Kirsten Tranter: Overland and me

Kirsten TranterMy favourite Sydney-vs-Melbourne joke is the one about how in Melbourne, if you have a good idea you start a little magazine; in Sydney, you have a party. As time goes by this seems more and more true to me. But I think of Overland as embracing the best of the celebratory Sydney spirit between its pages and in its brilliant, always-evolving online presence, while bringing the intellectual rigour that we would expect from that serious city. If Overland was a party, it would be a really good one: thought-provoking, stylish, well-organised, fantastically decorated, where you’d be able to find conversation of the finest political acumen combined with the most impressive wit, a range of strong drink, and an excellent DJ. It’s been going for more than 50 years, which makes me think the party would be one of those ones that lasts well into the next morning and the following night. Emma Goldman would definitely be found dancing at it.

I like the way Overland’s editors embrace their progressive mandate in a way that questions political certainties, rather than boringly affirming them, and invites readers to join a conversation that feels always fresh and vital. It’s continuously making me think in new ways about the relationship between literature and culture and politics.

When I was coming of age in the student political culture of the early 90s, Jeff Sparrow was a figure I knew only by repute as that smart, tall and intimidating socialist who got stuck in the police van with my other arrested friends at the legendary Austudy protest; I enjoy the fact that he’s now the guy to whom I can pitch an essay on the gender politics of Marxist science fiction.

The cultural landscape in Australia right now seems more polarised and politically weird than it has been for a long time. Maybe it’s just that all the women writers recently making noise about the rampant sexism in literary culture here have provoked reactionary, anti-feminist voices to make themselves heard lately. It’s become possible for respected critics to openly admit – not just when they’re drunk at a party, but in public, in writing – that they think issues of gender equality are dated and irrelevant, and that women who complain about it are privileged whingers. In this context I think it’s vital to have a journal like Overland on the scene with an openly progressive, feminist position, to stake out a renewed commitment to principles of equality and social justice.

Despite all the good ideas out there in Sydney and Melbourne and everywhere else, little magazines are struggling all over the place, threatening to go out of print or close down or be replaced by online sites that expect writers to write for nothing. But writers need and deserve to be paid, and many of us actually like to be edited with careful attention and rigour. So, subscribe to Overland and help to ensure that it sticks around and keeps publishing the best and most exciting and politically interesting writing for another fifty years.

Kirsten Tranter

Kirsten Tranter is a literary critic and the author of three novels, Hold, A Common Loss and The Legacy. She was a co-founder of the Stella Prize, and teaches creative writing at UC Berkeley.

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