Words Upon Words

November 16, 2010 at 8:52 am (Uncategorized)

Waiting, waiting… I’m waiting on a call from Western Australia for a freelance story I’m researching… it should have come an hour ago, but as they’re 3 hours behind in Perth, I could be here a while (raps fingers). Not to flick the gift horse’s tonsils or anything, but this is a tiny story, a mere 500 words, and it’s requiring lots more work than it’s worth. You get that, but it’s not ideal.

Three things while I’ve got the chance: award-winning short story writer, novelist and (I can attest) workshop Wonderwoman Cate Kennedy is the editor of this year’s Best Australian Stories for Black Inc. Judging from her lively conversation with Ramona Koval on yesterday’s Book Show, this collection is a doozy. Cate received hundreds of entries in the open call for submissions, more evidence (as if we needed any) that short story writing and writing in general is alive and well Down Under, something I celebrate even as it makes my own writing life a damn sight harder.

I was planning to buy a copy anyway, even before realising I know one of the featured authors, but now I’m especially looking forward to it.  I did my PhD alongside Joshua Lobb, and not only is he a supremely talented little bastardo, he’s also one of life’s good guys, and I am delighted he’s cracked Cate’s final list. I can’t wait to read his story. Now a lecturer in the Faculty of Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong, Joshua is an A.S. Byatt expert as well as a theatre nut. I saw his play Wilde Tales performed at the Belvoir St Theatre – a radical reimagining of Oscar Wilde’s Fairy Tales – and I know this story, ‘I forgot my programme so I went to get it back,’ is going to be just as funny and original and true. He’s a delightful writer and all round top human being, and I’ll report back with the verdict on his story once I get my grubby paws on a copy of the collection.

The second thing is the rumoured imminent demise of the print version of Meanjin, one of Australia’s longest running and most well-regarded literary journals. All plans remain unconfirmed, but persistent whispers suggest outgoing editor Sophie Cunningham decided not to renew her contract not only so she could focus on her own writing (Cunningham being a respected novelist in her own right), but because she wasn’t much enamoured with the idea of steering a purely digital ship. Can’t say I blame her – it’s great that so much quality writing is available online, but nothing comes close to the real thing. Online journals are brilliant for research and interest purposes, but I don’t love curling up on the couch with my computer, and I never will.

Finally, back to the Book Show, the book being read on the First Person segment at the moment is Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin, the harrowing non-fiction account of journalist Griffin’s experience during a six-week, drug-induced transformation into a black man for the purposes of researching life in the racially segregated South of 1959. It is largely horrifying – some of the white men who pick up the hitchhiking Griffin are so unspeakably ghastly that I was choking back sobs by the end of today’s reading – with only occasional glimpses of decency. It is actually impossible for me to inhabit the minds of these people who were so full of baseless hate for their fellow human being – I just can’t begin to access their ugly thinking – but it is an incredible story, absolutely unforgettable, and it should be required reading everywhere.



  1. Grad said,

    Actually, Black Like Me *was* required reading for some of us. I can’t remember if it was high school or college, but I still have my paperback copy from back in the day. I don’t recall any of its details (I mean, we’re talking 40 years ago), but I do remember its emotion. Good luck on the story coming your way!!

    • doctordi said,

      I was wondering if that was the case for US students, Graddikins – and I wonder if it’s still the case. It’s brutal.

  2. adminsmit said,

    My daughter, barely past Bratz dolls asked if she would be allowed to go to a screening of Missippi Burning at school.
    I choked – a thoroughly true face forward look into some of the blackest spots of our collective humanity. Life in Australia makes it easy to want o be part of a big joint consciousness there is a lightness and clarity and mass outrage when someone does cross the line – but having seen firsthand some of the brutality that lurks at the bottom of the teacup, I acknowledge that we need to face up to the whole picture. If anyone is feeling strong, reading “Country of my Skull” by Antje Krog is the recount by one of the worlds true poets of the brutaltiy of man but also the humanity behind some of the official processes put n place to deal with them.
    I said yes about the movie.

    • doctordi said,

      I haven’t read the Krog… I’ll have to look it up now – I’ve not even heard of it before. But yes, Mississippi Burning is a must see. It still gives me the shivers, just thinking about it.

  3. Lilian Nattel said,

    I read Black Like Me in high school. What stuck with me most wasn’t only the injustice but that he got sick afterward from the chemicals. It seemed so wrong to take such risks personally and journalistically and get sick as a result.

    • doctordi said,

      Oh, I didn’t know that (the final instalment is tomorrow) – I hope not very sick, as that will be upsetting. At the end of today’s reading, he’d just been picked up by his family after seven weeks away. His kids were hugging him, and he said he growled aloud something like, ‘How can we do it to each other when there’s things like *this* in life?’

      It’s a question that does not age a day.

  4. litlove said,

    I must be the only person then never to have heard of Black Like Me. Can see I should sort that out! I was going to write about how literature doesn’t seem to travel so well between continents. I realise how few Australian writers I know, which is silly, because surely there are fabulous novels I’m missing out on. The UK and America swap a lot of books between them (though by no means all), and then exchange dies apart from the odd novel here and there that makes it to a foreign rights sale. What a shame! I expect markets in trouble get very insular, too.

    • doctordi said,

      Let me hasten to reassure you, LL – I’d never heard of it before either. Very glad I have now, though, even though it’s beyond awful listening to this ORDEAL of prejudice and debasement.

      We get lots of UK and American books here, lots and lots and lots, but unless you’re talking a surefire sales win like Kate Morton, I’m not sure the reverse is true, or if our titles do make it over there, I think they mostly sink like stones just in the flood of competition.

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