Yesterday I talked generally about teaching at Clarion South and shared the book recommendations of two students, Tracy Meszaro and Amanda Le Bas de Plumetot. What I didn't touch on is the ongoing debate about the essential uniqueness of Australian literature. For decades, there's been a tension between the perceived need to write fiction that conforms to some kind of standard familiar to the United Kingdom and the United States--in a sense literally writing for readers in those countries--and the need to not be bound by that constraint. There's sometimes a kind of assumption among Australian writers I talk to that they need to strip out local referants to be of interest to a larger audience. This isn't exactly a moot point. For one thing, the market for fiction in Australia is much smaller--Australia has a population of only 21,000,000, which is about 12,000,000 less than Canada. (To put that in further context, over 10,000,000 people live in and around New York City.)
I've also heard skepticism based on the idea of Australia having a majority population raised with a British heritage and a landscape similar to that of the United States in its size and frontier mentality. Just how different can such writing be from the rest of the English-speaking world?
This argument I'm not sure I buy. I think the unique particulars of the Australian landscape, and an isolation even more profound than that of the United States during its early days, contributes to a uniqueness that is also nurtured by its own role in and memory of major world events. Add to this the increasing influence of the Pacific Rim and the growing acceptance of aboriginal themes, along with the increasing presence of non-white immigrants, and I think writers and readers can see a blueprint for an even more differentiated Australian literature.
More tomorrow about books that haven't yet been published in the U.S. and U.K. but should...In the meantime, here are some more recommendations by Clarion South students, in their own words...