It is now thirteen years since OUP Australia published the second edition of The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (nine years after ‘Whitlam, Edward Gough’ launched the first edition). Peter Pierce, generally welcomed OCAL2 in his ABR review (‘A bountiful companion’, December 1994– January 1995): ‘The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature may be a touch too reverential towards its subject, but has enriched its study.’
OUP tells Advances that it has ‘no plans at this stage for a revision of OCAL’. Let’s hope it isn’t long before one is underway. A major revision of this kind takes two or three years to prepare (OCAL2 runs to 850 pages and more than 3000 individual entries). All reference works, however venerable – and OCAL is indispensable – date fast. Many celebrated and award-winning writers are not represented in OCAL2. Here are just a few of them: Delia Falconer, Richard Flanagan, Raimond Gaita, David Marr, Sonya Hartnett, Gail Jones, Hazel Rowley, Kim Scott, Peter Temple, Christos Tsiolkas, Alexis Wright and, of course, J.M. Coetzee, who didn’t call Australian home in 1994. Then there are the major contemporaries whose oeuvres are discussed in OCAL2, but only up to 1992 or 1993. Think of the recent works of authors such as Peter Carey, Helen Garner, Peter Goldsworthy, David Malouf, Alex Miller, Les Murray and Peter Porter.
If and when OCAL3 does appear, though, it’s a fair bet that it will still close with one ‘Zwicky, Fay’.
The view from America
At least we have a new companion to Australian literature, this time from Camden House, Rochester, New York. The editors are Nicholas Birns (who nominates his favourites books in ‘Best Books of the Year’ on page 18) and Rebecca McNeer, Associate Dean at Ohio Southern University. Unlike the Oxford tome, A Companion to Australian Literature since 1900 is not an alphabetical reference work. It is divided into five parts (Identities; Writing across Time; International Reputations; Writers and Regions; Beyond the Canon). There are thirty-two contributors. Peter Pierce, who is now editing The Cambridge Companion to Australian Literature (for publication in 2008), will review the Birns– McNeer companion in early 2008.
Happily, OUP Australia has just added to its long list of Australian companions. Neal Blewett reviews The Oxford Companion to Australian Politics (edited by Brian Galligan and Winsome Roberts) on page 10 of this issue. Doubtless tantalisingly for the editors, OCAP (OUP is fond of acronyms) went to press long before the November 24 federal election. Playing it safe perhaps, they reserved an entry for ‘Rudd, Kevin’.
The Calibre Prize
Due to the large number of new titles that we wanted to review or briefly note in the summer issue, we have decided to announce the winner of the Calibre Prize – and publish the winning essay – in the next issue. This will appear in February.
Vale Andrea Stretton 1952–2007
We don’t have a surfeit of arts broadcasters in this country, especially on television – not helped by the fact that ABC TV is chary in its coverage of books (literature as burlesque, if you like). Andrea Stretton, who has died suddenly at the age of fifty-five, was a pioneering television presenter of literary news and ideas. Beginning in the 1980s, she co-hosted (with Dinny O’Hearn) The Book Show on SBS television, an influential model that has spawned several literary programs, some informative, some regrettable. From 1998 to 2001 Andrea Stretton presented the ABC TV program Sunday Afternoon. She was artistic director of the 1998 and 1999 Olympic arts festivals. Her warm and equable manner, her high standards of preparation, her wide interests, were much admired.
ABR is a tiny outfit, with two editors and an office manager (two of whom work part time). Given our modest resources, the contribution our volunteers make is invaluable. This month we salute one of our longest-serving and most popular volunteers, Danny Toner, who heads off in the New Year to his beloved Dublin – to write, to genuflect at every available Samuel Beckett monument, and quite possibly to carouse. The Melbourne office won’t be the same without Danny, who, in addition to editing the magazine with us, has kept us apprised of trends in heavy metal music, Collingwood’s fortunes and the tribulations of the heart. Happily, he will continue to write for us from Ireland.