In Contemporary Australian Literature: A World Not Yet Dead, Nicholas Birns tells the story of how novelists, poets and critics, from Patrick White to Hannah Kent, from Alexis Wright to Christos Tsiolkas, responded to this condition. With rancour, concern and idealism, modern Australian literature conveys a tragic sense of the past yet an abiding vision of the way forward.
Birns paints a vivid picture of a rich Australian literary voice – one not lost to the churning of global markets, but in fact given new life by it. Contrary to the despairing of the critics, Australian literary identity continues to flourish. And as Birns finds, it is not one thing, but many.
"In this remarkable, bold and fearless book, Nicholas Birns contests how literary cultures are read, how they are constituted and what they stand for … In examining the nature of the barriers between public and private utterance, and looking outside the absurdity of the rules of genre, Birns has produced a redemptive analysis that leaves hope for revivifying a world not yet dead."
- John Kinsella
Nicholas Birns is professor at the New School, New York. He is a leading scholar of Australian literature and editor of Antipodes, the publication of the American Association of Australasian Literary Studies.
This anthology embraces a wide variety of compositions: it ranges from song-poems of the Pele and Hiiaka cycle and the pre-Christian Shark Hula for Ka-lani-opuu to postmissionary chants and gospel hymns. These later selections date from the reign of Ka-mehameha III (1825-1854) to that of Queen Liliu-o-ka-lani (1891-1893) and comprise the major portion of the book. They include, along with heroic chants celebrating nineteenth-century Hawaiian monarchs, a number of works composed by commoners for commoners, such as Bill the Ice Skater, Mr. Thurston's Water-Drinking Brigade, and The Song of the Chanter Kaehu. Kaehu was a distinguished leper-poet who ended his days at the settlement-hospital on Molokai.
Among his many prizes and awards, Alex Miller has twice won the Miles Franklin Literary Award, for The Ancestor Game in 1993, and Journey to the Stone Country in 2003; the Commonwealth Writers' prize, also for The Ancestor Game in 1993; and the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards Christina Stead Prize, for Conditions of Faith in 2001 and Lovesong in 2011. He received a Centenary Medal in 2001 and the Melbourne Prize for Literature in 2012. In 2011 he was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Having published his eleventh novel, Coal Creek, in 2013 - which won the Victorian Premier's Fiction Award in 2014 - Miller is currently writing an autobiographical memoir with the working title 'Horizons'.