Also writes as: Du Guesclin ; Sun-Setna ; Chris Willoughby
Born: Established: 26 Jan 1918 Annandale ; Died: 18 Sep 2001 Sydney
Amy Witting was 71 when her novel I for Isobel was published and attracted critical attention, and since then most of the backlog of her stories and poetry (written over a lifetime) have been published. She is now known to a wide readership for the quality and sophistication of her work. She was born in Annandale, an inner-city suburb of Sydney, then a 'tough place' inhabited by many who were hard up. Witting claims that this environment at least provided her with an inexhaustible subject, survival, that recurs throughout her work.
Joan Fraser, as she was then, attended the local Catholic school, St Brendan's, from 1923 to 1929. Family circumstances were difficult and she was under pressure at home and at school; she was also often ill with what was eventually diagnosed as tuberculosis (TB). Like her character Isobel, Joan was an avid reader and retreated from reality into a rich inner world. Her secondary schooling was at Fort Street Girls High from 1930 to 1934. Joan Fraser, aged 16, had a poem, 'Wanderers', published in the Sydney Morning Herald, under the pseudonym 'Du Guesclin'. At the University of Sydney, from 1935 to 1937, Joan Fraser studied English and Modern Languages and became part of what Peter Coleman (q.v.) calls the 'sourly brilliant literary circle' that gathered around James McAuley (q.v.): Harold Stewart, Dorothy Auchterlonie (later Green), Oliver Somerville, Ronald Dunlop (qq.v.) and Alan Crawford were in this group. She graduated Bachelor of Arts, but when her father died during her final examinations at the end of 1937 she had to seek work.
After gaining a teachers' college scholarship she completed her Diploma of Education. Her first appointment was at Riverside Domestic Science School in 1940, followed by short transfers within the New South Wales education system, leading finally to Coonamble. After the war she taught in Young, then Manly Boys High School. In 1948 she went to Kempsey, where she remained until 1953. There she met Les Levick - a teacher of industrial arts. They married in December 1948. Joan Levick entered the Bodington Sanatorium in 1953. During this enforced isolation she turned to writing. In the early 1960s Levick and Thea Astley (q.v.) were both teaching at Cheltenham Girls High. Astley, an established writer, was impressed by Levick's story 'Goodbye, Ady, Goodbye, Joe', and encouraged her to submit it for publication. This story, inspired by factual details of a major flood in Kempsey, was accepted and published in the New Yorker in April 1965.
Witting has always written under a pseudonym, and her choice reflects a promise to herself to 'never give up on consciousness', not to be unwitting, but to always remain 'witting'. After six years at Cheltenham (1957 to 1962) Witting's teaching career concluded with her appointment as Mistress of Modern Languages at North Sydney Girls High School. After retirement she was writing full-time, while she taught English as a second language for another twenty years. She continued to write, despite diminishing eyesight, until the time of her death.
(Adapted with permission from the Amy Witting Website, maintained by Yvonne Miels: http://ehlt.flinders.edu.au/english/Witting/AmyWitting.html)