The winning stories have nerve. They avoid these pitfalls, and do something more: they surprise and delight, and they bring us into the places writers need to go. They take us past the stereotype, past our expectations, and into the blurry vagueness of life, with all its bewildering contradictions.
Telling Stories: Australian Life and Literature 1935–2012 looks to be an intimidating beast at first glance, boasting 639 pages and featuring 86 essays produced by an almost equal number of writers and academics, chronologically tracing the way in which Australian literature, culture and identity have been relentlessly interwoven over the past 77 years. In the opening pages, editors and co-contributors Tanya Dalziell and Paul Genoni ask us to think a little more expansively about ‘literature’.
The address was voted number three in a 2011 ABC Radio National poll of ‘the most unforgettable speech of all time’, ranked behind, first, Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have a Dream’ and, second, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. (A caveat on this poll: of the four Australian speeches listed in the top twenty, three were given by Labor Party politicians. I know from some close experience that such people have no particular monopoly on rhetorical flair.)
It’s slick, has high production values with a good attention to period detail, and employs an accomplished formal craft that enhances the drug-fuelled montages in which it occasionally indulges. Unfortunately, it’s also an example of cultural biography dramatised and made conservative (packed with fear) for the mainstream.
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