'We were just a little surprised when the Australia Council said yes. But then a year later—as you were—they said no.
'Three years back, when the council redrew the map of arts funding, Meanjin lost its rolling three-year key organisation grant, a pattern that had allowed if not luxury then a degree of certainty. Money was the root of it all: the council’s budget had been gutted and cuts had to be made. Whatever discomforting ripples were felt through opera, ballet and theatre companies had become a toxic trickle by the time the tide of change made its way down the funding food chain to bodies whose business was literature.' (Jonathan Green, Introduction)
'The dank editorial offices of the Bulletin in Sydney’s lower George Street in the 1950s were a daunting place for a raw teenager from the remote south-western Sydney suburb of Revesby. I found myself there in response to an advertisement for a copyholder to the proofreader, and landed the job.' (Introduction)
'Whatever else it is, reading is surely one of the central activities and interests of literature. Literature, though, is hardly a central activity or interest in contemporary culture. So it seems odd that readers of Gerald Murnane who are also critics or reviewers like to point to the author’s eccentricities: he has never worn sunglasses, for example; he’s reclusive, never flown on a plane and doesn’t like to travel; he never watches films, doesn’t like the sea, and, among other things, he’s obsessed with horse racing, keeping colourcoded files on races, horses and jockeys that can be recalled or retrieved at will, and so on. But, we might want to ask, isn’t literature (of which Murnane may be an Australian exemplar) already an eccentric activity or interest? Certainly a passionate interest in and a devotion to literature today isn’t as eccentric as it gets, but nevertheless it’s unconventional and slightly strange.' (Introduction)
'I’ve heard of that place, Australia. There are even some memories that persist of it as a discrete, identifiable object. It was a thing taught to me in primary school in jovial, unambiguous ways. It was a series of tales of sheep, and rushes of gold, and the bushranging bloke with a metal bucket on his head. It played cricket against the West Indies. It was precisely 200 years old and we dressed as convicts and walked down the town’s main street to celebrate this fact. All incompleteness and lies that I felt disconnected from then, as I do now.' (Introduction)
'In a 2016 Meanjin essay one of this country’s most celebrated writers, Alexis Wright, asked us a fundamental question in relation to storytelling and the role of the writer. ‘What happens when you tell somebody else’s story?’ she asked, in a thoughtful piece of writing that did not demand that white Australia not engage with the story of Aboriginal people (as some have concluded). In addressing the question, Wright asked of each of us, Aboriginal and ‘settler’ both, that we give deeper consideration to the act of telling stories and take greater responsibility for the decisions we make as writers. We may make a choice to respond to individual creative impulses, or choose to restrain ourselves from acting on those impulses in favour of making decisions of greater cultural value. Wright was clear about the consequences of the stories of Aboriginal people being told by others: ‘We do not get much of a chance to say what is right or wrong about the stories told on our behalf … it just happens, and we try to deal with the fallout.’' (Introduction)
'Rebecca was good with houses. Her life had been a series of them - homes, worlds - all remembered with intense fondness, as if the gains she made from those houses never wholly compensated for the loss each time she moved on. Whenever we talked about the past, Rebecca would refer to each house by name, in shorthand for that phase of her life. Northam Road, the semi-detached in Oxford that we shared, meant student days when the world was all before us. Then Hackney, the unrenovated carapace that was Rebecca's first move into London property, a footing on a ladder that would climb to fabled prosperity for her generation. Montmorency Gardens followed, an elegant address for a difficult but creative marriage and a young family. Finally, Austen Road, North London. This was Rebecca's blessed house for all seasons and kept on revealing new corners and layers, from basement to attic, as the years went by...' (Publication abstract)
''It's too sweet and gentle,' I say of the pink. 'I want it to pop. I want what you're wearing.'
'I turn from the mirror. 'It's a bit watermelon candy,' the salesgirl agrees. She returns with another tube of lipstick, its surface sanitised. I wipe my lips clean and try the fourth shade, a dark don't-fuck-with-me crimson. I smile, then laugh at my reflection. My first Dior lipstick.' (Introduction)
'From a young age, names preoccupied me. As a child I didn’t like my name and I would often daydream about changing it. Na’ama (in Hebrew, נעמה (was too heavy for me. The lips must be open for too long to speak it, the tongue pressed to the floor of the mouth, held down by the weight of the letters. ‘Na’ama’ requires work. It weighed on my small child body, too old-fashioned, too long, too heavy. I wanted something lighter, a name one can speak with ease. As a pastime, I’d try other names for size. When I read a book, I would sink into the sound of the protagonist’s name. Most often I would dream about being called ‘Shir’ (Hebrew, שיר ,(which, in Hebrew, means ‘song’. Shir is light and short; it doesn’t demand the same contortion of lips and mouth as Na’ama does. It can be spoken with tenderness. One can’t say ‘Shir’ without breaking into a smile.' (Introduction)
'Confronting. Controversial. Unrelenting. Edgy. When The Lebs, the second and most recent novel by Michael Mohammed Ahmad, was published a year ago it was amid a flurry of these adjectives from (mostly) white reviewers and interviewers. One descriptor that did not fly so readily from their keyboards, however, was ‘coming of age’.' (Introduction)
'We were both beckoned to the office, but I had nothing to do with it. I would explain this to Savio, I decided, as I followed him inside. For once, I would be honest. Sinclair left the door open behind us. We sat in the hard chairs Savio indicated with a soft wave. I did not look at Sinclair as he crossed his legs beside me. I watched Savio roost in his big swivel chair. I took out words like stones and turned them over. But before I could arrange them, Savio turned his monitor to face us, and there I was in the centre of the frame...' (Publication abstract)
Epigraph: Not people die but worlds die in them —Yevtushenko
'Oh, you're going to have an advantage over me,' the white woman says with a wide smile. We're the first two to arrive for Arabic 101. I make a sound and the sound dies between us. I would describe it but I don't know what it was, having never made it before nor since. If I were to imagine what it was most like sonically, I would say shame. I am the 29-year-old son of Lebanese and Turkish migrants, my father and mother were born in Turkey and Lebanon respectively, so they learned English in addition to their own languages, and yet I have only one tongue today. One tongue resting on slivers of everything my family have said and that I never understood as clearly or as deeply as I understood Josephine, the white woman in class that day. Our teacher, a Palestinian author and academic who grew up in Beirut, agreed with her, saying in the thick accent I know better than any other, 'Yes, colloquially, he will have advantage.' Though they used largely the same words, they were saying different things, and they were both wrong.' (Introduction)