TEXT Vol 12 No 1 April 2008


What is driving writing-academics, just at present?


What is driving writing-academics, just at present? The essays in this issue of TEXT give some indication of interest, anxiety, curiosity and other motivations to write. In most cases it is clear that there is a fair bit of rumbling in the rooms: people are doing some very serious thinking about what writing means in the academy, and how we might position ourselves as individuals and our discipline to move forward, now that we are nearly a decade into the twenty-first century.

There are questions raised about currently untapped areas for research and practice. Rose Williamson, for example, suggests the field of magazine writing; Donna Lee Brien describes the possibilities offered in the area of foodwriting; Murphy and Neilsen explore the field of writing as therapy, and the links it has to creative writing theory and practice. All are research and writing areas that are undersubscribed by writing academics - both staff and higher degrees students - but that offer considerable advantages of social interest, and publication options. Then there are essays that discuss conceptual or pragmatics aspects of the writer's life. Gonsalves and Chan describe how Pierre Bourdieu's notion of the habitus can be used to explicate the development of a writer's tastes and career; Johnston and Krauth examine the complexities of the peer review that is so central to academic publishing, and lay out very clearly how the field of academic publishing does work, and can perhaps be made to work better; and Davis and St Vincent Welch, in a lyrical almost-conversation, explore the contested space where the public and private meet, for teachers of writing. How do we manage to perform in the face of personal grief, of the distractions afforded by everyday life, of fear?

The problem of everyday life - grief, distraction and fear - is closely associated with another issue examined by a number of contributors; an issue that crops up regularly in the pages of TEXT. This is the social responsibility of writing and of writers. Allan Robins, in his essay published here, points out that 'Because texts are in and of the world, they have an effect on their readers that can translate into effects on extratextual realities'. This concept is at the heart of several of these essays. Karin Vesk, for instance, writes about the creative potentiality of centos and commonplace books, but central to her essay is the efficacy of writing in a time - this time - when social justice is hard to find. Her point in some ways exemplifies the discussion in Williams and Webb's essay about the paucity of creative writing that takes on the global challenges to human rights, especially the current bugbear of terrorism and its obverse, the so-called War on Terror. Sue Page revisits the Holocaust and explores the agonistics of writing about - representing - an event that is outside her own experience, yet has inflected her worldview, and that of many young readers. She posits another way of writing the Holocaust that might contribute to a more positive, more equitable, more productive space of exchange. Robins does something similar in teasing out the complexities for non-Indigenous writers of representing Indigeneity. In each of these essays, the authors make the case for a writing that is 'in and of the world', that attempts to translate the content of a text into 'extratextual realities'.

Paul Dawson's self-avowed polemical essay comes from a different position to those described above because he opens up space for an important discussion we welcome in TEXT. His essay tackles the question of what constitutes research in the field of writing; how writing is (or is not) aligned with English studies, cultural studies or the creative industries; whether writing is really a pedagogical rather than a research discipline; and the institutional and bureaucratic pressures on writers in the academy to toe some sort of line. All are aspects that deserve illumination. We encourage contributors to submit essays for next year's issues that explore the nature of research for writers; the institution of the language of creative/practice-led/practice-based or emergent research; case studies on your own practice; the alignment (or not) between research, practice and teaching; or the conceptual space of an academic discipline. Australia is poised at the point of a major national audit of research quality; the UK and Aotearoa/New Zealand are well into their cycles of such assessment; the US has its own measures and processes. How does the discipline of writing engage with such administrative frameworks? Where do we aim our sights, for the next decade or so?

And in a related sphere, published writers in Australia are driven to mild excitement each April because this is the time for the ELR (Educational Lending Right) and PLR (Public Lending Right) surveys which lead to an annual allocation of taxpayers' money to support authors. This payment is designed to compensate writers for the lending of their books by libraries. Books are rated according to the numbers of copies on public and school/university library shelves.

The Public Lending Right Committee Annual Report 2006-07 [1] contains an interesting series of appendices which list in order, for example

  • the top 100 Australian-authored books in Australian public libraries in the last 3 years;
  • the same for the last 33 years; and
  • the top 100 Australian-authored books in Australian educational libraries last year.

The top 15 in public libraries in the last 3 years are:

1 Fox, Mem Possum Magic
2 Fox, Mem Where is the Green Sheep?
3 Courtenay, Bryce Whitethorn
4 Reilly, Matthew Seven Ancient Wonders
5 Reilly, Matthew Scarecrow
6 Bruce, Jill B. Flags and Emblems of Australia
7 Marchetta, Melina Looking for Alibrandi
8 Winton, Tim Dirt Music
9 Morrissey, Di The Reef
10 Courtenay, Bryce Brother Fish
11 Courtenay, Bryce Four Fires
12 Courtenay, Bryce Smoky Joe's Cafe
13 Vaughan, Marcia K. Wombat Stew
14 Li, Cunxin Mao's Last Dancer
15 Lester, Alison Are We There Yet? A Journey Around

The top 15 in public libraries in the last 33 years are:

1 Courtenay, Bryce Tommo & Hawk
2 Courtenay, Bryce The Potato Factory: a Novel
3 Jennings, Paul Unbelievable! More Surprising Stories
4 McCullough, Colleen The Thorn Birds
5 Jennings, Paul Quirky Tails: More Oddball Stories
6 Jennings, Paul Uncanny! Even More Surprising Stories
7 McCullough, Colleen An Indecent Obsession
8 Courtenay, Bryce Jessica
9 Courtenay, Bryce Solomon's Song
10 Jennings, Paul Unmentionable! More Amazing Stories
11 Marsden, John The Night is for Hunting
12 Fox, Mem Possum Magic
13 Base, Graeme The Eleventh Hour: a Curious Mystery
14 Jennings, Paul Unreal! Eight Surprising Stories
15 Marsden, John So Much To Tell You

And the top 15 last year in educational libraries are:

1 Fox, Mem Possum Magic
2 Vaughan, Marcia K. Wombat Stew
3 Rodda, Emily Rowan of Rin
4 Klein, Robin Hating Alison Ashley
5 Jennings, Paul The Paw Thing
6 Baker, Jeannie Where the Forest Meets the Sea
7 Gleitzman, Morris Two Weeks With the Queen
8 Park, Ruth
Playing Beatie Bow
9 Fox, Mem Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge
10 Jennings, Paul
The Cabbage Patch Fib
11 Gleitzman, Morris Misery Guts
12 Klein, Robin Boss of the Pool
13 Jennings, Paul Round the Twist
14 Klein, Robin Penny Pollard's Diary
15 Gleitzman, Morris Blabber Mouth

These three lists seem to suggest:

  • we should not stop teaching about writing for children and adolescents;
  • we should probably teach more about writing in popular genres;
  • we should possibly have more of these authors on reading lists for our students;
  • and we should give up on thinking that our academic books are going to be best-sellers.

Most sad of all, perhaps, is this clear message: What we might think of as fine adult literature (and here we'll exclude Dirt Music) isn't ordered in multiple copies by libraries and doesn't hold a widespread place on library shelves. On the other hand, we should heartily congratulate the listed authors for producing work that people will borrow and love to read.

1. The report was published on 23 October 2007 and is available at: http://www.arts.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/75606/PLR_annual_report_06_07.pdf return to text

Jen Webb and Nigel Krauth



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Vol 12 No 1 April 2008
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Jen Webb