STEPHENS, ALFRED GEORGE (1865–1933)
A.G. Stephens achieved fame as the Sydney Bulletin’s Red Page literary editor from 1896 to 1906. Printer’s ink ran in his veins from an early age as his father owned Toowoomba’s Darling Downs Gazette during the 1870s, selling out to W.H. Traill, later proprietor of the Bulletin. At the age of 15, Stephens began a printing apprenticeship with rival newspaper the Toowoomba Chronicle, then completed his training in Sydney.
At just 23, he was appointed editor (1888– 90) of the Gympie Miner, throwing himself with gusto into the political, intellectual and cultural life of the booming gold rush town. His friends included future Labour prime minister Andrew Fisher and former Fenian revolutionary John Flood. Relishing editorial power, Stephens challenged and entertained his Gympie newspaper audience, drawing material from his regular reading of British and American newspapers and keeping his readers abreast of local, colonial, national and international news. His political commentary was always concise and well-informed, and he lectured to the Gympie Literary Circle on poetry, fiction, non-fiction and drama.
Stephens went on to perfect these skills— first as a columnist at the Brisbane Boomerang in 1891 and then as editor (1891–92) of the Cairns Argus—before J.F. Archibald recruited him for the Bulletin in 1894. As inaugural editor of the Red Page, Stephens became Australia’s most influential literary critic. Throughout his long career, he read widely and voraciously, including European, British and American books, magazines and newspapers. One of his models was pioneering English journalist W.T. Stead, editor of Review of Reviews. As an editor and critic, Stephens was fearless, magisterial and forthright. As a journalist and essayist, he developed the in-depth interview into an art form.
Under the imprint of the Bulletin Newspaper Company Limited, he published the first books of Arthur Hoey Davis (‘Steele Rudd’) and Joseph Furphy, along with books by other Bulletin contributors. Numerous writers benefited from Stephens’ patronage, including Miles Franklin, Barbara Baynton, John Shaw Neilson, Louise Mack and Hugh McCrae, and he continued in this role as editor of the Bookfellow (1907–25), publishing important books under that imprint as he had earlier for the Bulletin. In all, he edited about 50 books for publication.
REF: S.E. Lee, ‘The Self-Made Critic: A Literary and Biographical Study of A.G. Stephens’ (MA thesis, 1978).