From Left to Right: Winnie Dunn, Shirley Le, Jo Langdon, Michelle Cahill
Our Class Fetish issue was supported by the Australia Council for the Arts and the Copyright Agency Limited under an Editing Mentorships for Equality Grant. This support enabled us to generously pay our mentored and guest editors.
This project recognises that editorial employment opportunities in established publications are not sufficiently inclusive. The project sets an empowering precedent in partnership and exchange between organisations. We think it offers a model and a rationale for greater diversity within academic institutions, and within affiliated research organisations which have links to independent literary publishing, as well as other non-affiliated literary organisations. As Australia’s settler population continues to expand with newcomers from Asia, Africa and other countries, diversity in the publishing industry workplace and in the literary establishment is long overdue.
Structural discrimination arises because there are powerful nodes and coalitions in the industry of ideological rigidity and biopolitics. For those of us who are disenfranchised because our minor heritages and ethnicities are already marginalised, the single strength that we have to bring about change is our voice: self-determined and collective. This is a basic democratic principle.
We hope this program will inspire similar initiatives that are progressive and equitable for Australian publications and literary editors from all backgrounds.
Class Fetish: the Fiction Longlist judged by Christopher Raja
‘Newcastle’ by Caitlin Doyle Markwick
‘Cunjevoi’ by Caitlin Doyle Markwick
‘The Naming Exercise’ by Ouyang Yu
‘The BBQ’ by Carew
‘Cleansed’ by Oliver Marshall
‘An April Day in March’ by Jordon Conway
‘Splitting out the Bones’ by Jane Downing
‘Bus Driver’ by Tamara Lazaroff
‘Images at Dusk in Seletar Beach’ by Sharmini Elisabeth
‘The Ice Cream Girl’ by Maree Spratt
Judging Notes – Alice Pung
Please note all these winners are in no hierarchy of order. It was too hard to compare such disparate, excellent stories.
Spitting out the Bones
There is a fine line between slapstick-spoofing of wankers and writing incisive social commentary, and this piece walks the tightrope with rare skill. The metaphor of eating bourbon-tortured tiny birds is exquisitely sickening – a biting remark on both class and fetish. This is an original character-driven horror-story told in such wonderful turns of metaphor and simile, with the artistry of the prose never getting in the way of the plot.
An April Day
This melancholy story starts off slow, but finds its voice and it is a powerful one, filled with frustrated dreams and unarticulated trauma. The author manages to write about the concrete (the life of a manual labourer, the descriptions of sordid streets and the horrors of school) through the meandering thoughts of an old man clearly still tormented by his childhood. The prose is simple and descriptive, but very moving. The image that lingers in the mind long afterwards is the dog bleeding out in the night, somewhere.
This piece sinks its hooks in at the beginning and doesn’t let go until the final word. It illuminates the plodding pedestrian existence of a minimum wage worker without cranking up the pity notch, by contrasting her external world (sleeping on trains, frying burgers, dealing with supervisors) with her internal world (reading, merging into the ocean, noticing sea creatures). From a technical critique, this is a consummate short story that does so much with character, setting and dialogue, and achieves a triumphant and convincing closure at the end without resorting to cheap gimmicks.
What I loved about this intergenerational story was how the author focused on significantly petty details about how a person’s former class habits – for example, buying Coles ice cream on the cheap and thinking that Copenhagen ice cream is a rip off – and how these little details built up to form character and plot. The author has a real knack for dialogue and suburban humour, and the colloquial voice of the young boy is so convincing.
The Ice Cream Girl
Although this story reads like a chapter of a novel, I chose this piece because of its feisty and entirely convincing young adult voice. This should be a novel, because I want to read more! I loved the unexpected turn of phrase (‘small community of pimples on my forehead’). The author’s metaphors and similes are entirely true to character (ice creams, milkshakes, television commercials, dodgy air conditioning – the things poorer adolescents focus on). She’s got a knack for combining humour and pathos in equal measures, with great skill.
The Naming Exercise
I have always admired the adventurous and pioneering writing of Ouyang Yu and this entry is no exception. This piece is remarkable because it deals with something unexpected – class stagnation due to race. It’s wryly funny and astute, poking fun at Orientalism, commenting on transgenerational racism, identity, and aging.