A standout feature of our 2016 program was a major series of essays devoted to place titled Writing NSW. We asked essayists, novelists, poets and scholars to reflect on the relationships between place and literature, on the ways in which place can shape a literary sensibility, and thereby a culture. The results were extraordinary. These essays have attracted international attention and established the SRB as an important platform for the literary essay in Australia. They have been read and shared widely, set for study by undergraduate and highschool students, and remain one of the most popular categories in our archive.
The following writers contributed new work to this series, which was funded by Create NSW: Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Vanessa Berry, Luke Carman, Felicity Castagna, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Anwen Crawford, Peter Doyle, Tom Lee, Anthony Macris, Peter Minter, Mark Mordue, Suneeta Peres da Costa, Matt Thompson, Ellen Van Neerven, Alison Whittaker, Ed Wright, and Fiona Wright.
We launched the SRB-Copyright Agency Emerging Critics Fellowships in early 2016, a program designed to foster new critical voices. Our call for applications was greeted with enthusiasm by applicants from around the country. With the generous support of the Copyright Agency we were able to offer three emerging critics fellowships to develop three original essays for publication on the journal. The recipients of the inaugural fellowships were Ali Jane Smith, James Halford and Ben Brooker. Together these critics traversed the work of Australian poets such as joanne burns and Laurie Duggan, of theatre-makers and critics such as James Waites and Patricia Cornelius, and Australian literature as part of the literature of the south.
The Sydney Review of Books published commentary on the books that won major literary awards in 2016, including Rosemary Sorenson on Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things, winner of the 2016 Stella Prize; Jessica Wilkinson on Joanne Burns’ Brush, winner of the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Our coverage of Australian literature took in a far wider range of writers than those recognised by the prize committees. Highlights included: Ivor Indyk on the achievement of π.O and his major work Fitzroy: The Biography; Alys Moody on contemporary Antipodean modernism in her essay on Dodge Rose by Jack Cox; Judith Beveridge on the sweeping career of Alex Skovron; Vrasidas Karalis on Dimitris Tsaloumas; Michael Farrell on the Australian avant-garde and Nick Whittock; Julieanne Lamond on Hannah Kent’s second novel. New non-fiction also caught the attention of our critics: Zora Simic weighed up the first-person feminism of Clementine Ford; Sasha Grishin assessed Ashleigh Wilson’s biography of Brett Whiteley and Jason Wilson responded to Sonya Voumard’s study of media ethics and the Port Arthur massacre. Michael Mohammed Ahmad‘s controversial ‘Bad Writer‘ provoked a national debate about the teaching of creative writing.
In conjunction with the State Library of NSW, the SRB published new essays on nineteenth-century Australian women writers by three of our most exciting contemporary essayists: Fiona Wright on Barbara Baynton; Maggie MacKellar on Catherine Helen Spence, and Jessica White on Rosa Praed.
Melinda Harvey’s essay on Elena Ferrante and the Neapolitan Quartet, She Thinks She Is The Boss, was one of the most widely read SRB essays of 2016 and set a high standard for critical work on international authors. We published a major survey essay by James Ley on Nobel Laureate Patrick Modiano. Ley, the founding editor of the SRB and current contributing editor, also grappled with the work of Rita Felski in an essay which drew broad international acclaim. Peter Salmon added to the annals of both Australian and French literature with his essay on the months Georges Perec spent in Brisbane before his death in 1981. Mieke Chew evaluated The Notebook Trilogy by Agota Kristof; Anthony Macris wrestled with the latest ‘novel-as-selfie‘ by Karl Ove Knaussgard. Joshua Mostafa‘s detailed engagement with the work of Rebecca Walkowitz and Aamir Mufti on world literature provides a vital context for thinking about Australian literature on the global stage. Tiffany Tsao closely read two new translations of the work of Eka Kurniawan and considered the circumstances of the Indonesian author’s recent fame. Maria Tumarkin wrote about the daring critical work of Michael Hofmann and Dan Edwards contemplated the work of Madeleine Thien.
NT playwright Mary Anne Butler spoke about her life and work in an extended interview with Adelle Sefton-Rowston. SRB editor Catriona Menzies-Pike discussed the arc of a literary career with critic and novelist James Bradley.