A quick survey of the country’s major literary journals reveals just how little diversity exists in Australian publishing. This is, of course, not just a local problem – a recent survey by VIDA, a US organisation of female writers, revealed a shocking gender disparity in the number of women who write for, and are reviewed in, major literary publications in the US and UK. Regrettably, this disproportionate gender representation is continued in Australia and is indicative of a much greater issue; it is undeniable that a similar situation exists for writers who are queer, Indigenous, have a disability, or come from religious or ethnic minority backgrounds.
Rather than a matter of conscious editorial discrimination, this issue appears to be largely structural, and editors who would prefer to source material more widely are often constrained by a lack of time and resources. Given the gross underfunding of most literary publications, it is much more practical to commission pieces from writers with whom they already have a relationship or who have a public profile of some degree. Seeking out contributors from within marginalised groups is, almost by definition, time-consuming and difficult; those contributors – again, almost, by definition – lack the profile of those who have been more regularly published.
Tackling an issue such as this is never easy, and we appreciate that any substantial change to Australian literary publishing will require more than a series of essays. Be this as it may, the CAL Connections project is intended to highlight this crucial issue and to encourage further discussion of it. It is also about working towards overcoming the structural barriers limiting the level of cultural diversity in Overland and about forging long-term connections both with individual writers and different communities.
Who can be involved?
For the next four years, Overland will focus on particular communities and backgrounds under-represented in literary publishing. The groups included in the project (along with the dates for proposals) are as follows:
Issue 203: Queer writers (applications closed)
Issue 204: Women writers (applications closed)
Issue 206: African writers (applications closed)
Issue 208: Writers from a NESB background (applications closed)
Issue 210: Muslim writers (26 November 2012)
Issue 212: Refugee writers (TBA)
Issue 214: Indigenous writers (TBA)
Issue 216: Writers with a disability (TBA)
By its very nature, a project like this is limited in terms of the groups that can be included, and the categories selected do not constitute a definitive list. We have, for the most part, attempted to select groups who currently have no forum in which to respond to the issues facing their communities.
Using such broad categories is, in many ways, also problematic, as such terms inevitably fail to acknowledge the complexity of issues at play here, particularly the intersecting oppressions often experienced by marginalised groups.
Although this project is only open to those who identify with these categories, we strongly encourage writers interested in this issue to consider submitting their work to Overland in the normal manner.
What does the Connections project involve?
Each of the journal’s next seven editions will feature a major political essay developed in conjunction with the project’s contributing editor. Final essays will be 3500–4000 words and can address any subject that the participant feels relevant.
Writers who would like to participate should submit a proposal that includes a summary of the topic, an essay plan outlining the overall argument and a list of possible resources. It is strongly recommended that writers familiarise themselves with past editions of Overland.
Essay proposals should be forwarded to John Marnell at email@example.com by the deadlines listed above. The writer commissioned each edition by Marnell will receive $1500 upon publication.
Project participants will also be encouraged to become involved with Overland’s online activities. This will provide an opportunity for ongoing support as they develop as writers while also allowing participants to continue building a publishing profile.
As well as the chosen essayist, a selection of applicants from each stage of the project will be invited to regularly contribute to the Overland blog.
Given the high number of proposals anticipated, submissions are currently only being accepted for those categories with a listed deadline. Dates for the other categories will be updated as the project progresses. Please check back for information about later parts of the project.