The League of Extraordinary Writers

The League of Extraordinary Writers

As editors worked around the clock to put the finishing touches to this 25th issue of the UTS Writers’ Anthology, co-facilitator and celebrated Australian author Delia Falconer was confident the talent to come out of this special edition would be no different. The names that have emerged from the anthology since its launch in 1982 – and UTS writing courses in general – read like a Who’s Who of Australian literature.

Authors Bernard Cohen, Beth Yahp, Arabella Edge, Gillian Mears and Tegan Bennett Daylight are just a few who could put the anthology down as one of their first publications. It is a showcase of emerging Australian talent, and is viewed as such by the industry.

“There’s nothing like that first publication. Every writer has great anxiety about whether anyone is ever going to want to read what they have to say,” says Falconer, lecturer and bestselling author of The Service of Clouds and The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers and Selected Stories – both shortlisted for major literary awards, including the Miles Franklin and Commonwealth Writers’ prize. She has just published Sydney.

“I still remember my first publication at university, and the first time I read in public. It’s such a thrill – there’s nothing like it. It’s one of the best things in your writing career – to have that validation.”

The best thing about the anthology, she says, is the fact that works are selected for publication anonymously.

“You know that when your work goes in, it’s purely to do with the work. It’s so exciting, apart from having that sheer validation, that people do want to read what you’ve written – voluntarily.”

Aside from securing publication early in their career – essential in pursuing a career in publishing – contributors are also exposed to literary agents, newspaper reviewers and industry heavyweights who make up the national and international distribution list.

“Apart from the fact people do actually look at it, it’s a showcase where work is noticed and always has the potential to be picked up,” says Falconer. “Moreover, you often find that students who work on publications like this have a great advantage when going into the publishing industry. it is a tremendously important part of the writing ecosystem.”

In recent times, Isabelle Li’s A Chinese Affair was selected from the anthology for publication in The Best Australian Stories 2007, and Walkley Student Journalist of the Year 2008, John Connell’s The Little Black appeared in The Best Australian Stories 2009. Falconer edited the 2008 and 2009 editions. Connell has since been awarded the Eleanor Dark Varuna flagship fellowship and a bronze medal in the New York Festival drama section for the adaptation of the story.

Nick Marland, an author featured in last year’s anthology, is now working as a freelance writer, with articles appearing in the(sydney)magazine, among others, and three editors from the 2010 edition have established their own online journal for new writing, Seizure. It was launched this month by Falconer.

It was just two years ago that Miriam Cosic, then literary editor of The Australian, told Falconer she had been blown away by the quality of the readings at the Sydney Writers’ Festival launch of the anthology. It has since been reviewed nationally.

“The anthology has as much of a profile as one of the better literary magazines – it’s a very high-quality publication with a good reputation,” says Falconer.

John Dale, Director of the prestigious Centre for New Writing, says the anthology is the most important student writing publication in Australia. “It is extremely important that students can select, edit and see a professional anthology such as this through to publication.”

Dale attributes the critical role UTS has played in developing talented writers and fostering Australian literature to the university’s creative environment, where Australian literature is taught, appreciated and produced.

“Many of Australia’s new, developing and established writers have studied or taught writing at UTS, and been given the opportunity to develop their literary skills and further their critical knowledge of Australian literature.”

For the anthology’s 25th edition, The Life You Chose and That Chose You, eight editors – undergraduates and now-recent graduates – were selected from a field of 40.

Contending with more than 330 entries, editors Kate Butler, Jason Childs, Kit Henderson, Stephanie King, Maggie Korenblium, Kate Laidley, Sophie Roberts and Jacqui Wise were tasked with undertaking every aspect of production, from agreeing on a theme, title and cover design, to selection, editing and launch.

Each year the anthology features a foreword by a distinguished writer. This year, the editors approached Australian-born managing editor of The New Yorker, Amelia Lester, who experienced that publication’s own torturous selection process for the 2010 Summer Fiction issue which featured 20 writers under 40. She draws on this in the foreword to the anthology. Previous foreword contributors include authors Nam li, Kate Grenville, Malcolm Knox and James Bradley.

This year’s mix of writing – including modern realism, fantasy, poetry and a film script – was launched at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, mid-may. It received a second launch at Gleebooks by renowned author – and UTS graduate and lecturer – Mireille Juchau.

“There’s a good mix of genres from experimental writing and young adult fiction to realist stories about threshold moments in young lives – which is not surprising, given that so many writers are in their 20s,” says Falconer.

“The editors decided this year to widen the selection of genres.”

She says her involvement, and that of fellow facilitator and author Debra Adelaide, is to act as an inconspicuous guide. That, she says, gives the editors the invaluable experience that will help launch their careers. And that means late nights, foregoing their summer break, zero remuneration – but a hugely rewarding end product.

“It’s not a professional placement – there are no credit points or brownie points for your degree. It’s purely a labour of love. But they have the opportunity to see every aspect of production and discover their strength.

“Everyone who comes to university (to study creative writing) wants to be a writer or literary editor. In this process, you might find that your talent is production, publicity or organising people – they are as important in publishing as anything else. It’s not one of those lotteries of work experience – it’s the full gamut of everything involved in publishing.”

Falconer says the project demystifies the process of putting a publication together for contributors and editors: “it gives everyone a sense of ownership of a process that can seem daunting and mysterious.”

The anthology is endorsed and funded by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.