Vale Agnes Nieuwenhuizen
We were deeply saddened to learn of Agnes Nieuwenhuizen’s death last week. Our children’s bookseller Mike Shuttleworth, who worked with Agnes for many years, reflects on her work and lasting legacy.
Agnes died suddenly on 14 September in Woodend, Victoria. A champion of youth literature in Australia and tireless advocate of reading, she leaves a deep and lasting impression on Australian culture.
Before young adult literature had the cachet it enjoys today, Agnes was driven by her vision of giving young people the opportunity to explore the world through reading. She believed that without support for young readers today, there would be no readers for tomorrow. Agnes brought to her work a fierce intelligence, exacting standards and a deep commitment to young people’s culture.
In 1994, Agnes established the first Schools Days at the Melbourne Writers Festival, paving the way for the highly successful Schools' Program that is included in today’s Festival. She also set up the Australian Centre for Youth Literature at the State Library Victoria in 2000, now known as the Centre for Youth Literature.
The Australian Centre for Youth Literature grew out of Agnes’s own innovative Youth Literature Project, which had its first iteration in 1991 with the Victorian Writers Centre, then at St Martins Youth Arts in South Yarra. There, she was able to combine dramatic performance by young actors with appearances by writers including John Marsden, Isobelle Carmody, Melina Marchetta, Margo Lanagan and Maureen McCarthy.
At St Martins, Agnes also established the Reading Matters biennial youth literature conference. At Reading Matters in 1999 she launched The Underdog, the first novel by Markus Zusak. Reading Matters remains a fixture on the youth literature circuit and has attracted international YA superstars including John Green, Cassandra Clare, Meg Rosoff and Tamora Pierce, alongside the best Australian writing.
Throughout her life, Agnes also published four books on young adult literature including a collection of interviews with Australian authors, and edited three books. She was a frequent reviewer and commentator for The Age, and was awarded the Dromkeen Medal in 1994.
Born in Tehran in 1939, Agnes is survived by her devoted husband John Nieuwenhuizen (a distinguished translator of youth literature), her children Max and Jackie, and six grandchildren.
Vale, Agnes Nieuwenhuizen, 1939 – 2017