... By the end of the 1960s/1970s Jolley's career in writing was established and there followed more than two decades in which that regional career flourished as an inter/national one. ...








Diary of a Weekend Farmer
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Elizabeth Jolley: A Bibliography--1965-2007
Awards and Recognition
Early Life
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An Inter/National Career

It was this conjunction of a new federal arts policy, a new rhetoric of regionalism (related to a renewed nationalism), and new institutional bases for writing and publishing that took Jolley from the position of someone who writes-a faculty wife, a mother, a grandmother-to the position of a professional writer. That this transition was complex personally as well as institutionally is suggested by a story from her second short-story collection, “The Performance.” It was, however, the early fruition of her longstanding desire to have a career in writing. By the end of the 1960s/1970s Jolley's career in writing was established and there followed more than two decades in which that regional career flourished as an inter/national one.

Across the 1980s Jolley remarkably published eleven books in ten years, five of them in a two-year period from 1983 to 1984. In this decade she became a Penguin Australia writer, and a recipient of numerous national and two international literary awards, together with two Literature Board Fellowships. She became a regular reviewer for national (sometimes international) newspapers; an often-invited guest at inter/national writers' festivals and academic conferences; an invited writer-in-residence at several universities in Australia; a frequent subject of news reports and media interviews; and the recipient of her first honorary doctorate and her several civil honours, including being made an Officer of the Order of Australia for services to Australian literature (1988). Finally, and not least as measures of Jolley's inter/national career from the 1980s onwards, there were still other developments: in 1989 her work first became the subject of an academic dissertation, one of more than two dozen recorded here, six from overseas universities and one including a Danish translation of Miss Peabody's Inheritance; in 1987 Milk and Honey was the first of eight of her novels to be translated into six different European languages published in 24 different foreign-language editions; and in 1985 The New Yorker brought out one of her short stories, the first of six it published. This last success (like being published by Penguin) was one of her earliest ambitions.

Thus, after twenty years of the slow hard business of getting published from a regional base, in the last half of her career Jolley was a central figure in Australia's literary distributional and conversational networks. The shape of the infrastructure that enabled Jolley's inter/national career is illustrated by the record of events of one year from this period. In 1997 the business of her writing life was marked by: teaching creative writing at Curtin University over two semesters; publishing a novel, a short story, four articles and two book reviews; participating in three festivals (Melbourne, Perth, and Melbourne again); conducting writing workshops in Perth and Canberra; appearing as guest speaker at nine events in five capital cities; and taking part in promoting Lovesong—which included an ABC television interview, six radio interviews, four print-media interviews, two readings, and six guest-speaker appearances. Also in the same year Jolley was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Queensland (the third of four such degrees she received), and named one of Australia's inaugural 100 Living National Treasures (and, in the following year, a State Living Treasure).

The events of that one year reflect both the mature work of the last decades of Jolley's writing life, and also the complex infrastructure of a literary career in Australia at the end/turn of the century—and they contrast to the infrastructure that shaped the first part of her career in writing. There were several interrelated forces at play: a more global and market-oriented publishing industry; a florescence of literary festivals, competitions, prizes, awards and grants; an entrenchment of government practices (however depleted the funding); an established place for creative writing and Australian literature in universities; and an electronically enabled media with tighter connections to the publishing industry.

Her success within this milieu led one blogger to remark in the first decade of the new millennium that “ten years ago you couldn't move for Jolley,” and in Gangland (1997) Mark Davis included her among those established writers who prevented younger writers from thriving. Ironically, but not surprisingly, Davis' take on the literary-cultural scene of the 1980s/1990s in the history of Australian letters echoes Jolley's earlier, more muted expression of the difficulties of getting noticed and published in the 1960s/1970s. Such a structural echo is perhaps a recommendation for McKenzie Wark's notion, in his The Virtual Republic: Australia's Culture Wars of the 1990s, that what is needed in the national literary debate is a “zone of indifference”—a place where different interests, purposes, styles and writings find expression and an attentive hearing, a conversational zone that is inclusive. Such a place, when set against the imperatives of the “slow hard business” of writing, is necessarily an ideal, but it is an ideal that Jolley's work, with it reiterated themes of the loneliness of being “on the edge” of community, affirms.

*Note: This account of the contours of a writing life evident in the Bibliography draws on: Barbara Milech, “Elizabeth Jolley”: The First Twenty Years in Australia,” Australian Literature and the Public Sphere (ed. Alison Bartlett, Robert Dixon and Christopher Lee, Toowoomba, Qld.: ASAL-U of Queensland, 1999, 132-41).