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Susan Hayes has a Master of Philosophy degree in Australian Studies. She commenced her career working for Westerly magazine. Between 1982 and 1993 she was on the board of the Centre for Studies in Australian Literature at the University of Western Australia. She has been an editor for UWA Press, a director of the WA Writers' Centre and a member of the programming committee for the Perth Writer's Festival. In 1994, she became the State Literature Officer for Western Australia. She then moved to New South Wales taking up a position as the Director of the National Playwrights' Centre. In 2003 Hayes was elected as the chair of the Australian Society of Authors. From 2004 to 2008 she was Co-ordinator of the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) Cultural Fund before being appointed Director of Literature of the Australia Council for the Arts, a position she held until her retirement in 2012.