Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature: Nicholas Jose (Ed)

This is a monumental project; one that makes an important contribution to our definition what Australian literature might mean, and what kinds of writers and writing it encompasses. Happily, it’s a broad church, one that encompasses fiction, plays, poetry, speeches, letters, diaries and even songs.

Alongside expected contributions from the likes of Miles Franklin, Peter Carey, Gwen Harwood and Helen Garner are the songs of Archie Roach and Nick Cave, the diaries of Donald Friend and Bennelong’s famous 1796 letter.

General editor Nicholas Jose explains that his mission was for this selection of iconic and less familiar writers to represent ‘different ways of being Australian as well as … different kinds of literary creativity’. The final selection – collected in a whopping 1400 plus pages – is vibrant, eclectic and interesting, with strong representations from indigenous, women’s and migrant literature.

The introductions and extracts are finely done, offering concise yet illuminating insights into the writers showcased. I discovered several writers I plan to look up at length, and was reminded of many more – the precise effect a really good anthology should have. This will remain a definitive reference for many years to come.