macauley’s The Cook in part because I think it deserves more attention than it received when it was released – aside from the beautifully strange honour of winning the ‘Most Underrated Book Award’, it largely flew under the radar of the literary pages. But it’s a wonderful book: blackly funny and devastatingly sharp in its critique of foodie culture, but also tragic by turns, all the more so because it’s really a satire about class – that most taboo of topics in Australia’s supposedly classless society – and about aspiration, and the way these things entrap us all."

Fiona Wight

Fiona Wright’s book of essays Small Acts of Disappearance won the 2016 Kibble Award and the Queensland Literary Award for non-fiction, and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize and the NSW Premier’s Prize for non-fiction. Her poetry collection, Knuckled, won the 2012 Dame Mary Gilmore Award. She has recently completed a PhD at Western Sydney University’s Writing & Society Research Centre.

Tuesday 30 May – Jane Gleeson-White on The Swan Book by Alexis Wright

"Alexis Wright’s most recent novel, The Swan Book, has been widely acknowledged as her most challenging and important novel to date. I’ve been possessed by it since first reading it in 2013. Wright has said that she develops her novels by thinking about how the land ‘might respond to different stories. The land is, I suppose, one of or even the central character.’ I’m fascinated by Wright’s portrayal of this sentient land, ‘Country’. I think it marks a paradigm shift in Australian literature, and has implications for Australia, as well as the planet, in an age of climate change."

Jane Gleeson-White

Jane Gleeson-White is the author of two books about literature, and two books about accounting, capitalism and the environment. Her PhD in creative writing comprised Six Capitals: The revolution capitalism has to have and a dissertation on Alexis Wright and Kim Scott. She’s worked as a freelance editor of Australian fiction and non-fiction, and the fiction editor of Overland.

17 October – Beth Yahp on The Scent of Eucalyptus by Barbara Hanrahan

"Barbara Hanrahan’s The Scent of Eucalyptus was one of the first Australian novels I read as an aspiring writer newly in Australia in the mid-1980s: its telescoping perspective, time swoops and forensic attention to mundane detail led to a magical, dizzyingly captivating world. This world of suburban women remains both familiar and strange, and Hanrahan’s formal dexterity and textual ‘wandering/ wondering’ are qualities as striking to me today as they were then. Hanrahan’s ‘slipping from view’ after her premature death in 1991 is something I find as astonishing as the intensely private, densely lyrical and fastidiously documented world she offers her readers."

Beth Yahp

Beth Yahp migrated to Australia from Malaysia in 1984. She has lived in Sydney, Kuala Lumpur and Paris. Her hybrid memoir Eat First, Talk Later was published in 2015 and her first book of short fiction, The Red Pearl and Other Stories, will be published in September 2017, along with a reissue of her award-writing novel, The Crocodile Fury. Beth lectures in the Creative Writing Program in the Department of English at the University of Sydney.