Thursday 9 April 2015

Q & A: Julianne Schultz / New Asia Now

Griffith Review is Australia’s leading literary quarterly. Each issue is themed. Recent editions have covered topics as varied as renewal after natural disaster (Surviving, edition 35), globalisation (Small World, edition 37), and migration within the Pacific, (Pacific Highways, edition 43).  Each themed collection features a mix of essays, memoir, reportage, short fiction, poetry and visual essays by emerging and established authors who tease out the complexities of the subjects and events under discussion.

Edition 49, coming in August, will turn the spotlight on Asia, at a time when the continent is undergoing unprecedented economic and social change – and also wielding unprecedented economic and social power.

Griffith Review 49: New Asia Now will showcase outstanding young writers from the countries at the centre of various Asian transformations. Confirmed contributors include: Murong Xuecan (China); Joshua Ip (Singapore); Annie Zaidi (India); Miguel Syjuco (Philippines); Sheng Keyi (China); Maggie Tioljkan (Indonesia). All these contributors were born after 1970; they are all cultural agenda setters in their own countries, keen to explore issues of identity and belonging in the new world that is unfolding around us.

Griffith Review is edited by Julianne Schultz, who founded the magazine. But in an interesting collaboration, New Asia Now will be co-edited by Julianne and Jane Camens, founder and executive director of Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Association.  New Asia Now will be published in association with Asia Literary Review.

Amongst many other awards, accomplishments, and activities, Julianne chairs the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. She is, or has been a member of various boards, and committees, including the Australia Council for the Arts’ Pool of Peers, and of the National Cultural Policy reference group. She is the author of several books, including Reviving the Fourth Estate (Cambridge) and Steel City Blues (Penguin), not to mention the librettos to the operas Black River and Going into Shadows. In 2009, she became a Member of the Order of Australia for services to journalism and the community, and she was made an honorary fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities the following year. Last year, she gave a speech in Beijing about the need to rethink Australian expression of cultural identity. Afterwards, The Canberra Times called her “the ultra-marathoner of Australian cultural life.”  

Julianne gave Asian Books Blog an interview via e-mail.

Why did you decide to devote an edition of Griffith Review to writing from, or about, Asia?
We have had several editions focusing on Australia’s place in this region, its relationships and potential, most notably in edition 18, called In the neighbourhood. We are interested in Australia looking out, rather than in an inward looking Australia. There is a long tradition of this approach in Australia, but it is sometimes overlooked by perceptions of Australian isolationism.

Have you finalised the contents of New Asia Now?  
We have a shortlist of pieces, the final decisions will be made in May. Jane Camens has been most actively managing the process. As someone who has been devoted to advancing a literary exchange and development within the region for many years her networks and knowledge have been crucial to this project.

How did you select pieces for the shortlist / for inclusion?
We whittled down submissions by actively reading, discussing and evaluating the pieces received. This was done by myself, Jane Camens, Sally Breen and other members of the editorial team. We decided on the quality, originality and voice of the submissions. We received nearly 300 pieces so it was a difficult series of decisions, as the quality and diversity was very high.

Are you choosing only on literary merit, or would you include a fairly wooden piece of writing from a part of Asia with little or no publishing industry, meaning a writer living there would have little opportunity to get her voice heard?
We are choosing on merit.  Not all the shortlisted pieces are ‘literary’ but all are well written, and engaging, and provide a fresh or important perspective.

Is the idea is to highlight both writing from Australia, by Australians, about Asia, and also to expose Australians to writing generated within Asia? 
Yes, we have been struck by the number and quality of pieces written by Australians of Asian descent, by Australians who have lived and worked in the region, and by writers from many other countries who have spent time in Australia. This has given a unique perspective, and is quite different to an edition by American, Canadian or British contributors. It shows how rich and diverse the relationships have become.

What balance are you looking for between Australian voices, and voices from Asia?  
There are more non-Australians, but as is always the way with the Griffith Review we select pieces that refract and reflect other voices, so the complete collection is a work of art in itself with many interesting layers.

Did you get submissions from non-Australian Western expats living in Asia? What about from Asian expats living within Asia, but transplanted from their homes to, say, Singapore or Hong Kong?
All of the above, and also from writers who have always lived in their homeland. It is a rich and diverse group.

Can you talk in general terms, about themes addressed in the submissions you’ve had from Asia?
Themes of belonging, identity, understanding and rediscovering history, family relations, impact of globalisation, pressure on existing political systems and gender.

Can you talk in general terms about the themes of submissions from Australia?
Belonging and identity are dominant.

So writers from both Australia and Asia are addressing some similar themes?
They touch on similar themes but with very different points of view, backgrounds and insights. They work remarkably well to paint a picture of the region from the emerging dominant generation.

Have any of the Asia-based writers turned their pens on Australia, so to speak?  Have any of them made looking at Australia, from Asia, their topic?
Yes several reflect on Australia, or on their perspective moving between Australia and other countries.

What about language? Griffith Review is an English-language magazine, how did you manage, or negotiate, the fact that many Asians may be unable to write in English, or choose not to write in English?
We accepted submissions in languages other than English. They were translated by skilled translators, with translation organised either by the authors, or by us. We had hoped to publish non-English language pieces online in the original language, but technically this is proving to be beyond our capacity.

Is there anything else you want to say to readers and writers in Asia?  
They are wonderful!  And the regional perspective of New Asia Now is unusual, but I think that the richness and diversity of the pieces is very exciting and provides a quite different take, which will be full of surprises.