“We produce beautiful books that bristle and shimmer with life.”
The words on the UWA Publishing website say it all, really. This is a publishing house with a reputation for bringing to the world books of great beauty and great substance, and sharing with readers stories, poetry, art, natural history and non-fiction works of lasting significance. UWA Publishing is also the home of the Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, established in 2015 to “celebrate the life and writing of an Australian radical writer”.
At the helm of the small but dedicated team at this remarkable publishing house is my latest guest blogger, UWA Publishing Director Terri-ann White, whose passion for books and love of language is clearly evident in her responses to my questions, below. If you are not already following Terri-ann, and UWA Publishing, on Twitter and Instagram, I recommend that you do. You will be rewarded with insightful, thought-provoking words and images about the world of publishing.
For now, take a few minutes to sit back and appreciate what Terri-ann has to say about her favourite authors and books–and have a close look at some of the titles on her beautiful bookshelves. What could be more satisfying than waking up to see so many treasures just a few steps away?
Q. Terri-ann, how would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?
A. All of my working life has been conducted around books: in bookshops, classrooms, festivals and now in a publishing house. I’ve been Director of UWA Publishing since 2006. We are a tiny team and I’m an all-rounder member of the team concerned with ensuring everyone is satisfied and has what they need to make working life a great experience. I commission and sign up authors and books, and wherever I can I’ll talk about my favourite books for as long as my voice holds out. This guest blog is a perfect opportunity.
Q. What projects are you currently working on or do you have in the pipeline?
A. We publish around 32 books each year at UWAP so we are always working across a three-year span and this makes life interesting. At the moment we are finalising the May and October titles in our UWAP Poetry series—those 8 new titles give us a total of 18 new poetry books since October 2016. To write that down as I have just done is remarkable and makes my head spin: no other publisher in Australia is releasing so many poetry books.
This is a new series, and an initiative that has come from the dire state of arts funding in Australia since 2015. We are rescuing a number of excellent books that lost their homes in smaller publishing houses when funding was cut holus bolus across Australia in 2015.
Another book—not in that series—that I am anticipating with great pleasure and very proud to be the publisher of is the Collected Poems of Fay Zwicky, the sublime and wonderful Perth-based poet. It is richer and more impressive than I–as a huge fan—was expecting and will bring a new audience to the poetry that Fay has made over the last 50 years.
We are currently editing Drawing Sybylla, by Odette Kelada, this year’s winner of the Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. It’s a real find, this one: a meditation on the lives and work of women writers, with particular reference to Australian women writers from the start of the 20th century. Highly imaginative as well as doing a balancing act between lyricism, wryness and sass.
Finally, a memoir by Marion May Campbell, formerly Perth-based and now in Melbourne, that’ll be published in 2018. Marion examines the life and death of her father and the aftershocks of this event in her childhood and beyond in richly lush language play where small bombs can be detonated at the level of the sentence.
Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?
A. At work, my bookcases are at my back on a wall of built-in shelves. At home they are in my study upstairs in specially made shelving designed by my architect. My bedroom is just two steps up from the study so I wake up looking at the books every morning.
There are also freestanding bookcases in my guest bedroom downstairs: one belonged to my grandfather Paul Raoul Le Comte, a collector of aviation books and history (and a rabid autograph hunter) and another was commissioned by a group of friends and made by one of them for my 25th birthday. I also have what is called in the book industry a ‘spinner,’ one of those stand-alone display units for paperbacks. I think it’s a Picador unit. It is my nostalgic object from my many years (1983-94) of bookselling in The Arcane Bookshop, in Northbridge, a bookshop I opened after I graduated from university.
Q. How are your books organised/arranged?
A. I’m sorry to say that there is no order imposed whatsoever in my home book collection. Ashamed about that but I do seem to have an instinctual connection to them and can regularly find what I am looking for. Recently I quarantined as many of my poetry books I could find and made a separate space for them on one long shelf. Haven’t found them all and still not sure I want them to live together in this way.
Q. What sorts of books predominate?
A. I have a lot of literary fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and illustrated books about art and design. That’s about it. You can track my journey through life and the particular stages of development through these books but you may need me to give you a guided tour. I’d say that every decade since the 1970s is covered and each looks different and not just because of the ageing of paper and the trends of book design.
Q. Describe your favourite reading place.
A. It’s probably my small couch in my lounge room where I am surrounded by mid-century armchairs and glorious big pictures on the walls. I like to lie down with a cushion under my head and my legs squished under me. I look often, and always lovingly, at these pictures by Clyde McGill, Eveline Kotai, Timothy Cook, and Kitty Kantilla in between my reading. Life is good.
Q. What books are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?
A. I am reading the magisterial Svetlana Alexievich, the Russian author who writes about Russia today in all of its aspects and has, I think, developed an extraordinary new form of writing with a polyphony of voices that build through her research and interviewing but build into a collective space rather than an attributable stream of responses to questions from an interviewer. It’s a bit like the results of that post-war American photographic project called The Family of Man that aimed to make a big picture of the state of the nation after the Depression and the long world war and capture the depredations of the American people. But these ones are being made with words. She is a genius.
I’m also reading Pankaj Mishra’s new book, Age of Anger, that attempts to provide antecedents to the current state of global politics with its shouty and dismissive style of denouncing diversity and free thinking. I had dinner once with Pankaj, a great cosmopolitan, at the M on the Bund restaurant in Shanghai, owned by Michelle Garnaut, a wonderful woman from Melbourne who made China her home many years ago. So I’ve read every new book he has published.
Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?
A. My favourite author, since the early 1980s, is the Canadian short story writer Alice Munro. She continues to teach me how to live. I’ve had a ritual since the 1990s of reading a handful of her stories again every year, so I’ve read her backwards and forwards across my life. Someone once described her this way: her empathy is Shakespearean.
After Alice, I could make a list of beloved authors most of whom I’ve lived with for decades: poet Elizabeth Bishop, the luminous Joan London, Michael Ondaatje, EL Doctorow, Ross Gibson and Marion May Campbell. If you asked me this next week it’d likely be a different list.
Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be – and why would you choose them?
A. A first edition of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, a gift from my mother for my 21st birthday. Elizabeth Jolley’s Cabin Fever. Signed for me by my lovely friend Elizabeth, but also holding a cheeky postcard note from her in a secret code she was fond of. I have a bound notebook/journal with the early markings of my writing interests. I’d pick that up because it gives me a direct line back to my younger, former self.
Q. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would like to talk to them about?
A. In most cases I’d rather not meet my favourite authors, and certainly not my favourite characters: I can have wonderful congress with them on the page and that is enough.
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