Volume 1, No. 1, February 2014

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Letter from the Editors

Welcome to the February 2014 issue of Writers in Conversation. This is our very first issue, and we are delighted to publish what promises to be an exciting and diverse journal, filling a much-needed gap. As the response to our call for papers showed, there are many writers out there keen to discuss their work with interviewers, and interviewers keen to share what they have learned. Writers in Conversation welcomes them heartily!

If anything unites the interviews in this initial issue, it is, paradoxically, diversity. The pieces reflect a transnational world of global writing, with the subjects residing in India, Australia, Canada, the USA and the UK; several of them live in countries other than the ones they were born in, or spend time in various locations on the globe. We are proud that this reflects the dominant strains of contemporary literature, as identified in the most recent Booker shortlist.

Rather than list all the interviews here, and what they are about, we would like you to read them and discover this for yourselves. We will simply say that, mirroring the variety of writers, there is a great diversity in the subject matter and themes discussed: approaches to writing, realism, feminist politics, fantasy. You will be introduced to writers of fiction, poetry, drama and history, and see how writers explore gender, transgender, race, politics and war. We have learned a great deal about contemporary writing in our work on these interviews, and we are sure you will too.


Nick Turner and Gillian Dooley, Editors


From Volume 4, no. 1, February 2017 Writers in Conversation will be published in Open Journal Systems and this website will no longer be updated.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 17 of 17
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    In conversation with Shyamala Gogu , Dalit feminist writer, Poet, and Activist
    (2014-01-24) Rajkumar Eligedi; Shyamala Gogu
    Shyamala Gogu is a Dalit feminist writer, poet, and Activist in Andhra Pradesh, India. She edited Nallapoddu:Dalitha Sthreela Sahityam 1921-2002 (Black Dawn: Dalit women's writings, 1921-2002). It was followed by Nallaregatisallu: Madiga Madiga Upakulala Aadolla Kathalu (Furrows in Black Soil: The Stories of Madiga and Madiga Subcaste women) in 2006. In 2011, She published a biography of one of Telangana's leading women dalit politicians, T.N. Sadalakshmi ( Nene Balanni, T.N. Sadalakshmi Bathuku Katha), based on a series of interviews with her (forthcoming from Navayana as The Last Place for a Dalit Women: The Life of T.N. Sadalakshmi, translated by Gita Ramaswamy). She is currently leading an Oxfam funded research project on domestic violence and dalit women.
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    Writing a Life Between Gender Lines Conversations with A. Revathi about her autobiography The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story
    (2014-01-24) Prabhu, Gayathri; A. Revathi
    A. Revathi was born physiologically male but felt and behaved like a girl - this is how she tells her story, as will be clear from the interview below. Nearly her whole childhood, spent in a village in Salem district of Tamil Nadu, was plagued by this deep and nagging unease of being trapped in the wrong body and by 'a growing sense of irrepressible femaleness'. But when she behaved like one of her girl-playmates, it only meant repeated humiliation and violence by her family and community. This affected her academic performance, and she had to drop out of school after failing the tenth grade. In a quest to be true to herself, Revathi, still in her teens, ran away from home and travelled to Delhi to join a house of hijras. Hijras are male-to-female transsexuals who undergo a surgical removal of the genitals (often performed surreptitiously and in unsanitary conditions) and comprise a distinct community across India with elaborate customs and regulations of their own. Hijras are given ritualistic importance by mainstream Indian society (for instance, their blessings are considered to bring good fortune) but at the same time they are easy targets for sexual crimes, discriminated against in public spaces, and have few options for livelihood apart from performing at social events, begging or prostitution. Revathi, now in her mid-forties, discusses all this with remarkable candour and courage in her autobiography The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story, translated into English from Tamil by V. Geetha and published by Penguin India Books in 2010. This autobiography is among the very first of its kind in India, uninhibited with regard to divisive gender lines, sexual hypocrisy of 'traditional' societies, and the dismal lack of public discourse on the rights of sexual minorities.
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    'Setting off fireworks over a mysterious city': An Interview with Kathleen Winter
    (2014-01-24) James Bailey; Kathleen Winter
    Winter was born in Bill Quay in the north of England in 1960, but moved to Newfoundland in eastern Canada at the age of eight. Her novella, Where is Mario, was published in 1987, and two works of creative non-fiction entitled The Road Along the Shore and The Necklace of Occasional Dreams followed in 1991 and 1996. Her first collection of short stories, entitled boYs, was published in 2007 and awarded both the Metcalfe-Rooke and Winterset awards that year. In 2014, Winter will publish Boundless, a non-fiction account of her journey through the Northwest Passage, as well as a new collection of short stories entitled The Freedom in American Songs. Our interview was conducted via email correspondence throughout September and October 2013.
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    Peter Stansky, historian and writer, in conversation: George Orwell and the Spanish Civil War.
    (2014-01-24) Burrowes, Darryl; Stansky, Peter
    Peter Stansky is an eminent Emeritus Professor of History, specialising in Modern British History, who has been at Stanford University since 1968. I sought him out for his expertise on Orwell while researching at the Hoover Institute on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University in April 2013. I was aware that Stansky had written two books on Orwell, in collaboration with William Abrahams, The Unknown Orwell in 1972 and Orwell: The Transformation in 1979. This conversation focuses on Orwell and his role in Spain and deals with some of the issues faced by Stansky and Abrahams in writing their Orwell books. The conversation also includes references to three historians who are pivotal in my thesis - Paul Preston, Burnett Bolloten and George Esenwein.
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    A Kind of Craziness: Susanna Moore on Women, Writing, Sex and Feminism
    (2014-01-24) Maya Linden; Susanna Moore
    The closing scene of Susanna Moore's 1995 novel, In The Cut, remains one of the most shocking and powerfully written episodes of sexual violence by a contemporary female author. Narrator, Frannie Avery, watches as her breasts are sliced from her body. This violent description later shifts to a disengaged poetic consciousness in which Frannie's narration dissolves into quotation. Moore's juxtaposition of meditative description with an account of dismemberment renders the scene so beautiful, that it is potentially hugely troubling. As one critic's response reflects, how can a presumed feminist justify producing an 'erotic story involving the matter-of-fact mutilation of women'? It was Moore's responses to queries such as these, as well as my own ambivalent attraction to her narratives, as a woman, a writer, and a feminist, that I wanted to gain a greater understanding of by interviewing the author. As a reader of Moore's fiction, I am fascinated, as many women would be, by the representations of femininity in her novels. From The Whiteness of Bones to Sleeping Beauties, In the Cut, One Last Look and The Big Girls, it seems that the women in her novels seem to encounter certain hardships and dangers, simply because they are women. Perhaps more disturbing than Moore's unapologetic depiction of sexualised attacks on the female body was my discovery, during research prior to the interview, that In the Cut is listed on Playboy's 'Top 25 'sexiest' novels of all time.' Moore acknowledges that 'it is important for a writer to understand and anticipate the response of their readers,' and that often the topics of her novels have been chosen to elicit a particular response, to change the way her writing and her identity as an author has been perceived - but is it always a desirable response? And are authors ever free of moral responsibility?
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    Ruth Starke in conversation with Hannah Kent
    (2014-01-24) Starke, Ruth; Kent, Hannah
    Hannah Kent has enjoyed enormous international success with her first novel, Burial Rites, a reimagining of the life and death of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland for murder. Published in Australia in May 2013, the book has also been published in the UK and in the USA, and in over twenty other countries. Jennifer Lawrence will play Agnes in the forthcoming movie to be directed by Gary Ross, the director of The Hunger Games. Hannah was born in Adelaide in 1985 and grew up in the Adelaide Hills where her family still live. Hannah completed her BCW (Hons) in 2008 at Flinders University, where she is currently completing her PhD. Burial Rites is the creative component of that doctoral thesis and Ruth Starke, who interviews Hannah below, is her principal supervisor.
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    Sudeep Sen: an Interview
    (2014-01-24) Ziaul Karim; Sudeep Sen
    An in-depth interview with poet, editor and critic Sudeep Sen, discussing his various books, postcolonial theory, and form. Extensive quotations from his poetry are included.
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    Jane Montgomery Griffiths' Theatrical Poetics
    (2014-01-24) Autumn Royal; Jane Montgomery Griffiths
    As scholar of the Classics and drama studies, Jane Montgomery Griffiths has devoted much of her artistic practice to interpreting the voices of women who have either been censored or misinterpreted throughout history. Montgomery Griffiths has been celebrated for her writing of, and solo performances in, productions such as Razing Hypatia and Sappho in 9 Fragments . With her experience of theatrically exploring female desire, sexuality and intellectual contribution, it is understandable that Montgomery Griffiths was attracted to Dorothy Porter's verse novel Wild Surmise written in the Sapphic tradition with lyrics mediating on desire, exploration and loss.
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    Interview with Bill Gammage, 28 October 2013
    (2014-01-24) Lennox, Rowena; Bill Gammage
    Bill Gammage is a historian and Adjunct Professor in the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University. He taught history at the University of Papua New Guinea, the University of Adelaide and the ANU. His books include The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the First World War (Canberra: ANU Press, 1974), Narrandera Shire (Narrendera: Narrandera Shire Council, 1986), The Sky Travellers: Journeys in New Guinea 1938-1939 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1998) and The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2011). I met Bill at his office at the ANU on a coolish morning in October 2013 and started our interview by describing how I had first encountered his work through his role as military advisor on the film Gallipoli (1981), directed by Peter Weir. I recorded our interview and the following transcript matches the recording with very little intervention. I cut some tangential asides, and Bill and I occasionally added words in square brackets to clarify the discussion where words were implied rather than said. But what follows is our conversation - unedited.
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    An Interview with Marlon L. Fick
    (2014-01-24) Ward, Christopher; Marlon L. Fick
    A conversation with a Fellow for the National Endowment for the Arts in Writing for the United States as well as Mexico (ConaCulta), Marlon L. Fick. Fick is the author of several books, including translations, volumes of poetry, and short fiction. He is the author of two forthcoming novels from Jaded Ibis Press - the two novels are part of a trilogy with the third underway. The novels, The Nowhere Man and Rhapsody in a Circle, are written against a backdrop of twentieth-century political turmoil in third world countries: The Congo (then Zaire), Nicaragua, Mexico, and Pakistan. Although at the heart of both novels lies questions of identity, the potentially futile quest for the soul, the theme of individuality and freedom eventually collides with politics. Fick believes we are prisoners of the body politic. The author does not like to speak of the novel as history, except to assert that 'history is a poor word for something for which we have yet to find a better word'.
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    An Interview with Marion Halligan
    (2014-01-24) Greaves, Robyn; Marion Halligan
    Australian author Marion Halligan began publishing fiction later in life. She has won numerous awards for her writing, including the Age Book of the Year for Lovers' Knots in 1992. More recently her work has appeared in The Best Australian Stories 2012 and the latest edition of The Griffith Review. Halligan has largely flown under the radar of literary critics, however, perhaps partly because her work is set in the suburbs and the domestic realm. For Halligan, suburbia is a rich source of material: it is 'where life happens, where people live and love one another and raise their children, where there is grief and recrimination and murder and pain, it is where the human comedy unfolds'. The following interview was conducted at Marion Halligan's Canberra home in 2011. It is an informal discussion around her work, in particular three of her novels which feature an artist protagonist who is struggling to come to terms with the experience of loss, grief and bereavement. These novels, Lovers' Knots (1992), The Golden Dress (1998) and The Fog Garden (2001) are rich explorations of the role of art in the lives of the main characters and in our lives in general. According to Halligan, 'the world is a cruel and dark and difficult place and it is words that light the small candle flames that keep the dark at bay'. Words and writing are essential to her life. In an essay titled 'Why I Write', she says: 'I write in order to put the world into words. I've always done that in my head. I can't perceive anything without trying to find words for it'. Halligan's writing is an evocative exploration of the human condition and the ways we cope in the face of events common to all of us during our lives.
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    In conversation with Rob Harle
    (2014-01-24) Sharma, Sunil; Harle, Rob
    The versatile Nimbin Valley-based Australian thinker, painter, sculptor, writer, reviewer, cover-page designer and a re-born, restive poet, the much-in-demand Rob Harle is rapidly getting global critical attention for the consistency of his works animated by a deep-rooted liberal humanism. The humanist poet regrets the decline in moral values and calls the current society, post-human. He feels that the high-tech and supermarket culture are taking toll on human personality and rendering it defunct or-almost. His digital art works, essays, poems and recent fun fiction pieces---minis---provide a relentless critique of such a reified society where machines are becoming more sacrosanct than the human agency. His two collections of poems, Scratches and deeper wounds (1996) and Mechanisms of desire (2012), are Swiftian in their satiric tone and his minis resemble the literary tradition inaugurated by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Rob's cover designs and cerebral reviews of global poetry anthologies are earning him the respect of the poets, editors and critics. An interview of Sunil Sharma by Rob Harle is available at Boloji.com http://www.boloji.com/index.cfm?md=Content&sd=Articles&ArticleID=15062
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    Winged Words: an Interview with Claire Corbett by David Golding
    (2014-01-24) David Golding; Claire Corbett
    Claire Corbett has had stories, essays, and journalism broadcast on Radio National and published in Picador New Writing, Rolling Stone, and The Sydney Morning Herald, among others. She was born in Canada and moved to Australia at the age of nine. Claire studied film and writing at the University of Technology, Sydney, and crewed on films before becoming a policy advisor to the Premier in the NSW Cabinet Office. She worked on water and genetically modified organisms for the Environment Protection Authority and child and family health for NSW Health. She now teaches Popular Fiction at UTS, is a doctoral candidate at the University of Western Sydney, and lives with her husband and children in the Blue Mountains.
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    An Interview with Dame Margaret Drabble
    (2014-01-24) Turner, Nick; Margaret Drabble
    Dame Margaret Drabble is one of Britain's leading novelists and critics. She has published seventeen novels, two acclaimed literary biographies (on Arnold Bennett and Angus Wilson), and was the editor of the Oxford Companion to English Literature, for its 1985 and 2000 editions. The following interview has several key areas of focus: literary influences; the literary prize; realism as a mode, and Drabble's use of it; the state of the nation novel; gender and 'women's writing'. We discussed the author's novels as they arose while talking of these subjects.
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    An Interview with Zoe Fairbairns
    (2014-01-24) Turner, Nick; Zoe Fairbairns
    Zoe Fairbairns writes novels and short stories, as well as political pieces, fiction reviews, and a radio play. Overall, Zoe Fairbairns's fiction, which is the focus of this interview, can be identified as feminist in its concerns, often using and subverting genre models, and accessible to a wide audience. There is little serious critical engagement with Fairbairns's work at the moment; this interview is an attempt to remedy that, and to explore themes which critics have not yet raised. We begin with an analysis of how the subject of women and work, and women and the economy, is presented in the author's fiction. We then move to discuss Fairbairns's style and language, and the means by which she researches her novels, proceeding to a discussion of class and realism in her fiction, and ending with questions about her use of the short story form. While it is vital to acknowledge Fairbairns's feminism, her technique and method as a writer must not be forgotten.
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    When Patriarchy Strikes: An Exclusive Interview with Qaisra Shahraz
    (2014-01-24) Yasser Arafath; Qaisra Shahraz
    Qaisra Shahraz is a UK-based novelist, activist and educationist. She was born in Pakistan and has spent most of her life in the Western world. Qaisra Shahraz as an author and intellectual represents the New Age Muslim Woman who have started exploring the theme of 'the suppressed half' in the traditional societies. Her writings are the testimony of an 'unusual traverse', as she says, through the uncrossed boundaries 'hitherto untouched'. She realises all Muslim women, veiled or unveiled, under forceful, manipulative and hegemonic pre-literate societies in Pakistan and Afghanistan Muslim women suffer a similar fate under forceful, manipulative and hegemonic pre-literate societies in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Qaisra tries to uncover the ways in which the 'women are being held captive; physically, socially, and culturally' in a prevailing feudalistic atmosphere of 'not-cosmopolitan' areas like Sindh.
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    Writers in Conversation, February 2014: Contributors (interviewers)
    List of interviewers for the first issue of Writers in Conversation (February 2014)