Shonky writing’s long and colourful history
Jennifer Byrne Presents: Hoaxes 10.05pm, ABC1
IT is 55 years since the ingenious hoax known as the Ern Malley affair rocked Australia’s literary fraternity.
But rather than becoming less interesting with time, the joke that so searingly skewered the pretensions of Australia’s small and earnest poetry establishment remains fascinating.
The hoax, in which writers James McAuley and Harold Stewart invented modernist poems by the fictitious suburban lyricist Ern Malley and submitted them to the literary journal Angry Penguins — which promptly published them, making it the butt of ridicule — remains Australia’s greatest literary fraud.
But the history of deliberately shonky writing in this country is long and colourful. I’ll always have a spot in my heart for Helen Darville, for instance, who pretended to be Helen Demidenko, a wacky, peasant-top wearing Ukrainian immigrant whose book The Hand That Signed the Paper won The Australian / Vogel Literary Award in 1993, before the writer was exposed as a university student from Brisbane.
More recently, and far more disturbingly, Norma Khouri’s Forbidden Love , a searing account of female abuse in Muslim cultures, was exposed as having been made up, after the author had claimed events contained in the book were real.
In another case, two middle-aged white men, Leon Carmen and John Bayley, created indigenous writer Wanda Koolmatrie, whose novel My Own Sweet Time won the 1996 Nita May Dobbie Award for a first novel by a female writer before the hoax was revealed. The publisher immediately recalled copies of the book and burned them.
The ethics of hoaxes and literary frauds is discussed in this panel-style
Hoaxes show hosted by Jennifer Byrne, a spin-off from her monthly production The First Tuesday Book Club .
This show is similar to that one, in that Byrne leads an informal but informed chat with well-known publishing figures.
Tonight she has four guests: publisher Michael Heyward, writer Malcolm Knox, blogger Jack Marx and one of the original Wanda Koolmatrie creators, Bayley.
For a topic with great comic value, this is a serious discussion that focuses mainly on the pain and suffering hoaxes cause, rather than their function as social satire. But even though I might have expected more laughs, the material remains compelling.
For me, the two most interesting panellists are Marx and Bayley, from opposite sides of the hoax divide. Marx was recently taken in by a famous American literary fraud in which a little-known writer, Laura Albert, pretended to be J. T. LeRoy, a young boy ‘‘ pimped by his mother’’. ( The entire story was a fabrication.)
And Bayley’s observations about the ease with which he and Carmen were published — and decorated — as a female Aboriginal writer are likewise intriguing.
host Jennifer Byrne