The ABR Podcast

On 4 August 2020, Theodore Ell was living in Beirut, Lebanon, when an explosion erupted at the local port, killing more than 200 people and injuring more than 7,500. Ell and his wife, a diplomat, survived, but were badly shaken. At the encouragement of his close friend Beejay Silcox, Ell turned his experience into the essay ‘Façades of Lebanon’, a harrowing, intimate piece of reportage, and the deserving winner of the 2021 Calibre Essay Prize. In today’s episode, listen to Ell in conversation with Silcox about the inception of his prize-winning work, the balancing act of writing trauma and place, the historical complexities of Beirut, and more.

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Francis Webb, an Australian poet born in 1925, was widely regarded by his contemporaries as one of the most gifted poets of his generation. His creative output was extensive, despite a troubled life living with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. His first major poem, ‘A Drum for Ben Boyd’, appeared in book form when he was only twenty-two. In today’s episode, listen to ABR’s Sydney theatre critic Ian Dickson read the poem in its entirety.

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Theodore Ell was living in Beirut, Lebanon, on 4 August 2020 when an explosion devastated the city and shook a nation already teetering on the brink of economic collapse. Ell and his wife, a diplomat, were badly affected, but survived. Ell's essay, 'Façades of Lebanon', intertwines the author's outsider observation of the nation with a harrowing personal experience of the blast. It represents reportage at its best, and is a fitting winner of the 2021 Calibre Prize. 

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In 2020, the Victorian government declared it would establish a Truth and Justice process to ‘recognise historic wrongs and address ongoing injustices for Aboriginal Victorians’. The Yoo-rrook Justice Commission was announced in March this year as the governing body of this process, one to be led by five commissioners and invested with the powers of a royal commission. In today’s episode, Paul Muldoon reads his essay from the July issue, ‘The prison of the past’, which considers the future challenges and complexities facing the commission. As he writes: ‘In truth and reconciliation, “healing” has come to assume a central importance. But exactly who or what is being healed?’

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As the world realigns itself in the wake of a global pandemic, ABR turns its thoughts to the various forms – individual and institutional, material and more intangible – that recovery may take. In 'Poetry in times of recovery', we asked a number of Australian poets to share the works that best capture how recovery can look, sound, and feel. Today’s episode builds on the popularity of our ‘Poetry in troubled times’ episodes, released in 2020.

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In today's episode, Josephine Rowe – winner of the 2016 ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize – reads a new short story, 'Bunker', which appears in the June issue of ABR. Josephine has published three short story collections and a novel called A Loving, Faithful Animal.

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Patrick White, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973, has long been considered Australia’s finest novelist. And yet, the thirtieth anniversary of his death in 2020 passed by with barely a murmur. Was this merely a consequence of the pandemic, or are there larger cultural forces at play? In today's episode, historian and ABR Calibre prize-winning essayist Martin Thomas considers the posthumous neglect of the great Australian writer, who once described himself as a ‘Londoner at heart’ and who continues to challenge jingoistic and complacent forms of nationalism.

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In today's episode, Ilana Snyder – President of the New Israel Fund Australia – places the recent turmoil in Israel and Palestine in the context of the all-too-familiar cycle of tension, violence, and ceasefire that has beset the region for decades. What might it take for there to be an enduring peace? Snyder examines this question, while also identifying what sets the most recent violence apart from previous eruptions: an increase in ‘intercommunal violence’ that ‘has pitted Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel against one another on streets where they have lived side by side for decades’.

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Richard Flanagan's new work, Toxic, is a startling exposé on Tasmania's salmon farming industry. From genetically altered 'frankenfish' to the use of dangerous chemicals to turn 'dead-grey flesh a marketable red', the industrial machinations uncovered in Flanagan's new work are stomach-churning. As James Boyce writes in his review, 'After the publication of Toxic, I doubt Tasmania will ever be the same again.'

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Throughout her childhood, Krissy Kneen was surrounded by make-believe. At the centre of this enchanted world was her grandmother Lotty, whose prodigious fabulations not only kept her family in thrall, but also hid painful memories of poverty and forced migration. In her new memoir, The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen, Kneen retraces her grandmother's journey from Slovenia to Australia. In today's episode, Kneen sits down with her friend Beejay Silcox, a past ABR Fellow and longtime contributor, to discuss their serendipitous meeting and Kneen's journey to uncover her family's history. 

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