THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY has continued as it started – jittery and uncertain. As the countdown to the new century began some worried techno-sceptics took to the bush, loaded with tinned food, wind-up gadgets and kilometres of toilet paper, fearful that the Y2K bug, thought to be lurking in the operating systems of most computers, would throw life as they knew it into a technological meltdown.
Meanwhile the rest of us watched as fireworks were loaded onto public monuments around the world, timed to explode as clocks relentlessly struck twelve. Television producers love logistical challenges, and this was one of the biggest imaginable: twenty-four hours of perpetual celebration around the globe, in the middle of the night, in crowded piazzas, cities and harbours. We were enchanted as we watched the sparkly welcome in one country after another – a fiery symbol of the connectedness and immediate communication that has come to characterise this era.
While careful planning mitigated the potential catastrophe of Y2K, the bug's features also marked the new era. The same digital lines that make global broadcasting possible, that connect families across continents and buyers with sellers, that enable real and imagined communities to flourish, have also transmitted the contagion of fear.
First 9/11, and the wars of retribution in Iraq and Afghanistan, which threaten to last longer than the major conflagrations of the previous century; then the global financial crisis and its aftershocks, which have proved to be at least as significant at the Great Depression; coupled with a perpetual backdrop of natural disasters beamed live as they unfold into homes oceans away, and the chilling cost of human revolution no longer left to the musings of poets and philosophers but there before us, bloodstained and hopeful.
Jitteriness and uncertainty seem a reasonable response. Many of the old verities no longer hold in this globally connected, always-on world.
Making sense of this is difficult. There are early signs of just how difficult it is: the crumbling respect for institutions, and political leaders' apparently insurmountable struggle to articulate a vision informed by the past and prepared for the future.
In this context the Australian government released a paper designed to stimulate discussion about developing a cultural policy that will help enable creativity to flourish, traditions to be honoured, great art to be produced and appreciated, creative industries to flourish, and social cohesion to be enhanced. A tall order.
It is, however, one that has particular urgency. The default cultural nationalism of the 1970s and '80s looks tired in this globally connected, constantly changing world. We need to define what it means to be Australian now, and to encourage its cultural expression in art and communications, science and design, and much more.
The Melbourne theatre director Julian Meyrick explained it well: 'Culture is not, in the end, about conjuring up new ideas, venerating old ones, being excellent, being employable or helping Australia penetrate Asian markets with innovative service products - sterling goals though these may be. It's about giving life meaning and furnishing ourselves with the ability to affirm, criticise or change society's direction. Culture is a means of communication as well as a vehicle for self-expression. Without it we would lack not only the products of creative activity but the processes of community conversation and exchange that underpin them. In other words, it's about overall quality of life. And if the government truly cares about a diverse society that is also, magically, an inclusive one, it must foster this as culture's ultimate goal.'
Telling stories, real and imagined, is an important part of this task – it is compelling, urgent; it has its own rewards, and a broader benefit. And it is in this context that this year's Griffith REVIEW fiction edition was prepared. It is a fresh and exciting collection, optimistically engaging with the wonder of the world and human relations.
In the notes inviting authors to contribute we asked them to consider the idea of islands – physical and metaphorical, places and people isolated and connected. We received hundreds of submissions, from which this selection has been garnered.
While we did not set out to create a collection of new and emerging writers, that is where the process of reading, editing and selecting has taken us. There are some writers in this collection who already have a national reputation and profile, but there are many others who have yet to make that big step.
At Griffith REVIEW we have always tried to create space for new and emerging writers. We are proud to announce the winners of the third annual GREW emerging writers' prize: for fiction, Romy Ash and Rachael S Morgan, and for non-fiction, Meera Atkinson and Nicolas Low.
OUR FIRST SERIOUS engagement with creating a dedicated space for new writers was Griffith REVIEW 13: The Next Big Thing. In that edition, released in 2006, we pub-lished thirty-four young writers, many of whom have since become well-known: Anna Krien, Will Elliott, Tara June Winch, Sally Breen, Karen Hitchcock, Fiona McGregor, David Sornig, Marcus Westbury, Emily Maguire, Cameron Muir, Miriam Lyons, Julienne van Loon, Ryan Heath and Brigid Delaney, among others.
I am confident that some of those published for the first time here in edition 34 will be well-known in the future, for they have the requisite energy, passion and talent. They are exciting writers, not too weighed down by the jitteriness and uncertainty of the times, whose creativity provides the space to imagine, and by so doing contribute to a conversation about the world not only as it is but as it might be.
GRIFFITH REVIEW IS a collaborative project. It is widely known that we work closely with authors, but the small team behind the scenes comes into its own with the annual fiction collection. I want to pay tribute to them, because they have done a remarkable job building this edition without any prior commissions.
This process began with the creative writing, editing and publishing interns – this year including Alan Vaarwerk, Melissa Heng, Charlie O'Brien, Coco McGrath, Harry Brumpton and Oliver Wykeham – who read the countless submissions and made an initial assessment before passing them on to deputy editor Erica Sontheimer for her unfailingly thoughtful and measured evaluation. Erica and I work closely with David Winter, based at Text Publishing in Melbourne. David is an exemplary editor who patiently and sensitively edited every piece, with the same grace and expertise that his colleague WH Chong designed this cover and bequeathed the nickname for the edition: Batgirl flies.
Finally, after Andrea Huynh liaises with the authors, we pass the stories to Paul Thwaites, who has managed the production of Griffith REVIEW with good humour and efficiency since its inception nearly a decade ago, to create another beautiful collection.
We hope you enjoy it.