In an attempt to produce an Australian literary magazine that avoided parochialism and engaged with international intellectual movements, Max Harris, Geoffrey Dutton and Bryn Davies founded Australian Letters in 1957. Funded primarily by advertisements, donations, subscriptions and sales, Australian Letters ran for ten years, strengthened by the unpaid labour of editors and staff.
The editors described the journal as 'determinedly non-academic and eclectic', avoiding parochialism by commissioning contributions from overseas writers. Overseas contributors included Frank Kermode, Lawrence Durrell, Richard Aldington, Roy Campbell and Philip Larkin. The magazine was, nevertheless, committed to fostering Australian writers and artists by 'trying to give expression to the general cultural vitality and variety of Australian life.' With a keen interest in art and poetry, the magazine commissioned a series of artist-poet collaborations, including contributions from Russell Drysdale and David Campbell, Donald Friend and Douglas Stewart, Leonard French and James McAuley, and Sidney Nolan and Randolph Stow. Dutton in his editorial in the final issue of Australian Letters refers to nineteen commissioned collaborations but only eighteen of these were published in Australian Letters where they were listed as forming part of a numbered series called Australian Poets and Artists. The collaboration between Tony Butt and Charles Blackman in vol.7, no.4 (1967) is not numbered; it may be this to which Dutton refers as the nineteenth collaboration but it was definitely not one of the official poet-artist collaborations and it is more likely to be an error on Dutton's part. Fiction in Australian Letters was dominated by extracts and short stories from Patrick White. Among other fiction writers, Frank Moorhouse and Peter Carey found a place in Australian Letters for their early work.
By 1968, the editors were preoccupied with other projects such as the Australian Book Review and decided that ten years of Australian Letters was 'long enough'. Ceasing production in January 1968, Australian Letters had provided a place for many of Australia's established and emerging writers to publish their works. A selection of these was collected in The Vital Decade: Ten Years of Australian Art and Letters. The annual anthology, Verse in Australia (1958, 1959, 1960 and 1961) was also produced under the auspices of Australian Letters, making a significant contribution to the promotion and development of Australian literature in the 1950s and 1960s.