Advances

Robert Dessaix and China

During Writers’ Week last month, many of the writers on the program were outraged to learn of the plight of their fellow guest Robert Dessaix. The celebrated author of A Mother’s Disgrace and Arabesques was scheduled to fly to China at the conclusion of Writers’ Week, having been invited by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to take part in Shanghai’s International Literary Festival, along with writers such as Les Murray and Alexis Wright. China then banned Dr Dessaix from entering the country because of his HIV status. Ironically or not (was there a punitive link here, Robert Dessaix wondered in public), he was replacing Frank Moorhouse, who had withdrawn from the festival because of the imprisonment of Chinese writers. Led by Michelle de Kretser and Charlotte Wood, one hundred Australian authors and commentators protested at this offensive and unenlightened decision, as did ABR and the Australian Society of Authors. China’s discriminatory policy was widely criticised, even in China.

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Ideal climate for writing

Climate change poses undoubted challenges for science – and society – but what exactly does the phenomenon mean for Australian cultural life? The University of Melbourne’s inaugural Festival of Ideas, June 15–20, investigates the question, with a program featuring scientists, environmentalists, archi ...

Surprise, surprise

This year’s inclusion of two Australian novels on the Man Booker Prize shortlist is a rare event, but no one was more surprised than one of the authors, M.J. Hyland, listed for Carry Me Down. Hyland went along to the dinner to support her friend Andrew O’Hagan, who was widely expected to make the final list for Be Near Me. Hyland was amazed to find herself on the shortlist. O’Hagan was not shortlisted. Nor were several other fancied contenders, including Nadine Gordimer, David Mitchell and Peter Carey, whose Theft: A Love Story seems to be the work of a novelist at the height of his powers.

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‘A pox on the GST!’ wrote one of our many new readers last month when filling in her subscription form. ABR has long been famous for its feisty correspondence (never more so than last month). This editor is not about to disagree with our new subscriber. The imposition of GST on books and magazines surely rates as one of the crasser political acts in recent years. Anyone unsure of its effect on literature in this country should ask booksellers and publishers what sort of a year they had in 2000. Readers weren’t unscathed, either.

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Readers will notice major changes in this second issue of ABR for 2001. The cover looks notably different, courtesy of Chong, Text Publishing’s inimitable designer. I was delighted when Chong offered to redesign our cover. Our changed masthead seems sensible, for the magazine is known widely as ABR, after all. Readers can expect more design changes in coming issues.

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Just what is the difference between a reviewer and a critic? It seems a question of status, based in turn on the frequency and quality of the reviewing. On the other hand, the critic is suggestive of reflective articles and/or books, whereas the reviewer is offering a first reading, a virginal reading so to speak, without the opportunity for prolonged reflection. Nor properly should there be such aftermath reflection, because the review presents itself, by definition, as a first response.

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This is the 150th issue of ABR since its revival in 1978, and so it would seem appropriate for us to look back on that time in order to come to some wise conclusions about the state of book reviewing, of literature, of communication and culture in this country.

Appropriate can go jump, however. 150 is splendid, and here’s to another 150 of them.

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