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The SRB in 2017 — Highlights

In 2017 the Sydney Review of Books launched our first program as an Australia Council Four Year Funded Organisation. We published new work by over 100 Australian writers: essays on contemporary Australian literature and our literary history, new perspectives on international literature, interviews with writers and an outstanding set of literary essays.

We published major critical essays on the books recognised by Australian literary judges in 2017, including: Roslyn Jolly on Josephine Wilson’s Extinctions, winner of the 2017 Miles Franklin Award; Peter Pierce on Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love, winner of the 2017 Stella Prize and the Christina Stead Award for Fiction at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards; Shannon Burns on Ryan O’Neill’s Their Brilliant Careers, winner of the 2017 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction;  Kerryn Goldsworthy on Georgia Blain’s Between A Wolf and A Dog, winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction; Kate Middleton on Ghostspeaking by Peter Boyle, winner of the 2017 Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards; Jerath Head on Bram Presser’s The Book of Dirt, winner of the Christina Stead Award for Fiction at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards; Michelle Cahill on Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The Hate Race, winner of the Multicultural NSW Award at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.

The first essay to appear in our 2017 program was Ellen van Neerven’s response to the collection Desert Writing: Stories from Country. This led a peripatetic exploration of contemporary Australian literature and its antecedents. Highlights included: Alison Whittaker on Claire G. Coleman’s Terra Nullius; Susan Lever on Beverley Farmer’s final published workThis Water; Martin Duwell on a new anthologyContemporary Australian Poetry, Ali Jane Smith‘s assessment of the Collected Poems of Fay Zwicky and Ruth Balint on They Cannot Take The Sky, a collection of writings from Australian government immigration detention. Jane Gleeson-White wrote a long essay on Kim Scott and his novel Taboo and novelist Shaun Prescott made his SRB debut with a review of Wayne Macauley’s Some Tests. Jennifer Mills, in turn, wrote an essay on Prescott’s The Town that was shortlisted for the Walkley-Pascall Prize. Roslyn Jolly addressed First Person by Richard Flanagan, Eileen Chong wrote about Lunar Inheritance by Lachlan Brown and Anne Jamison undertook a close reading of Felicity Castagna’s No More Boats.

Andrew Riemer took in the career of Eva Hornung as he reviewed her novel The Last Garden, Gabrielle Carey remembered John Clarke and Lucy Sussex looked back to the work of groundbreaking SF writer George Sussex. We published notable new essays on art history, including Tim Rowse‘s consideration of Laura Fisher’s Aboriginal Art and Australian Society, Martin Edmond on Rattling Spears: A History of Indigenous Australian Art by Ian W. McLean. Patrick Allington wrote an essay about the year in which the Miles Franklin judges opted not to give the award and Maggie MacKellar reflected on her fruitless efforts to write a novel about Miles Franklin. Moya Costello wrote about a life reading Helen Garner in her essay on Bernadette Brennan’s biography of Garner. Gig Ryan recalled the poetic achivements of Rae Desmond Jones and Simon West contemplated the contribution of James McAuley to Australian letters a century after his birth.  The Critic Watch section of the SRB was reinvigorated in 2017 with Ben Etherington‘s detailed investigation of the critical career of Peter Craven.

Two of our most notable essays on international authors dealt with biographies: Evelyn Juers wrote about a new biography of Alexander von Humboldt and James Ley undertook a major survey of the work of Angela Carter to coincide with the release of a biography of the British author. Ley also reviewed Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, which went on to win the Man Booker Prize. Other international highlights included Vijay Mishra on Arundhati Roy’s long awaited second novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, a bravura essay  by Tom Clark on J.R.R. Tolkien’s final novel and Zora Simic  on new books about feminism by Laura Kipnis, Sara Ahmad and Jessa Crispin

With funding from the City of Sydney, we commissioned an extraordinary group of Sydney writers to write essays on the inner suburbs of Sydney. Featuring Gail Jones on Glebe, Richard Cooke on Luna Park, Ross Gibson on Alexandria, Fiona McGregor on Surry Hills, Tom Carment on Darlinghurst, Anna Couani on Glebe and Bill Harding and John Paramor on Kings Cross.

The  form of the literary essay is on the ascendant, and we have had the great fortune to work with some of Australia’s best essayists. Highlights of our 2017 program included 8 Turner Street, Redfern, by Anthony Macris, Lyrebirds in the Impasse by David Carlin and Perhaps This Will Be My Last Sharehouse by Fiona Wright, Seventy-Two Transformations, on Wu Cheng-en’s Journey to the West by Jennifer Mills. The huge response to James Bradley‘s long reflection on being a writer as the climate changes, Writing on the Precipice, prompted programming decisions for 2018. Philosopher Chris Fleming‘s essay on tidiness generated tremendous discussion online and in the broadcast media and remained a favourite for readers throughout the year.

We published new commentary on literary culture. Ben Eltham crunched the numbers on how Australian authors make a living and Julieanne Van Loon contributed a roaming essay on where writers get their ideas from,

To mark five years online, we published our first book in 2017. The Australian Face appeared under the new SRB imprint and collects essays on Australian literature from a distinguished cohort of SRB contributors. The anthology features essays by: Ben Etherington, Jane Gleeson-White, Kerryn Goldsworthy, Evelyn Juers, Julieanne Lamond, Anthony Uhlmann, Ali Alizadeh, James Ley, Jeff Sparrow, Lisa Gorton, Emmett Stinson, Simon West, Michelle Cahill, Ivor Indyk, Nicholas Jose, Zora Simic, and Ellen van Neerven.

SRB writers were recognised by awards committees. Roslyn Jolly‘s essay on Extinctions was shortlisted for the Walkley-Pascall Award for Arts Criticism. Vanessa Berry won the inaugural Woollahra Digital Literary Award for her 2016 essay Excavating St Peters. Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Matthew J Thompson and Suneeta Peres da Costa were also shortlisted for this award.

In partnership with SWEATSHOP Literacy Project, the Sydney Review of Books worked with two emerging writers from Western Sydney for publication on the journal. Winnie Akata Siulolovao Dunn‘s widely shared essay From Pacific to Pasifika reflected on the limited representation of Pasifika people in Australian culture, and issued a clarion call for self-representation; Stephen Pham wrote a review essay of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s short story collection The Refugees.

We published an interview with poet Oscar Schwartz about his practice and influences and another with poet and sound artist Amanda StewartElleke Boehmer and Meg Samuelson discussed writing migrant lives in the south.