‘The Craft So Long to Learn’: Ruth Park’s Story of Ruth Park

'Writing [is] a passion I have never understood', Ruth Park declares (Fishing in the Styx 301), yet 'a storyteller ... is all I have ever wanted to be' (A Fence Around the Cuckoo 10), and she concludes the story of her life with the reflection that 'With me there had always been a confluence of two streams, literary and personal, and I had taken great risks for both' (Fishing 301). To publish an autobiography is, of course, to take further risks, both literary and personal, since one's protean self-image, while always a source of unlimited personal fascination, must be captured and projected in such a way as to be both intelligible and interesting to others. The self-exploration necessarily entailed in the endeavour, however, will constantly reveal the artificiality of the literary construct that results.

One of the risks that a would-be professional storyteller takes, of course, is that people may not like her stories. This has not happened to Ruth Park. Her writing, in any of the various media and genres in which she has worked, has always met with an enthusiastic response not only from members of the public, both young and old, but also from judges of literature. Her work has been translated into many languages; generations of children, both in Australia and overseas, have followed the misadventures of the Muddle-Headed Wombat; several of her novels for adults have been best-sellers, and she has won many prestigious awards, both within and outside Australia. Yet, curiously, her work has attracted little serious literary criticism. Even her autobiography, in spite of being very favourably reviewed, has received scant attention in the growing literature on this genre. Perhaps the very extent of her popularity with the public has tended to deter academics; or perhaps her work, though skilful and effective, has not always been produced to coincide with whatever has been currently fashionable in academic circles. That the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies Award for 1993 was given to A Fence Around the Cuckoo, the first volume of her autobiography, may be a sign that this is changing.

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Published 1 May 1996 in Volume 17 No. 3. Subjects: Autobiographies.

Cite as: Greaves, Jill. ‘‘The Craft So Long to Learn’: Ruth Park’s Story of Ruth Park.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 17, no. 3, 1996. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.e2ef95cfd2.