Over the last decade cultural policy-makers have dramatically tested the Australian literary sector. In addition to the challenges and opportunities posed by digital disruption, and the ongoing uncertainty around the Covid pandemic, cultural policy in Australia has been out in the cold for the best part of a decade. Which is to say: there is no cultural policy, really. During the last ten years advocacy for local books and writing has been everything from organised and passionate to reactive, emotive and haphazard. In the face of the ongoing challenges facing our sector now, how might we open a broad and accessible discussion about the public value of local books and writing? And what effect, if any, might such a discussion be expected to have on the future of Australian literature?
As with many others, I have been thinking about questions of value in relation to Australian books and writing for some years. I have often pondered how to articulate such value, and also where, when, and to whom we might make an argument for it. Does it even make sense for Australian writers, readers, book industry spokespeople and educators to invest our limited time in making carefully calibrated arguments? One line of thinking is that the best way to argue for Australian books and writing is to keep doing a good job of writing them, reading them, buying them and talking about them often to anyone who will listen. But that option is not only devoid of strategy and vision, it is also risky. Given that the federal government is asleep at the wheel (or worse, actively running the sector down) I’m not convinced that a ‘hands-off’ approach form within won’t cost us more than we have lost already.
In this essay, I share some of the problems that have sat with me during my thinking about the problem of value in relation to Australian books and writing. I enrich my discussion with a survey of the 347 submissions made by key individuals and organisations in the arts to the Parliamentary Enquiry on Australia’s Creative and Cultural Industries and Institutions in October 2020 (publicly accessible here and referred to hereafter as the Enquiry). These submissions form a powerful archive of this moment in Australian cultural life and I have taken a particular interest in those voices representing the Australian literary sector, many of whom I quote from extensively below. In addition, I draw on recent research on the book industry, author incomes, the creative industries and arts sectors in Australia as well as on the imaginative work of several novelists. I begin with a discussion of labour value relevant to books and writing, and move on to intellectual property value, and lastly to forms of non-economic value including public, social and educational. I finish the essay with a look at the question of public policy and the arts, seeking some potential answers to Peter Carey’s question in his submission to the Enquiry:
How can it be that… the average income of writers is a paltry, unliveable $12,900 a year? If reading is the second most popular way Australians engage with the arts, where’s the disconnect?
2. The problem with talking about writing as if it were an ordinary job
Several problems arise when we think about writing as a stable, ordinary or transactional form of labour. Writing books, whether they be literary fiction, genre fiction, Australian history, or writing for children, requires little in the way of equipment but a significant investment in terms of time, and often an inordinate amount of time. It may also require highly specialist disciplinary knowledge, primary and secondary research, specific life experience and imaginative thinking.
Becoming a writer is a popular dream and a difficult one to give up on, especially for those who aspire to earn a living exclusively from the writing life. In the popular imaginary, there is J.K. Rowling and, in Australia, occasional runaway successes like Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe (2018), Jane Harper’s The Dry (2016) or Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu (2014). These robust successes (financial and otherwise) often give ordinary Australians the impression that making a living as a writer is easy. Dark Emu, for example, has sold more than 100,000 copies. But suppose I spent three years of full-time labour producing an 80,000 word book that sells 1000 copies at $24.99RRP. That’s going to earn me around $2499 in royalties, or the equivalent of $2 an hour. Now let’s see me try and get a second book contract with a track record of a thousand sales or less on my previous work. Incidentally, a survey of Australian authors published by the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) in 2020 indicated that 99 per cent of Australian titles released in the last three years sold less than 1000 copies.
Writers don’t earn their living exclusively from sales. Author Kirsty Murray, for example, who has been a full time writer publishing books for children and young adults for more than twenty-five years, estimates that royalties normally make up around 30-50 per cent of her annual income; the next biggest category, also at 30-50 per cent, is public events related to her books. Lately, Murray says, ‘I’m pedalling faster than ever to make a viable income as a writer.’
Murray’s testimony to the Parliamentary Enquiry is in line with much recent research. According to a study by Macquarie University’s David Throsby, writers’ creative incomes have dropped nearly 50 per cent in the past seventeen years. The Covid pandemic has exacerbated the situation. The Perth-based Culture Counts group, for example, conducted a survey in the last quarter of 2020 that indicated 96 per cent of 532 respondents across the arts sector had had events cancelled, and 88% reported a related revenue loss. An ASA member survey, also conducted in late 2020, indicated that 54 per cent of the 1400 respondents had lost appearance fees income due to the cancellation of appearances at schools, libraries and festivals.
While the Australian Publisher’s Association reports that ‘Covid’s impact has been uneven across the publishing sector,’ it also acknowledges that there has been ‘an industry wide acceleration of the processes of digitisation including digitisation of what and how people read’. Author Jessica White presented statistics to the Enquiry from her local Brisbane City Council library that indicated ‘6000 new temporary digital membership during Covid related closures and restrictions’ while ‘its digital library saw an increase of 500,000 loans’ compared to the previous year. The ASA submission to the Enquiry also cites the Civica libraries index, which reports a significant increase in the borrowing of Australian books in 2020 and a significant increase in borrowing in digital formats. Yet, while authors and publishers are compensated through the national Public Lending Rights and Educational Lending Rights schemes when their works are borrowed from libraries, the Public Lending Rights Act 1985 is fifteen years old, and ‘the failure to extend PLR an ELR to digital lending rights,’ argues White, ‘represents a huge loss of income for Australia’s storytellers, particularly at a time when they sorely need this income.’
The prolific novelist and journalist Malcolm Knox, who began work as a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald in the mid 1990s and published his first book in 2000, presents members of the Enquiry with a potted history of his writing career, and in doing so demonstrates just how widely one needs to cast the net in order to sustain a regular income. Knox has published 28 books under his own name and worked as a ghost writer on 17 others, ‘In the writing I have practised,’ he states, ‘there is no “separation” of the arts from other walks of life.’
Michael Robotham, who has been publishing internationally best-selling crime thrillers for more than twenty years, and who has made a living as writer in Australia since the mid 1990s, implores members of the Enquiry: ‘We are not tradies; we do not wear hard-hats or high-vis vests, but what we provide is equally, if not more important’.
One of the problems for writers and the value of their creative labour is the romantic ideal of authorship, which seems difficult to uncouple from the mythology surrounding the lone artistic-genius. This mythology is maintained by the way authors continue to be represented in the media, on dust jackets and at festival events as the authoritative source of knowledge on their texts, an idea long ago abandoned in literary studies where reading is (correctly) understood to be a rather complex, multifaceted and sometimes outright resistant affair. Labour value and the romantic ideal are further complicated by the pressure many authors feel to positively promote ‘the writer’s life’ on social media. Regularly updated photographs of book signings, new contract announcements or sightings in the wild of titles in faraway shops feed directly into the cultural narcissism so prevalent in the digital age and widely believed to damage our mental health.
Thinking about the problems arising from our deep need as writers to have our voices heard, our limited capacity to be realistic about our expectations for our own writing careers, and our related preparedness to taken on precarious working conditions or sign contracts that provide us with little compensation, brings to mind the tragi-comic central character in Knut Hamsun’s novel Hunger, first published in 1890. Hamsun’s un-named protagonist desires so badly to be a writer that he exiles himself from normal life, wandering hungry in service of his art until the hunger itself eclipses everything. Writing for The Independent, British novelist Joanna Kavenna observes of Hamsun’s novel that it’s not just a story about being a failed writer but also about
the process of entering adult life, that somewhat devastating moment when you realise that you have to work to live, unless you’re obscenely rich; that you are obliged to exchange almost all your time for money. And how you might lose your ideals in the face of this unwieldy realisation…
Kavenna is so fascinated by Hamsun’s novel that she travels to Oslo, where she lives for a year with the aim of learning Norwegian so as to read the book in its original language. She concludes:
you get a sense that Hunger is propelled by Hamsun’s anger – that he can’t forge the life he wants, that he is starved of a congenial milieu for his writing. He knows also that such rage is inherently absurd, and yet is afraid perhaps of what happens if he stops feeling furious.
This same anger sits just beneath the surface of many submissions from authors and author organisations to the recent Enquiry, but so too does the doggedness and tenacity of the writer/auteur who cannot let go of the dream of being be valued and venerated by a wide and/or respected readership. While the temptation to give up your day job and give writing the Great Australian Novel a go remains common, many writers I know who have taken this plunge at different stages of their artistic careers last about twelve months before burning through their entire life savings; others find themselves relying heavily on the income of a partner, family member or some other kind patron who becomes, for a time, a willing benefactor. But we must beware the latter: history shows over and again that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
In her submission to the Enquiry novelist and academic Gail Jones mounts an argument for understanding creative writers as a form of primary producer. Further, she adds,
I hope to persuade the committee that literature, and reading and writing more generally, is essential to our economic recovery and growth, to employment, self-knowledge and understanding of community. It is also radically under-funded.
To employ the adverb ‘radically’ here is not to exaggerate. Federal support for Australian books and writing has substantially declined since the heyday of Whitlam era fifty years ago. Prior to the 1970s, of course, there was no support at all, and very little local book industry to speak of. Susan Hayes, in her submission to the Enquiry, writes, ‘Since I retired in 2011 from the position of Director of Literature at the Australia Council, I have become more and more concerned about the decline in support for this most vital of artforms.’ The data backs her concerns.
The Australian Publishers Association estimates that the local publishing industry ‘turns over $2 billion a year from the sales and licensing of books, ebooks and journals’. Nevertheless, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in funding to the Australia Council over the last six years and ‘literature… receives a desultory 3% of federal arts funding’. According to WritingNSW, it is also underfunded as an arts category by most state governments. Further, ‘literature is also the only artform not to receive targeted infrastructure support from the federal government’. In addition, as many authors of submissions to the Parliamentary Enquiry point out, literature is the only artform not to have any representation on the 12-member panel which comprises the recently formed Creative Economy Taskforce intended to provide strategic guidance to Government.
Unfortunately, when members of the Coalition government hear local authors and publishers crying poor, the standard response is: who cares? And also: what do you expect?
What do we expect? Perhaps the decline in author incomes over the last two decades needs to be seen in the context of other catastrophic wage and income concerns in Australian over the same period: the fact that wage theft and other forms of worker exploitation have become a standard business model; the fact that the highest wealth group in Australia (the top 10 per cent) now holds 46 per cent of all household wealth while the bottom 60 per cent hold just 16 per cent; the fact that there are now around one third of the journalists reporting and editing news media in Australia compared to fifteen years ago
3. The problem with talking about books as if they were merely property
One of the problems with many of the figures I have quoted above is that they are all to do with money. And the fuller value of local books and writing is so much more than that.
Tethering particular book titles to author and illustrator incomes, and relatedly publisher profits, works on the basis of intellectual property rights. Those rights are monetarised via contractual arrangements that mean money flows to authors from book sales, public and educational lending or other forms of copyright licensing of those titles, and belatedly from publicity events or other ‘in person’ opportunities such as author talks in schools. As outlined above, some of the writers and organisations submitting to the Enquiry describe writers as a category of primary producer and in some ways that is true, but in important ways that’s not how it works.
Intellectual property is a long-term notion and so authors and illustrators are never completely untethered from the creative work we produce: it ‘contains’ us when it first comes to market and it goes on containing us in some way in perpetuity. A creative work’s value is linked to our identity and reputation as authors and its capacity to go on producing sales even after our death (think of, for example, the effect of a new blockbuster film on sales of a classic fifty years on) make it a peculiar kind of product. At the heart of the way economic value is produced out of our book titles is an individual author’s ‘ownership’ of their intellectual property in that work.
During the period 2015-2017, when I was on the board of the Australian Society of Authors, I was active in representing and advocating for Australian authors and illustrators collectively on questions of value and livelihood and, it was during that period that I began to think more deeply about how to influence national policy as well as about the problems, opportunities and protections provided us by intellectual property rights and copyright legislation. But I also found that arguments I and others were making about value and livelihood were contingent on notions of the lone auteur: a notion I have always felt philosophically ambivalent about. The truth is that on the question of private property ownership of any kind, I remain ambivalent; on the question of the rights of the individual, in so far as they trump the rights of the collective (including the non-human) I am a genuine sceptic. Philosophically, therefore, I dwell in one world; pragmatically, I live, as we all do, in another.
It was during the period I was on the board of the ASA that the Australian Productivity Commission was proposing controversial changes to the parallel importation laws that presently protect the Australian book industry from the dumping of foreign titles in our market. The Commission also floated radical copyright reforms that threatened to significantly weaken an author’s intellectual property rights, especially their right to draw a feasible degree of royalities from their works in the long term. I advocated in public fora and in private meetings to debate the proposed reforms, as did many others, and we all found particularly vehement opposition from the powerful lobby-group Australian Digital Alliance , whose members include Google, Facebook and Microsoft, and who continue to advocate for US ‘fair-use’ style copyright reforms in this country.
But in my more introspective moments in the heat of the Productivity Commission debates, I think what I really wanted but couldn’t easily articulate was for the whole system to be different. I wanted a more socialist feminist approach. Something of what I wanted to say (as I have said elsewhere in the SRB) was that those ideas I (and others) draw upon to produce a new creative work are never fully mine: many of those ideas are communal. The literature I have produced, modest as it is, arises out of a particular cultural moment and in some ways it belongs to all and any of us. Frank Moorhouse goes some way towards imagining a new model for funding writers in Australia in his 2017 essay on the writing life in which he calls for a basic living wage for qualified writers and artists, rather than a model based on sales. This is a hard sell to governments, especially our market-obsessed and anti-arts federal government, led by Scot Morrison. But wouldn’t it be an interesting experiment? In fact, the concept of a Universal Basic Income holds an attractive promise for many sectors, and it is an idea being seriously canvassed internationally by, most recently, the World Bank (see for example, ‘Exploring Universal Basic Income : A Guide to Navigating Concepts, Evidence, and Practices’ published in February 2020).
One of the problems for me when I come to think deeply about intellectual property is that there are so many ways in which books are not like other forms of property: books are not houses. The protagonist in Susannah Clarke’s novel, Piranesi (2019) comes to mind, for her unnamed narrator lives in a house that has no limits. Inspired to a significant degree by Borges short story ‘The Tower of Babel’, Clarke’s narrator lives in order to explore the house. Clarke writes:
In my mind are all the halls, the endless procession of them, the intricate pathways. … The Beauty of the House is immeasurable.
What value, then, the book as infinite house?
And how might we be compensated or recompensed for the risk we take as authors when we spend seven years or more working on a major ‘property development’ that (a) may never have another investor, and (b) may have no end?
Risks for both authors and publishers in investing in these strange houses of the imagination have increased. The ASA acknowledges that ‘due to a variety of disrupting factors, publishers’ appetite for risk is low’. Caroline Baum, founding editor of Good Reading magazine, and until recently the Editorial Director of Booktopia, Australia’s largest online bookseller, posits that:
Opportunities for extra income have almost vanished… it is no longer the case that publications pay for extracts from books, viewing them as a promotional opportunity. They get content for free, and it is a moot point among publishers as to whether or not this boosts sales… There is insufficient data on this and many other aspects of the writing culture, such as what the real value is of a book tour in terms of sales and what the value is of attending festivals. Is all the travel worth it?
Surely one of the most awkwardly beautiful houses in Australian literature is the glass church constructed along the narrative length of Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda (1989). Like Clarke’s infinite house in Piranesi, it is a thing of the imagination, but isn’t its fragility and translucence memorable? Recall how we readers were dazzled by the brilliance of its manufacture? Recall, too, how it travelled uncomfortably overland from Lucinda’s glass factory toward a remote site near the Bellingen river. It was a risky thing, highly risky, and we knew in our hearts it couldn’t last. And yet we hoped for it, didn’t we?
‘You could not tell a story like this. A story like this you could only feel,’ says Carey’s narrator in that title.
Let’s return, just for a moment, to Gail Jones’ submission to the Enquiry, for she offers another way of thinking about the kinds of properties that might support our broad cultural imaginary. Well-travelled internationally, Jones posits that:
This government has indicated that physical infrastructure (buildings and so on) will be necessary to the renovation of the domestic economy post-COVID. This is a wonderful opportunity to consider funding ‘literature houses’, purpose-built sites for readings, writer accommodation for local and overseas residencies, places for book-launches, discussion and the general support of literature. The Literaturhaus system in Germany, in which all major cities have buildings for writer events, and in which, crucially, writers are paid for readings and appearances, is a wonderful success and helps writers’ incomes enormously. The inclusion of indigenous, regional, rural and community organizations in proposals for ‘literature houses’ would stimulate local building economies and generate community recognition of Australian literature.
Can you see them, Jones’s Australian ‘literature houses’? Can you imagine them full of people? Can you imagine the kinds of collective imaginaries that might flourish within?
4. The problem of non-economic value and making the case for a national public good
Novelist Hannah Kent, whose debut novel Burial Rites (2013) is on the high school English curriculum in several states, laments in her submission to the Enquiry the small amount of Australian content in her own high school English program. Kent was born in 1985. She writes:
Readers will not stop reading. But if government cuts to arts funding, and continued financial disregard for Australian literature continues in a post-COVID world, what they read will undoubtedly change.
Kent’s reference to Australian literature in school curricula, comes at a time when support for senior experts in Australian books and writing is cooling in our university sector, too. In 2019, the University of Sydney chose to withdraw funding for the Professorial Chair in Australian Literature, a greatly symbolic position that was instated during the 1960s, at a time when almost all of our literary curricula looked to England for its content. In 2020, in what appears to be a perverse reinstatement of the old cultural cringe, and an extension of the tradition of appointing white and male, the Universities of Adelaide and Melbourne both appointed North Americans to their flagship Professor of Creative Writing positions, seats left vacant by retiring Australian writers Brian Castro and Kevin Brophy respectively. Kate Grenville’s submission to the Enquiry echoes Kent’s concerns about Australian-grown content for schools and universities: ‘the material young people read can shape the discussions they have about what it is to be Australian’.
Gail Jones also argues for broader recognition of the ‘non-economic benefits’ of Australian literature that ‘enhance community, social well-being and promoting Australia’s national identity.’ She writes:
Social well-being’ requires social literacy, a sense of connection to one’s history, community and self: these are generated and nourished through narrative, conversation and reflection. The literary arts create a sense of pride, community and solidarity. A single library in a country town can offer astonishing opportunities of learning and self-knowledge: how do we calculate value like this? As someone who grew up in remote and regional areas, I’m aware of how crucial libraries and book culture are to a sense of connection with the nation.
Further, she says:
‘National identity’ also requires reflexive literacy: social understanding and agency derive from reading and writing; a nation that neglects its literary culture risks losing the skills that contribute to creative thinking in other areas.
Of course, we must be cognisant of the dangers of getting too excited about defining literature too narrowly as a national project. At some point, concern for national cohesiveness can flip into the ugliness of overtly nationalist rhetoric. The question: ‘who are we talking about when we talk about ‘us’?’ is a crucial one to ask. We must ask it often.
Maria Tumarkin, in her recent Writers Victoria address (2020) reminded us, usefully, of the problematic nature of the category ‘Australian writer’. Who would self-describe in this way, she asked? Tumarkin would not; she argues that many writers now living in Australia would not. In an essay published in recent issue of Griffith Review, Tumarkin urges us to ‘see clearly the devastation – personal, cultural – wreaked by the ever-repeated scene of the unlistened-to story.’ Tumarkin’s work, in all its forms, urges us to be genuinely self-reflexive and consistently active in ensuring that those bodies who make the life-changing decisions that affect our emerging and established voices are themselves many-voiced. Who makes the funding decisions? Who makes the decisions about which content and which authors, to spotlight, to appoint, to continue to publish and review? Diversity of representation needs to be addressed throughout the structures of power, and not just be incorporated as a last-minute concession to an occasional non-white participant on a panel or in a collection.
Pippa Dickson, writing to the Enquiry in her role as Director of Asialink Arts, says ‘The COVID-19 crisis cannot be couched as an ‘opportunity’ for arts and culture – we have to face the very real loss of livelihoods, intellectual property and very significant investments.’ She expands:
That means as a country Australia needs to be more creative and invest more than ever to deepen creative capacity and build resilience. Whole of ecology as well as cross sectoral local, national and international engagement is essential to finding and employing new and innovative ways to cooperate and innovate…. Arts and culture are a key element of Australia’s soft power.
For me, soft power is a curious term as well as a problematic idea, but that’s probably a topic for another essay.
I am reminded of Amanda Lohrey’s beautiful novel Labyirnth (2020), in which the simple desire to design and construct a labyrinth outside the narrator’s modest seaside shack in regional Tasmania seems an impossibly difficult task: it requires more than creative capacity and resilience. First the narrator needs to come to terms with her own anger and grief. Then there is the matter of others going through their own sustained anger and grief. In reading Lohrey, I wondered: is trust in a deeply cooperative, cross-sectoral support structure for the arts still something we still have capacity to imagine, to navigate, to rebuild?
Beyond coming to terms with our anger and grief, there are practical matters to do with working together: we need trust, stamina, cooperation. Lohrey’s hypnotic hand as a fiction writer shows us it is possible, even beyond the storm:
All morning we work at clearing the ground, removing the largest of the branches first and then collecting the stones from the dispersed labyrinth, fossicking among the bush litter with gloved hands, wary of what we might find. We stack the retrieved stones in a muddy pile beside the house until it seems we have recovered all but a few. ‘We wash them,’ says Jurko, ‘and when the ground dry we start out again.’
5. Australia’s public policy problem
Cultural economist David Throsby, whose research on the Australian book industry is now substantial, reminds members of the Enquiry that there exists already, ‘a comprehensive cultural policy statement’ for our country which was developed by the federal government in 2013. Unfortunately, the substantive work done on developing that policy was poorly timed. The blueprint came along just in time for a change of federal government and it has never been put in place. Throsby calls is ‘a non-partisan document’ that remains relevant. He urges Members of the Committee to consult it.
Others call attention to Scotland’s robust Cultural Strategy (2020), citing it as a model of cultural policy that genuinely ‘opens up the potential of culture as a transformative opportunity across society.’ Initiatives in the Scottish model include funding youth arts grants via assets seized from criminal activity.
Usefully, in his submission, arts and cultural policy expert Julian Meyrick singles out a particular term of reference – the question of the best mechanism for supporting the arts sector in policy terms. He argues ‘for a persuasive policy vision for the sector, and for Australian arts and culture as a whole’. Meyrick makes a particular point on value, and that is that ‘Culture has the distinction of both having a value and being a value at the same time.’ For Meyrick, ‘the primary purpose of cultural policy in Australia should be a cultural one, and any cultural plan must be articulated in cultural terms first.’
As with Throsby, Meyrick is no newcomer to the problem of value and to debates around supporting local content in Australia. A professor at Griffith University’s Centre for Social and Cultural Research, he is an experienced theatre professional and his scholarly work on arts and cultural policy is extensive. Meyrick writes:
A degree of national protection is warranted and desirable for Australia’s creative and cultural industries and institutions; both rhetorical protection – in terms of being identified as an important area of government concern – and practical – in terms of having a strategy to publicly invest in them and maximize the value they return to the nation.
Meyrick urges members of the Enquiry to consider that value often accrues in the medium-to-long rather than the short-term. It takes time for arts and culture to ‘embed in a way of life and benefit it.’ Further, he writes:
valuing culture is more than a matter of ‘like.’ Mutual respect and understanding also come into the matter…. Acceptance of diversity, complexity and occasional controversy is key to a flourishing national culture. Arts and culture offer things we can enjoy, but, more importantly, things we can all value whether we enjoy them or not.
But perhaps the real problem here is to do with Australia’s broader cultural policy problem. That is, we just have no policy. As with many other sectors in Australia under the Morrison government, there exists a disturbing policy vacuum, and there seems little in the way of political interest or will, with regards to developing and implementing robust policy in the national interest.
The Centre for Stories submission to the Enquiry, prepared by Robert Wood, argues that ‘the role of government is to create the opportunities for citizens to live a good life, and the role of writing and literature must enter into that.’ Further:
We become writers because we have a need to reflect on who we are and what we might become. It does not mean we do not need food, housing, shelter. It does not mean we only do it for love. We do it as a civic duty, to express how we care for our place in the world, and why we must go on…. Without writing and literature, we can only live small, enfeebled lives that do not express the deep reality of our truth at being here.
The enquiry into Australia’s creative and cultural industries and institutions resumed public hearings in Canberra in February 2021.
On 26 August 2020 Australia’s Minister for Communications, Hon Paul Fletcher MP asked the Standing Committee on Communication and the Arts to inquire into and report on Australia’s creative and cultural industries and institutions. Submissions were open until 22 October 2020. Many of these submissions are quoted from in this essay. For the full text, along with the terms of reference, go here.
Powerful and Moving is a collaboration between the SRB and non/fictionLab. We’ve joined forces to commission new essays by writers and academics interested in experimental approaches to the question of value in the sphere of arts and literature.
Writers and literary organisations have become adept at talking about the value of their work in the terms dictated by funding agencies: outputs, impacts, reach. We’ve had to learn how to apply the tools of cultural measurement to our own work and practice at a time when the arts and literature is being devalued by governments. Arts funding is in decline, literature has a low profile in broader arts policy discussions, and writers have been ignored in the various COVID-19 emergency packages. What are we worth? How do we value our own work? What is valuable about literature?
We’ll publish essays through 2021 that address these questions by RMIT writer-researchers and leading writers from Australia and our region. Most of the essays have been commissioned in pairs, and we’ll be presenting live in-conversation events to supplement the program.