Racism, the Realist Writers’ Movement and the Katharine Susannah Prichard Award


In their works on literary politics in postwar Australia, Susan McKernan (later Lever) and John McLaren mention the comparatively little known role played by the Realist Writers' movement and its journal Realist Writer (later The Realist). Ian Syson has offered an interpretation more in sympathy with the methods and achievements of this group: 'in terms of struggle for space in the cultural sphere for over a quarter of this century, the Realist Writers' movement stands as a courageous example of militant cultural practice' (Syson 334). He contends that the significance of the Realists lies primarily in the challenge that their collective organisation posed to individualist notions of literary production and value. Moreover, this collective structure distinguishes the literary achievements of its members from those of other working-class writers commonly absorbed into the bourgeois literary sphere. The Groups sought to provide a space for the intellectual and creative offerings of ordinary working people. At the same time they hoped to shape this space in such a way as to preserve the alternative nature of its cultural discourse, the collective, class identity of its writers. Further research, using the extensive collection of letters of Ray Verrills (who published under the pseudonym of Ray Williams and was the journal's editor from 1962 until its end in 1970) has helped to build a more comprehensive picture of the journal and the culture around it. One interesting story to emerge from the letters sheds light on Australian racism and the limitations of the movement's guiding philosophy of aesthetic and political realism.

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Published 1 October 1999 in Volume 19 No. 2. Subjects: Aboriginal-White conflict, Australian literary history, Australian literary movements, Racism, Realism.

Cite as: Hollier, Nathan. ‘Racism, the Realist Writers’ Movement and the Katharine Susannah Prichard Award.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, 1999, doi: 10.20314/als.d2c3a51b05.