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News from ABR

March 2022, no. 440

News from ABR

March 2022, no. 440

A new column for illiberal times

These are critical, alarming – even alarmist times. In the March issue, 2021 Calibre Prize winner Theodore Ell writes about a recent outrage in Canberra that ‘exposes a violent, expansionist nihilism within our culture’: the descent by thousands of anti-vaccination demonstrators on the national capital and the subsequent closure of a popular charity event. Mindful of these illiberal developments, ABR is pleased to announce the creation of a new monthly column focused on politics. With generous support from the Judith Neilson Institute, we will publish extended long-form political commentaries intended as intellectual provocations across a range of contentious issues such as native title, climate change, lowering the voting age, and state and federal politics.

The column builds on the success of the magazine’s recent turn towards a higher proportion of commentary pieces, and will draw on its existing pool of expert commentators while broadening the net to include new contributors, whose original and incisive approaches to these issues capture the temper of these activist times. We hope the column will influence political discourse in Australia, shifting it beyond the confines of the daily news-cycle into the wider context of informed intellectual and cultural debate.

The column kicks off this issue with ABR Rising Star Mindy Gill’s critique of the increasingly dogmatic assumptions of identity politics and the resulting ossification of our reviewing culture. But there will be plenty more to come this year, and we welcome enquiries on potential topics of interest.


Prizes galore

The ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize is now open, with a closing date of 2 May. Once again, because of the generosity of ABR Patron Ian Dickson, we are able to offer total prize money of $12,500, of which the winner will receive $6,000 (there are two other cash prizes). The judges on this occasion are Amy Baillieu, Melinda Harvey, and John Kinsella.

On 19 January, Anthony Lawrence was named the winner of the 2022 Peter Porter Poetry Prize at a Zoom ceremony. All five contestants read the poems shortlisted and published in our January–February issue, then Morag Fraser – past Chair of ABR and Peter Porter’s biographer – announced the overall winner, who receives $6,000. (Morag supports the Porter Prize with fellow Patron Andrew Taylor). Of the winning poem, ‘In the Shadows of Our Heads’, the judges – Jaya Savige, Sarah Holland-Batt, and Anders Villani – had this to say: ‘Brimming with surprise, supple, pitch-perfect imagery, linguistic energy and wit, “In the Shadows of Our Heads” is a stunningly vibrant poem by a masterful technician at the top of his game. This unusual love poem revels in the unpredictability of those connections, intellectual and physical, forged between simpatico minds and damaged bodies across space and time. A vivid, potent reminder of love’s dance of proximity and distance – at a time when these fundamental bases of human intimacy have been thrown into fraught relief – it is a work deftly attuned to our present moment.’

This is the second time Anthony Lawrence has won our poetry prize; he did so first in 2010, the year before it was renamed the Porter Prize. After the official announcement, he told Advances: ‘To win the Porter Prize is not only a wonderful surprise, given the quality of the other poems on the shortlist, but it’s an important personal pleasure, given my respect and admiration for Peter Porter and his enduring influence in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, when the Calibre Essay Prize closed on 17 January, we had received 566 entries from seventeen countries. Judging is now underway (the panel consists of Declan Fry, Peter Rose, and Beejay Silcox). We look forward to naming the winner – and publishing his or her essay – in the May issue.


Adelaide Writers’ Week

This year’s Adelaide Writers’ Week, the fourth and last under director Jo Dyer (soon to stand for federal parliament as an independent), will run from 5 to 10 March, bringing a host of international luminaries to our recently unrestricted shores. On the final day, ABR Editor Peter Rose will chair a session with critic and former ABR Editor Kerryn Goldsworthy, historian Julia Horne, and editor Nick Horne to celebrate the publication of The Education of Young Donald (NewSouth, 2021), which collects the trilogy of memoirs penned by one of Australia’s great public intellectuals, Donald Horne. Horne, best known for coining that oft-misunderstood phrase ‘the lucky country’, continues to exercise an influence on our national self-understanding, the style and insight of his writing setting a high watermark for cultural criticism, then as now. This session, which features two members of Horne’s immediate family, will examine the course of Horne’s career from the army to The Bulletin to chancellery and reflect intimately on his public and private legacies. The session is free and will be held at 1:15pm on the West Stage in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden. Meanwhile, the Editor and Christopher Menz will lead the latest ABR tour, with a full contingent.


The poor cousin

Fund the Arts represents a needed and refreshing intensification of the campaign (passionate but hitherto pretty informal) to focus attention on the woeful neglect of the arts in this country and to influence the election to parliament of sympathetic independents. David Latham, one of the organisers of the campaign, writes about it here. There will be a related public event at Readings Hawthorn at 6.30 pm on 4 April. Speakers include Emily Bitto, Peter Rose, Clare Forster, and Ben Eltham.


John Bryson (1935–2022)

John Bryson – author and former barrister – has died, aged eighty-six. Bryson was best known as the author of 1985’s Evil Angels, which examined the trial of Lindy and Michael Chamberlain. The book was lauded as a forensic study of one of the most egregious miscarriages of justice in Australian history. Spiros Zavos, reviewing the book for ABR in December 1985, noted that it is ‘much more than a reworking of the arguments for and against Lindy Chamberlain’s innocence. Bryson has consciously tried to create a work of art ... Like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, a work he has been clearly influenced by, Evil Angels is concerned about the context of the tragedy and its impact on the leading players.’

Bryson had a long association with ABR, both as writer and Patron. He first appeared in the magazine in November 1980: a short story titled ‘Blowing It’. (You can read the story, and Spiros Zavos’s review, in our digital archive.) Bryson went on to appear in ten other issues, most recently in 2013.


Changes at ABR

In early February, ABR farewelled its digital editor (and all-round technological troubleshooter), Jack Callil. Jack was an editorial intern in 2018 and soon joined the staff. During his three and a half years with us, he made many notable contributions, from the ‘Book of the Week’ feature (which he proposed within a week of his arrival) to a major overhaul of the magazine’s website in 2019 of which we are all the beneficiaries. Many of our contributors will have benefited from Jack’s editorial nous and scrupulous proofreading.

Jack now takes up a position as deputy production editor at Crikey. While he will continue his association with ABR as a freelance contributor, we would like to thank him for the stylish digital stamp he has left on the magazine. Ave atque vale!


Editor’s Diary

While he has doubtless gone on recording our foibles in his journal, not for some years has the Editor given us some excerpts for publication. But over the summer – when not watching an inordinate amount of cricket and tennis, we suspect – he compiled a selection from his 2021 journal. This one is rather different in tone from past offerings, as he admitted to Advances: ‘Living through a pandemic has changed all of us. Covid has also coincided with a marked deterioration in the health of my aged mother, who moved into aged care last March. Like so many Australians, and like so many of my friends and colleagues, I have experienced the feelings of anguish and impotence that go with caring for a loved relative during lockdown. For better or worse, the parents of writers must indulge their recording progeny. In making my selection, I felt obliged to relate something of my mother’s story. To have done otherwise – left out the dark stuff and retained only the editorial cakes and ale – would have been blithe, even disingenuous.’

Peter Rose’s diary can be found here. A longer selection appears on the website, and it’s this version that he has recorded for the ABR Podcast.

From the New Issue

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