Australian Letters and Postwar Modernity

Australian Letters, 'a quarterly review of writing and criticism', was launched in Adelaide in 1957. Max Harris, co-owner of the Mary Martin Bookshop, poet Geoffrey Dutton and Bryn Davies (both members of the English Department at Adelaide University) were its initial editors. In 1963, on Davies's resignation, Rosemary Wighton joined the team, the only woman involved in editing a literary magazine in Australia at that time. This journal was one of an extraordinary range of literary enterprises undertaken by Harris and Dutton, who together played a major role in establishing a robust literary culture in postwar Australia. They had been undergraduates together at Adelaide University and co-editors (along with 'Sam' Kerr and Paul Pfeiffer) of Angry Penguins in its first incarnation as a university Arts Association journal, published from 1940 to 1942 (Miles 13). Passionate about modernist poetry, each published his first book while in his early 20s. Dutton, after serving in the RAAF during the war, took a BA at Oxford, and then travelled extensively in Europe, making a wide variety of literary contacts, before returning to Adelaide in 1951. In 1956 he took up a lectureship in the English Department at Adelaide University. Harris, as is well known, had taken Angry Penguins to Melbourne where it was published by the arts patron John Reed and where, in 1944, it became the unfortunate target of the Em Malley hoax. Although his co-editors at the time were Reed and Sidney Nolan, Harris bore the brunt of this scandal when he was prosecuted, in Adelaide, for publishing obscene writing. By the mid-1950s be was running the Mary Martin Booksbop and publishing the satirical monthly, Mary's Own Paper, and occasional issues of Ern Malley's Journal (the name of which signalled his refusal to be silenced by the hoax).

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Published 1 October 2008 in Volume 23 No. 3. Subjects: Australian literary history, Australian literary magazines, Modernity, Periodicals.

Cite as: Sheridan, Susan. ‘Australian Letters and Postwar Modernity.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 23, no. 3, 2008, doi: 10.20314/als.44434c83e7.