Life sentences – what creative writing by prisoners tells us about the inside



from www.shutterstock.com

Dr Michael X. Savvas, Flinders University

A recent project to encourage South Australian prisoners to write provides insights into how prisoners may benefit from written expression.

The project, Life Sentences, gave more than 70 contributors professional feedback, certificates of merit and publication in a booklet produced annually from 2017 to 2019.

The submissions revealed a surprising diversity of topics, considerable talent and self-awareness.

The back story

Life Sentences began as an offshoot of Art by Prisoners, a visual arts competition organised by Jeremy Ryder, who wanted to showcase art from prisoners across South Australia.

We wondered if prisoners may also want to express themselves through writing. Department for Correctional Services officers promoted Life Sentences and prisoners responded with interest. After the program, Life Sentences booklets were available to the public at the Art by Prisoners exhibitions.

Prisoners also provided cover designs for the project.
Life Sentences, Author provided

Firsthand writing from and about prisons isn’t new. Prison literature has a rich tradition, with writers such as Jack London, O. Henry and Oscar Wilde writing about their experiences in jail. The nine years Dostoyevsky spent in Siberian imprisonment and exile gave him the focus and depth of understanding to become one of the greats.

Conversely, illiteracy in Australian prisons is prevalent. A recent government report found around one in three Australian prisoners had only completed Year 9 (or under) at secondary school. One aim of Life Sentences was to provide encouraging feedback for prisoners of varying literacy levels. Although not all of the writing submitted was grammatically perfect, feedback focused on what the prisoners did well in their writing. This was seen as a first step in getting prisoners to enjoy writing and begin the adventure of literacy.

Stories of pain and humour

What Life Sentences contributors wrote about was telling. Most entries directly related to what American criminologist Greshem Sykes called the “pains of imprisonment” in 1958. This wasn’t surprising, and it is hoped writing about such pains was healing for the writers. What was more surprising was the number of entries not directly about imprisonment.

Of 77 contributors over three years, 26 expressed pain, fear and depression from imprisonment (even suicidal thoughts), and often how much they missed their children or loved ones. The heartbreaking lines from a 26-year-old woman’s poem called Little Treasure illustrate this:

But I will never forget

His sweet little smile

My darling little boy

Is now their child.

Although male and female prisoners both expressed tender feelings towards their lost partners, the male writers would at times also express sexual longing for their loved ones or for imagined partners. In Prisoner’s Lament, a 61-year-old male wrote:

I can but lament the way my life went,

Before I ended up here,

Instead of a gun and a greed-driven bent,

I’d be armed with a babe and a beer.

Eight of the poems – both fictional and autobiographical pieces – describe prison life using humour. In Lean Cuisine, a man, 45, wrote of the food, gloryless food he got over the course of a week:

Friday’s no surprise with some sort of sloppy pasta

Nothing is as bad as that tomato disaster.

Saturday is early lockup: chicken wings and rice

Some blokes sprint for seconds, yelling ‘This shit’s so fucking nice!‘

Although some contributors wrote about their abusive childhoods, others wrote with nostalgia about their upbringings. A 51-year-old man’s poem, Edge of the World, tells of spending a day on a jetty with his father and siblings:

Like well-practised commandos

we inched along the side rail

dodging gut stains

jagged notches and salty scales.

One prisoner wrote a nostalgic poem about his childhood.
Shutterstock

Eight entries philosophised about life, and two honoured religious deities. Two contributors wrote about their lives, with the goal of inspiring others to stay out of jail and lead happier, more productive lives.

Five entries pondered the personal meanings of art or writing. Other themes explored drugs and alcohol, futuristic societies, rock band membership, friendship, political statements (Fuck the System), dreams and the supernatural (The Love of a Lycan was a song about a werewolf). Three entries were hip hop raps.

Being recognised

The Western Australian literary journal Westerly included several of the 2017 entries in a special edition about South Australian writing.

Hidden talents emerged. A 22-year-old male rapper demonstrated advanced verbal skills in his Laggin Rap:

I want my chance to climb but I’m firmly underground

proud to get his lips clappin louder than a thunder cloud.

Man, Hip Hop’s beautiful — totally therapeutical —

better health benefits than pharmaceuticals.

Another contributor submitted two novels in 2017 and two more in the following competitions. Although already an accomplished writer, he incorporated the feedback he received in the first year. His manuscript was an exciting adventure set in 18th century France. The novel begins:

The battlefields were torn by heavy hooves and ran red with blood. Pieces of meat that used to be men lay tossed about and were scattered in windrows. Mud made it difficult to distinguish between uniforms, yet they found uniformity in a death that made a mockery of it all. It was not yet lunchtime.

The same author printed, bound and illustrated his own novels. He and other contributors also revealed a pattern by the third edition of Life Sentences: a growing awareness of their new identities as writers.

Life Sentences is giving prisoners a chance to write expressively.
Shutterstock

What Prisoners Need

Australian prison libraries are often inadequate for supporting prisoners who seek to improve their literacy skills.

Knowing what prisoners like to write about could inform decisions about the types of books to stock in prisons to encourage reading and writing. Prisoners who wish to write motivational books could be exposed to notable authors in this genre, such as Tony Robbins and Dale Carnegie.

Education is a powerful way to prevent prisoners from reoffending once they leave jail.

To stay out of prison, ex-prisoners need to achieve what criminologists call “secondary desistance”, meaning both the prisoner and society see the prisoner as changed and occupying a law-abiding role in society. Writing might be one way to achieve this and open up new career paths. Writing may also allow prisoners and “civilians” to connect. As one Life Sentences writer put it:

Without seeing their individual faces, I recognise that I am part of the greater consciousness that makes up the brotherhood of writers across the world.The Conversation

Dr Michael X. Savvas, Senior Lecturer in the Transition Office (PhD in Creative Writing), Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘A woman ahead of her time’: remembering the Australian writer Charmian Clift, 50 years on



Anna McGahan as Charmian Clift in Sue Smith’s play Hydra. Long overshadowed by her husband George Johnston, recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in Clift’s life and work.
Jeff Busby/Queensland Theatre

Tanya Dalziell, University of Western Australia and Paul Genoni, Curtin University

Fifty years after her death, Australian writer Charmian Clift is experiencing a renaissance. Born in 1923, Clift co-authored three novels with her husband George Johnston, wrote two under her own name, produced two travel memoirs, and had weekly column widely syndicated to major Australia papers during the the 1960s.

Clift has long been overshadowed by the legacy of Johnston, whose novel My Brother Jack is considered an Australian classic. Her novels and memoirs are sadly out of print, yet she is increasingly recognised for her important place in Australian culture.

Charmian Clift, pictured on the front cover of her memoir, Peel Me a Lotus.
Hutchinson, 1959

In 2018 she, along with Johnston, was inducted into the Australian Media Hall of Fame in recognition of her work as a columnist. She is also being reimagined in fiction, as the subject of A Theatre of Dreamers (2020), a forthcoming novel by English author, Polly Samson, and in Tamar Hodes’ The Water and the Wine (2018).

The revival of interest in Clift is more than a collective nostalgia or feminist correction of the historical record, although both are relevant. Many of her readers from the 60s still remember her newspaper column, and the impact that it had on their view of Australia’s place in the world, with great affection.

Younger generations, particularly women, have also been exposed to Clift’s clear and passionate voice after the columns were published in several volumes in the years following her death. That Clift and her writing continue to resonate with contemporary Australia tells us something about both her and the nation.

The Hydra years

Much of the renewed interest in Clift is focused not only on her writing, but also on the near decade that she and Johnston lived on the Greek Island of Hydra. In late 2015, artist Mark Schaller’s Melbourne exhibition, Homage to Hydra, featured paintings depicting Clift and Johnston’s island lives, with several featuring other residents from Hydra’s international population of writers and artists, including Canadian poet and songwriter, Leonard Cohen.

The same year, Melbourne musicians Chris Fatouros and Spiros Falieros debuted Hydra: Songs and Tales of Bohemia, marrying Cohen’s songs to a narrative about Clift and Johnston’s time on Hydra.




Read more:
Friday essay: a fresh perspective on Leonard Cohen and the island that inspired him


In 2018, our book, Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreams and Drifters on Hydra, 1955-1964, told in detail of the fabled decade of Clift’s life as a bohemian expatriate.

To date in 2019, Sue Smith’s play, Hydra, has been staged in Brisbane and Adelaide, casting Clift in ways that resonate sympathetically with the concerns of contemporary audiences. As Smith writes in her script’s introduction:

Charmian was a woman ahead of her time. We see this in the choices she made both in her personal life, whether it be scandalising the Greek locals by wearing trousers and drinking in bars, to insisting upon her personal and sexual freedom and, of course, through her work.




Read more:
Sue Smith’s Hydra: how love, pain and sacrifice produced an Australian classic


‘Charm is her greatest creation’

Modern readers might respond to Clift the writer, but the focus on her years on Hydra suggests there is also great interest in her charismatic personality and tempestuous life with Johnson, as their dream of a cheap and sun-soaked creative island life slowly soured.

While researching the couple’s lives on Hydra, we came across a suggestive, eye-witness diary entry by a fellow writer, New Zealander Redmond Wallis, written in 1960.

Charm is her greatest creation, Charmian Clift, the great Australian woman novelist. Charmian is very curious. She is, potentially at least, a better writer than George but she has and is deliberately creating a picture of herself … which one feels she hopes will appear in her biography some day.

The head of a literary coterie, beautiful, brilliant, compassionate but still the mother of 3 children, running a house. Sweating blood against almost impossible difficulties – a husband inclined to unfounded jealousy, the heat, creative problems, the children, the problems foisted on her by other people … and yet producing great art.

Wallis’s observations are accurate, and prophetic, in noting Clift’s capacity for self-mythologising and her belief that both she and her Hydra idyll would be remembered. Nearly four decades after Clift returned from Greece to Australia amid the acclaim for My Brother Jack, she did become the subject of an excellent biography, Nadia Wheatley’s The Life and Myth of Charmian Clift (2001).

Nadia Wheatley’s biography of Clift.
Goodreads

But there were also failures amongst the success. The vision she and Johnston shared for a writing life on Hydra floundered amid poverty, alcoholism and illness. Their return to Australia in 1964 was an unlikely triumph for Johnston following the success of My Brother Jack, but Clift did not return with the same profile.

Wheatley also traced another of Clift’s great disappointments – her failure to complete her long-dreamt of autobiographical novel The End of the Morning, a struggle that was the subject of Susan Johnson’s 2004 novel, The Broken Book.

Clift did, however, leave an autobiography of sorts, in her newspaper articles. These often focused on domestic circumstances and everyday thoughts – ranging from conscription, to the rise of the Greek military junta after she left Hydra, to the changing social circumstances in Australia, and her daughter’s engagement.

These articles might not have always reflected the experiences of her readers – not everyone invited Sidney Nolan over for drinks – but Clift’s first-person narratives of a life lived with great passion and a sceptical eye to the consequences, garnered a large readership.

These readers responded to an incisive intellect with a vision of a culturally enriched Australia. She understood well the need for the country to outgrow its entrenched conservatism in order to realise its potential; and she emerged as a generous spirit who realised that the dreams and passions that drove her life were found everywhere in Australian suburbs.

Clift’s death reported by The Canberra Times in July, 1969.

Wallis’s detection of Clift’s hubris and narcissism paints her as a potentially tragic figure. It was a fate she perhaps fulfilled, when Johnston eventually wrote of Clift’s infidelities on Hydra. Clift took her own life on July 8 1969, an event that curtailed her voice while leaving behind a legacy of loyal and grieving readers.

A natural cosmopolitan

Clift’s is one of the voices – and one of the most important female voices – that rose above the crowd during the post-war period, as the western world unknowingly girded itself for the social revolution that was to come.

Through her columns she advocated for a bolder, more outward looking future, and as someone who was naturally cosmopolitan she was avidly interested in seeing Australia become more open to the world and better integrated into the Asia-Pacific.

She didn’t always get it right (an essay decrying the rise of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones stands out!), but she helped navigate the path to a more broad-minded and inclusive vision of Australia.

Over the years Clift has emerged as someone who was not only modern, but also engaged in that most post-modern of activities, self-creation. For while Wallis scorned Clift’s self-mythologising at the time, it might now be recognised as the finest gift of the creative artist – to re-make oneself in the image of a world yet to be made. It was her gift to her readers and Australia.The Conversation

Tanya Dalziell, Associate Professor, English and Literary Studies, University of Western Australia and Paul Genoni, Associate Professor, School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2019 Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Prizes Winners


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the winners of the 2019 Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Prizes.

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2019/12/06/143441/bridget-crack-wins-2019-tasmania-book-prize/

2020 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards Shortlists


The links below are to articles reporting on the 2020 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlists.

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2019/12/02/143249/2020-victorian-premiers-literary-awards-shortlists-announced/
https://www.booktopia.com.au/blog/2019/12/03/see-the-2020-victorian-premiers-literary-awards-shortlists/

Old white men dominate school English booklists. It’s time more Australian schools taught Australian books



Shakespeare’s plays are still some of the most studied texts in school English.
from shutterstock.com

Larissa McLean Davies, University of Melbourne

In recent weeks, Australian universities’ commitment to teaching Australian literature has come under scrutiny. This came amid revelations Sydney University has withdrawn funding from its Chair of Australian Literature – the nation’s first.

Later news of the possible closure of UWA Publishing compounded anxiety about the future of Australian literary studies. An article in The Australian newspaper noted there is no local university in which an undergraduate student can specialise in Australian literature.




Read more:
The open access shift at UWA Publishing is an experiment doomed to fail


The concern goes beyond tertiary studies. We conducted a project exploring secondary school teachers’ engagement with Australian texts. We found Australian books are not consistently taught in classrooms and, when they are, they more often than not marginalise female, refugee and Indigenous authors.

A professor famously said he would teach the novel Kangaroo, in the absence of appropriate texts by Australian authors.
Wikimedia commons

The demographic of Australian classrooms has changed significantly in the past fifty years. But the texts studied in English have remained remarkably stable.

In our multi-cultural society, where compulsory schooling is intended to help develop critically informed and empathetic citizens, this situation requires serious attention.

Why teachers don’t teach Aussie books

Studying English and literature in settler societies was historically intended to support students to value “Englishness”. As a result, Australian literature, if it was acknowledged at all, was systematically marginalised and maligned in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In the 1940s – in a precursor to what we now call the “cultural cringe” – an English professor famously renounced Australian literature. He said that, in the absence of appropriate books by Australians, he would lecture on DH Lawrence’s novel, Kangaroo.




Read more:
‘Australia has no culture’: changing the mindset of the cringe


Australia’s first national curriculum, in 2008, attempted to respond to this enduring imperial literary legacy. It mandated teaching Australian literature, placing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literature at the heart of this commitment.

Harper Lee is one of two female authors on the list of the top 15 books taught by English teachers we compiled from our national survey.
Wikimedia commons

Most states and territories have mandated text lists for school senior years, which generally include titles by Indigenous authors. But recent research in Victoria has shown school uptake of these texts is limited.

Our research shows teachers are often reluctant to select books by Australian authors. Reasons for this include a limited knowledge of diverse Australian texts, often due to a lack of exposure to Australian literature at school and university.

There are fewer teaching resources for Australian literature too and teachers are concerned about inaccurately representing the stories of Indigenous Australians.

Some teachers we spoke to also raised questions about the quality of Australian literature, as compared with more established canonical texts. One teacher said:

While I appreciate that it is important to have Australian literature in the curriculum […] I find that Australian texts are often very similar and this limits the number of themes and ideas the students are exposed to over the course of their education.

We also conducted a national survey of more than 700 English teachers, asking them what books they taught in class. The following top 15 texts were most referenced:



This should not be seen as a definitive list of texts most used in Australian classrooms. But it does offer insight into the relative status of Australian literature in the curriculum.

Most works on this list are written in the past, by male British or American writers. Most of these have formed part of the school literary canon for generations. There are only two texts by women, Hinton and Lee, and no texts by Australian women, migrant Australians or Aboriginal writers.




Read more:
Diversity, the Stella Count and the whiteness of Australian publishing


The only texts by Australians cited here are Marsden’s 1990s dystopian invasion series and Silvey’s 2009 coming of age novel.

How do we change it?

Our research showed teachers need more time, knowledge, resources and confidence to include more Australian literature in the classroom. This is not surprising given teachers we surveyed and interviewed often completed both secondary and tertiary studies in English without significant experiences of Australian literature.

Coleman’s speculative fiction novel has been studied by our teacher researchers.

In response, colleagues and I have partnered with the Stella Prize (a literary award for Australian women writers) to develop the teacher-researchers project.

Teachers select a text from the Stella long-list. They then work intensively with the project team – which includes teacher-educators and Australian literary studies experts – and university archives or other cultural collections, to develop resources to teach their chosen texts that can be shared.

Texts in this pilot project have included Heat and Light by Ellen Van Neervan, Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman and The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke.

This project will expand the literary knowledge and experiences of teachers, students and school communities involved. But a concerted, bipartisan and enduring commitment to resourcing scholarship and teaching of Australian writing across universities and schools is imperative.

If we are to ensure all students experience Australian stories from the past and the present, Australian writing, in all its rich diversity, must be a central part of a literary education.The Conversation

Larissa McLean Davies, Associate Professor Language and Literacy Education, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2019 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction Winner


The link below is to an article reporting on the winner of the 2019 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, ‘The Glad Shout,’ by Alice Robinson.

For more visit:
www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2019/11/14/142143/the-glad-shout-wins-readings-prize-for-new-australian-fiction/

‘Like volcanoes on the ranges’: how Australian bushfire writing has changed with the climate


Grace Moore, University of Otago

Bushfire writing has long been a part of Australian literature.

Tales of heroic rescues and bush Christmases describe a time when the fire season was confined only to summer months and Australia’s battler identity was forged in the flames.

While some of these early stories may seem melodramatic to the modern reader, they offer vital insights into the scale and timing of fires and provide an important counterpoint to suggestions from some politicians this week that Australia’s fire ecology remains unchanged in the 21st century.




Read more:
Mr Morrison, I lost my home to bushfire. Your thoughts and prayers are not enough


After an apparent bushfire, a horse team pulls timber at Lavers Hill in Victoria, circa 1895.
Museum Victoria/NLA

A contender for the first fictional representation of an Australian bushfire is Mary Theresa Vidal’s The Cabramatta Store (1850). Although she does not specify a month, Vidal is very clear regarding the season and the oppressive, sweltering heat:

It was one of the hottest days of an unusually hot and dry Australian summer. No breeze stirred the thin, spare foliage of the gum-trees, or moved the thick grove of wattles which grew at the back of a rough log hut.

Vidal’s account of the bushfire that ensues is evocative and intense:

The tall trees were some of them red hot to the top; the fire seemed to run apace, and every leaf and stack was so dry there was nothing to impede its progress.

Postcards from Australia


Cambridge University Press

Vidal was not alone in treating fire as a fleeting, one-off incident. Other early accounts, such as Ellen Clacy’s 1854 romance story A Bushfire, or the prolific novelist William Howitt’s A Boy’s Adventures in the Wilds of Australia of the same year follow Vidal in depicting the bushfire as an isolated catastrophe.

Howitt’s novel takes the form of a notebook kept by Herbert, a recent young migrant, who recounts the wonder of his new life in the Bush. Though he doesn’t experience a fire at first-hand, Herbert regales the reader with another family’s bushfire adventure in lieu of his own. Yet in closing his account, dated January 14, he writes:

I wonder whether, after all, I shall see a bush-fire. During the last week we have seen lurid smoke by day, and a deep-red cloud by night … immense fires are raging in the jungle.

For Herbert, surviving a bushfire is a settler rite of passage and again, the dating of his entry emphasises the fire as a uniquely summer concern. The boyish narrator, though, cannot appreciate the trauma and severity of Antipodean fire.

An annual event

Over time, the settler community began to understand fire as a recurring phenomenon and the tone of fire stories shifted from a triumphant celebration of settler endurance, to a more brooding acceptance that the flames would return another year.


Dymocks

So season-bound was this understanding, a sub-genre of bushfire fiction emerged: the Christmas fire story. These works responded to the Victorian enthusiasm for yuletide tales, while at the same time highlighting the often horrific seasonal tribulations of bush-dwellers.

While there are many examples of Christmas fire stories, one of the best-known is Anthony Trollope’s novella Harry Heathcote of Gangoil (1874).

The plot, which takes place in the sugar-growing region of Queensland, revolves around the protagonist Harry’s deep fear of fire. Trollope highlights the hostility of the climate, the dangers posed by deforestation, and the deep-rooted anxieties that haunted migrant farmers each summer.

Exotic and dangerous tales from Australia – these images were published in The Australasian sketcher, April 9, 1884 – depicted life for settlers and visitors to those back in England.
Troedel & Co, lithographer/State Library of Victoria

There are countless other works that allow us to map the Victorian era fire season.

Henry Kingsley’s sprawling 1859 novel The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn begins with another date reference:

Near the end of February 1857 … it was near the latter end of summer, burning hot, with the bushfires raging like volcanoes on the ranges, and the river reduced to a slender stream of water.

Once again here, the date identifies fires specifically with the summertime.

Climate emergency fiction

While 19th century fire stories offer a date-stamped and clearly defined fire season, today’s novelists work with a much less predictable set of environmental conditions.

The backdrops for the crime novelist Jane Harper’s thrillers The Dry (2016) and The Lost Man (2018) are tinder-dry rural communities, where years of drought mean fire could erupt at any moment.

Realist writing is capturing changing conditions, just as it did for settlers more than 150 years ago. Australia may always have been the “continent of fire”, as historian Tom Griffiths terms it, but literature shows us those fires are more prolific and less predictable now than ever before.The Conversation

Grace Moore, Senior lecturer in English, the University of Otago, New Zealand, University of Otago

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

UWA Publishing has helped take Australian poetry into the world. Its closure would be catastrophic for poets



Some of the many poetry books published in recent years by UWA Publishing.
UWA/Shutterstock

John Kinsella, Curtin University

I start with a disclaimer: I am a UWA Publishing poet. I have published a book of poetry with them (as well as a novel), and have two books forthcoming with them in 2020 — The Weave, a collection of poetry co-written with Thurston Moore, and an edited and introduced volume, The Collected Poems of C.J. Brennan, the great, Sydney-dwelling, symbolist poet (1870-1932).

Now, with UWAP on the verge of being shut down, partly through what I and many others see as a misguided sense of what constitutes an interface between universities and the broader public, the fate of these books is unclear.

The University of Western Australia has proposed that “UWA Publishing operations, in their current form, come to an end” to be replaced by an open-source digital publishing model. The jobs of its employees and director Terri-ann White would likely be “surplus to requirements”. In a statement released late last week it said

Current publishing works already in train this year and next year are expected to continue, as will consultation on innovation that will assist UWA Publishing to adapt to the demands of modern publishing, with options to examine a mix of print, greater digitisation and open access publishing.

But even if contracted books are published, the closure of this publisher would be catastrophic for Australian poetry. It would be as if those books didn’t exist as something connected to a future vision of writing with purpose and community. It’s a way of killing a humanistic, inter-cultural conversation. It ignores the people who do so much to make these conversations happen.

Many voices

UWAP, especially since 2016, publishes many poetry books a year — a very unusual act of creative support and belief. Its dynamic list includes such essential voices as Ania Walwicz, Candy Royalle, Peter Rose, Quinn Eades, Kate Lilley, David McCooey, and so many other voices of the now, along with collected and selected “greats” like Francis Webb, Lesbia Harford, and Dorothy Hewett.

Yes, I speak here from the inside, as an author. Yet I also speak from the outside as a reader of poetry, and with the incredible feeling of loss I get as a reader, at this ill-thought out proposal.

UWAP publishes many “big name” writers and scholars, but also many marginalised voices and/or voices that might find it hard to publish through purely market-driven publishing houses. It is part of the country’s literary and scholarly collective conscience.

Poetry is an active ingredient of social justice not only in what it can say and talk about, but in the way that it places language under pressure, and questions how expression is used in general discourse, and why. Words of oppression are so easily accepted — poetry questions the uses and “deployment” of language.

UWAP, under Terri-ann White, is part of a clutch of poetry publishers in Australia — and there are not many — who make a commitment to poetry beyond the canonical, and with a strong sense of the need to enact this scrutiny of language. What is said in poetry is seen to matter, and I believe it does.

I will never forget speaking to the late Fay Zwicky in 2017, in her last weeks, about her forthcoming Collected Poems (UWAP, edited by Lucy Dougan and Tim Dolin) and her discussion of proofs and the book itself. A life’s work — one of the great bodies of poetry produced in Australia.

Zwicky had published volumes of poetry with other vital publishers in the Australia poetry community, University of Queensland Press and Giramondo. And then the collation of a life’s work — a big project that required so much attention and goodwill. It was clearly necessary, if not essential, to her.

One of the many titles on the UWAP list that had a remarkable effect on so many readers, and which I noted in the Australian Book Review’s 2018 Books of the Year feature, was a collation of Lisa Bellear’s poetry — Aboriginal Country. As I said then, “the emphatic, committed voice of this remarkable Goernpil woman, feminist, poet, photographer, and activist shines through.” Not to have had access to Bellear’s work is unimaginable now we have encountered it gathered in this way.

There is huge engagement in seeing such a work through to press. It was edited (by Jen Jewel Brown), supported and seen onto the shelves via UWAP. An act of belief and support, among many such acts in a given year; all necessary.

Vitally, UWAP’s poetry list effectively manages that seemingly complex interaction between local work and that from the rest of the country. It seems too often assumed that a WA publisher will necessarily only publish WA work. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a total believer in local publishing, but there’s also a strong necessity for a publisher that brings many localities together, as Magabala Books in Broome does with Australian Aboriginal writing.

UWAP publishes poets (and writers in general) from all over the country, and brings in some overseas titles as well. Terri-ann White actively takes her lists to readers and publishers outside Australia, and is an energetic and steadfast voice in international publishing for her authors, and for Australian and world literature.

To close UWAP would be a damaging of shared difference, of making community and discussion out of diverse voices.

While I have had the good fortune over the years to publish with some of the major poetry houses around the English-speaking world, I am especially proud and excited when a book of mine is selected for the UWAP list.

Shutting down UWAP would sever many ties and disrupt many conversations just begun, or prevent other conversations, especially of conscience, ever taking place.The Conversation

John Kinsella, Professor of Literature and Environment, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The open access shift at UWA Publishing is an experiment doomed to fail



Open access publishing enables free and easy dissemination of work, but this does not meant that it engages with literary culture. Titles are isolated from bookshops, reviews, and cultural conversations.
Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash, CC BY-SA

Emmett Stinson, Deakin University

There has been no shortage of bad news for Australia’s literary and publishing sector in the last year. Major literary journals Island and Overland have been defunded. Only 2.7% of Australia Council funding went to books and writing. The Chair in Australian Literature at University of Sydney is not being renewed.

Two major projects by literary academics were recommended for funding by the Australian Research Council’s peer-review process in 2018, but were rejected by ministerial discretion. Melbourne University Publishing’s CEO, Louise Adler, resigned after the university asked for a change in editorial direction.

And now University of Western Australia has announced dramatic changes to its highly-decorated press, University of Western Australia Publishing. These changes involve not renewing the contract of Director Terri-ann White, deemed “surplus to requirements”, and an end to current publishing activities.

It would be hard to blame writers and literary academics for feeling paranoid. Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

A decline in literary publishing

In 2006, Mark Davis published The Decline of the Literary Paradigm in Australian Publishing.

He argued that between WWII and the 1990s, Australian publishers embraced their role in shaping national culture by subsidising unprofitable literary works with profits from more commercial titles. But by the 2000s, publishers had become neoliberal organisations that sought to maximise profits rather than support literary culture.

We are now seeing this same logic applied by universities.

Universities are increasingly focused on metrics driving enrolments, international rankings and research excellence. This, in turn, supports government funding and research grant income. Universities increasingly prioritise these metrics over cultural contributions that are harder to quantify.




Read more:
Why Australia needs a new model for universities


A statement released by UWA claims the changes will help “to guarantee modern university publishing into the future”, foreshadowing “a mix of print, greater digitisation and open access publishing.”

This statement might appear to mirror recent events at Melbourne University Press last year, but these situations are very different.

A leading literary publisher

Academics had long questioned Melbourne University Press’ publication of works with commercial and political appeal but no clear scholarly or cultural value.

Professor Ronan McDonald summed up this view earlier this year when he wrote that Melbourne University Press was “a trade press irritatingly obliged to publish a few academic titles”.

Melbourne University reaffirmed its commitment to the Press by hiring a respected scholarly publisher, founding director of Monash University Publishing Nathan Hollier, with a track record of producing scholarly titles alongside prize-winning works for a general readership.

UWA Publishing, on the other hand, is one of our leading literary publishers, cultivating authors and significant titles often overlooked by commercial publishers.

It published Josephine Wilson’s Extinctions, which won the Miles Franklin Award in 2017; is one of Australia’s foremost publishers of poetry; and has published scholarly works by leading Australian humanities academics, such as John Frow, Ross Gibson, and Ken Gelder. It has also published a series of traditional Noongar stories retold by the award-winning author Kim Scott

It has always balanced commitments to scholarly publishing with a significant literary list.

Open access university presses: a failed experiment

The notion that a respected publishing house can be replaced by open access publishing is disproved by examining other Australian university presses, such as the now-closed University of Adelaide Press, founded in 2009 with a mission to be an open access publisher.




Read more:
Grief, loss, and a glimmer of hope: Josephine Wilson wins the 2017 Miles Franklin prize for Extinctions


While the press generated many interesting titles, it failed to have a cultural impact. Open access enables free and easy dissemination of work, but this does not meant that it engages with literary culture. Scholars can access works freely, but titles are isolated from bookshops, reviews, and cultural conversations.

Sydney University Press, which was relaunched in 2003 after closing in 1987, has employed a “hybrid approach” to open access. It is now returning to a more standard university publishing model, establishing a research series with dedicated editorial boards of academics, and even publishing a novel, Joshua Lobb’s The Flight of Birds, shortlisted for the Readings New Fiction Prize in 2019.

Open access has an important role to play in academic publishing, but it is laughable to claim UWA Publishing’s cultural impact can simply be replaced through open access.

Can it be saved?

There is a campaign underway to save UWA Publishing, including a petition with over 6,000 signatures.

It is hard to know at this stage if it will have any effect. It may be the publishing house is the victim of larger financial pressures currently affecting University of Western Australia.

This, of course, is the problem for the literary sector more generally: when cuts are needed, literature is always first on the chopping block.The Conversation

Emmett Stinson, Lecturer in Writing and Literature, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Reading progress is falling between year 5 and 7, especially for advantaged students: 5 charts



Are we failing to challenge the reading
skills in advantaged students?
from shutterstock.com

Peter Goss, Grattan Institute

There is a hidden problem with reading in Australian schools. Ten years’ worth of NAPLAN data show improvements in years 3, 5 and 9. But reading progress has slowed dramatically between years 5 and 7.

And, somewhat surprisingly, the downward trend is strongest for the most advantaged students.

Years 5-7 typically include the transition from primary to secondary school. Yet the reading slowdown can’t just be blamed on this transition, because numeracy progress between the years has improved. So, what is going wrong with reading?

Reading base camp is higher each year

Progress in reading is like climbing a mountain. The better your reading skills, the higher you are. The higher you are, the further you can see. And the further you can see, the more sense you can make of the world.

Like a real mountain, the reading mountain must be tackled in stages. NAPLAN – the National Assessment Program, Literacy and Numeracy – provides insight into those stages, by measuring reading skills at years 3, 5, 7 and 9.

The good news is that the average level of reading skills of year 3 students – reading base camp – is getting higher.

To make the results easier to interpret, I’ve converted the NAPLAN data into the equivalent year level of reading achievement. For instance, in 2010, children in year 3 were reading at equivalent year level 2.6 when they sat NAPLAN. This means they were four-and-a-half months behind a benchmark set at the long-run average for metropolitan non-Indigenous students.

By 2019, the mean reading achievement among all year 3 children was equivalent to year 3.0, meeting this benchmark.

Over ten years, the improvement has been worth about five months of extra learning.



Reading progress improved in years 7-9

There is more good news in secondary school. Recent cohorts have made better progress between years 7 and 9 than earlier cohorts. My best estimate is that learning progress has increased by almost three months of learning over this two-year stage of schooling.



Students in years 3-5 haven’t made the same gains. But (if anything) they are heading in the right direction.



But progress in years 5-7 has fallen

Something is going wrong between year 5 and 7. Students are making six months less progress than they used to. It’s not that they are getting worse at reading; they just aren’t climbing as fast as previous cohorts.



This drop in reading progress can’t simply be attributed to the transition from primary to secondary. Among other things, numeracy progress during this stage of schooling has increased by about six months since 2010.

It’s as if students have started skipping a term in each of their final two years of primary school, but only in English, not in maths. And not all groups of students are affected equally.

Advantaged students are affected the most

Reading progress has slowed the most for students from advantaged backgrounds. For instance, students whose parents are senior managers make ten months less progress from year 5 to 7 than earlier cohorts.



Interestingly, the student groups with the biggest slowdown in years 5-7 have also shown the most improvement in year 5 reading.

This pattern – big gains in year 5 that evaporate by year 7 – rules out poor early reading instruction as a cause. This reading problem isn’t about phonics, but a failure to stretch students in upper primary school.

My analysis also shows:

  • the years 5-7 reading slump is happening in every state and territory
  • Queensland and Western Australia had big drops in years 5-7 reading progress in 2015, the year those two states moved year 7 from primary to secondary
  • students from English-speaking backgrounds are affected more than those who don’t speak English at home
  • neither gender nor Indigenous status affects the strength of the slowdown.

So, what is going on?

Maybe some primary school teachers focus more on helping students reach a good minimum standard of reading, and not on how far they go. This fits with the trend in year 5; no need to push hard if students are already doing well.

But it doesn’t explain the large drop in progress in Queensland and WA the year they shifted year 7 to secondary school.

Maybe schools push hard on literacy and numeracy until students have done their last NAPLAN test in that school. This would help explain the 2015 drop in reading progress for Queensland and WA, but not the divergent picture for reading and numeracy progress, including in the Queensland/WA change-over year.

Maybe students are reading less as technology becomes ubiquitous. This could explain the difference between reading and numeracy. But why would it reduce progress between years 5 and 7 but not between years 3 and 5 or 7 and 9?

Increased use of technology also fails to explain the sudden slump in Queensland and WA in 2015.

Other potential explanations need to explain the complex pattern of outcomes, including the fact the reading slowdown is so widespread even while numeracy progress is going the other way.

My best guess is that some advantaged primary schools focus on literacy and numeracy until the year 5 NAPLAN tests are done, but then switch to project-based learning, leadership or year 6 graduation projects. These “gap year” activities don’t displace maths hour (which drives numeracy progress) but may disrupt reading hour or other activities that build reading skills.

Meanwhile, disadvantaged primary schools are very aware of the need to keep building their students’ reading levels to set them up for success in secondary school.

This story is speculative, but it fits the data.

What next?

Education system leaders need to figure out what is happening in reading between years 5 and 7, and quickly. They should look closely at upper primary years, as well as the transition to secondary school. This is much more subtle than a traditional back-to-basics narrative.

In the meantime, teachers in years 5, 6 and 7 should be aware their students are making less progress than previous cohorts, and focus on extending reading capabilities for students who are already doing well. All students deserve to climb higher on their reading mountain.The Conversation

Peter Goss, School Education Program Director, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.