Sitting, a few years ago, in the audience at a writers’ festival in the south-west of Western Australia, at a panel session hosted by Jennifer Byrne, I was struck by the widespread reaction to one of the panellists announcing that the book she had chosen to discuss was Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet (now securely canonised as an ‘Australian national classic’, as Fiona Morrison’s essay in this volume points out). A ripple of reverential approval went through the auditorium and discreet murmurs of ‘my favourite book’ were exchanged. This response demonstrated the feeling aroused by Winton and his work in a large section of the general reading public, particularly in the West.
The introduction to this major collection of critical essays on Winton’s work opens on this note. Winton is ‘one of Australia’s most popular … novelists’. Yet, for the editors, the national – and increasingly international – popularity of Winton’s writing has perhaps complicated and delimited critical attention to that work and its undeniable literariness – that is, he is both a ‘popular and literary’ writer. Their hope is that this volume ‘will begin to redress the relative dearth of critical debate about the literature of Tim Winton’.