A pair of
WHEN I think of my favourite Australian novels, Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus (1980) and Miles Franklin-winning The Great Fire (2003) loom large. Hazzard, 81, was born and schooled in Sydney but, the daughter of a diplomat, she moved overseas in her mid-teens and has been an expatriate since, living mainly in Italy and the US. In 1963 she married American writer Francis Steegmuller, a leading Flaubert scholar. He died in 1994. In recent years Hazzard’s main home has been in New York, and it is there that next week a symposium on her life and works will be hosted by the University of NSW. The September 8 event at Columbia University has been organised by UNSW academic Brigitta Olubas, author of a just-published monograph, Shirley Hazzard: Literary Expatriate and Cosmopolitan Humanist (Cambria Press), which Geordie Williamson will review in these pages next week. Symposium participants include Sydney-based novelist Gail Jones, British writer Martin Stannard, who became friendly with Hazzard when he was researching his biography of her friend Muriel Spark (he’s also a bit of an expert on another of her friends, Graham Greene), American poet and critic Jay Parini and a host of Australian and international academics. The discussions will focus not just on Hazzard’s acclaimed fiction but also her critical writings on the UN and her published reflections on friends such as Greene. The idea, Olubas says, is to ‘‘help establish Shirley Hazzard’s place in Australia’s international literary canon and acknowledge her achievement as a writer’’. Details at http://humanities.arts.unsw.edu.au/ (scroll down to the What’s On section). ONE of the happiest moments of my recent life was the day I realised my son, now seven, wouldn’t have any difficulties with reading. I’m not sure why I was so worried about it; I suppose it was because I imagined myself in his shoes and from that perspective the challenge of decoding the squiggles in a book looked hard indeed. And it is hard for some children, none more so than those in remote indigenous communities, who lag well behind the average when it comes to reading and writing skills. The Indigenous Literacy Foundation does wonderful work to try to close this gap, providing books and other literacy tools to 230 indigenous communities throughout Australia. The foundation’s patron is Therese Rein and ambassadors include David Malouf, Kate Grenville, Geraldine Brooks, Sally Morgan, Anita Heiss, Kaz Cooke and Andy Griffiths. This Wednesday, September 5, is Indigenous Literacy Day, with events in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Western Australia. Grenville will be speaking in Sydney, for example, while Griffiths will be doing several events in Queensland, including at the Brisbane Writers Festival. It’s a very good cause. Details at www.indigenousliteracyfoundation.org.au. I’VE noticed some cracking book covers lately, including the car-up-a-tree image on Josephine Rowe’s story collection Tarcutta Wake, which we reproduced with a review of the book last week. But the bovine mailbox cover of Man of Letters, the new novel by Miles Franklin winner and part-time postman David Foster, takes the biscuit. Man of Letters will be published by Puncher & Wattmann on October 22.