Glyn Davis reviews 'The Best Australian Essays 2016' edited by Geordie Williamson

Glyn Davis reviews 'The Best Australian Essays 2016' edited by Geordie Williamson

The Best Australian Essays 2016

edited by Geordie Williamson

Black Inc. $29.99 pb, 320 pp, 9781863958851

An annual challenge: how to select essays which capture the moment but live beyond the immediate?

For some, rigour matters. The series editor for The Best American Essays invites magazine editors and writers to submit contributions to a Boston postal address. The rules are strict: an essay is a literary work that shows ‘an awareness of craft and forcefulness of thought’. It must be printed during the year, in full, in an American periodical. Unpublished work cannot be considered, nor extracts from longer works. The endless flow of submissions is reduced to just 100 potential essays and submitted to a guest editor – in 2016 Jonathan Franzen. The resulting volume includes a list of essays considered, so readers can test their judgement against the editor.

Geordie Williamson, critic and Picador publisher, takes a more expansive view. There are unpublished essays in The Best Australian Essays 2016: from Vicki Hastrich on art and death, and an unflinching reflection on her vagina and childbirth by Tegan Bennett Daylight. Most contributions touch on an Australian theme, though several essays do not. Williamson has curated carefully but says little about his editorial decisions. There are essays from fifteen women and fourteen men, with the women published first. The collection pivots on a discussion about football by Anna Spargo-Ryan, a homage to her grandfather’s deep love of the Norwood Reds,gently shifting the voice from female to male. Williamson has commissioned some pieces, sourced others from small magazines and web publications. Every rule offered by the American guide is broken somewhere, usually to good effect.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Glyn Davis

Glyn Davis

Glyn Davis is Professor of Political Science in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne, and has been Vice-Chancellor of the university since 2005. Professor Davis co-chaired the Australia 2020 summit in 2008. His publications include The Australian Policy Handbook (Allen & Unwin, 2007), The Future of Australian Governance (Allen & Unwin, 2000), and Are You Being Served?: State, Citizens and Governance (Allen & Unwin, 2001). His recent Boyer Lectures are now available: The Republic of Learning (ABC Books).

Published in March 2017, no. 389

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.