Terra Australis: McSweeney's 41
Since its inception in 1998 Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern has proven itself to be the most popular fiction quarterly of the modern era. Founded by Dave Eggers as a means to feature work that had been rejected elsewhere but that he found value in, the journal quickly became a bit of a hit, not only because of the eclectic fiction featured therein but also the design. Each issue is totally different. They have played around with magnets, double spines, cantilevered covers, disappearing ink, an issue comprised of booklets inside a cigar box, another as a pile of junk mail, and one as a newspaper (the San Francisco Panorama). Naturally this has resulted in a slew of design awards.
The writers therein have been a who’s who over the years, with heavyweights Jonathan Franzen, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Chabon, Ann Beattie and Stephen King all featuring. They have won the National Magazine Award for fiction twice. Oddly, only one Australian author has ever graced their pages—Chloe Hooper—who appeared twice with non-fiction pieces that later became chapters in The Tall Man.
This has been remedied in their latest issue with a portfolio of four short stories written by Indigenous Australians Tony Birch, Melissa Lucashenko, Tara June Winch and Ellen van Neerven-Currie. This is not the first time the quarterly has included a section dedicated to fiction from a specific part of the world. Issue 15 (2004) featured stories from Icelandic writers, issue 35 (2010) a portfolio from Norway and issue 37 (2011) had five stories from Kenya.
This portfolio of stories by Indigenous writers, which I helped put together, came about through pure serendipity. I have been friends with former McSweeney’s managing editor Eli Horowitz for a number of years and ran the idea by him during a visit to San Francisco in 2011. Having been to Australia in 2010, Eli was aware of a number of the writers I was excited about. Jordan Bass had taken over as Managing Editor since then and gave the immediate go-ahead to collect submissions.
The diversity of styles and voices in the stories that came in was staggering. As is always the case with fiction submissions, it was a minor nightmare making the final selection but Jordan, Dave Eggers and I finally settled on four that stood out. Having loved Tony Birch’s Miles Franklin shortlisted novel Blood and his short story collections, I was not surprised to find him amongst the final four, though his story ‘The Promise’ is, and the author agrees with me here, the best thing he’s ever written. Birch seems to have tapped into a southern gothic vein reminiscent of Faulkner and O’Connor.
Melissa Lucashenko was another writer I had admired from afar, in particular her regular contributions to the Griffith Review. Her story ‘Tonsils’ is a brutally comic deconstruction of suburban familial strife, and has the best front-yard punch-on you’ll ever read. Lucashenko lives in Queensland, as does newcomer Ellen van Neerven-Currie, though her story ‘S&J’ is set in Western Australia. Incidentally, Jordan Bass is a guest at Brisbane Writer’s Festival this year, where the issue will be launched. Melissa Lucashenko, Ellen van Neerven-Currie and I will also be in attendance. The Melbourne launch will take place at the Wheeler Centre on September 13th with the same contributors and a bleary-eyed Tony Birch, who returns from the Berlin Writer’s Festival that morning.
‘S&J’ was a complete shoo-in for the issue. It is sparse, full of wide-open sky and strange noises as a German backpacker drives a wedge between two wandering lovers. The final story, ‘It’s Too Difficult to Explain’ sees the triumphal return of Tara June Winch. Her tale of an Aboriginal sprinter fallen on hard times is all the more poignant in an Olympic year and has moments of heartbreaking transcendence.
In short, the four stories by Australian writers alone make this a tremendous issue. That Pulitzer Prize winner Steven Millhauser, Syrian civil rights lawyer Alia Malek, screenwriter Henry Bean and literary legend Thomas McGuane are also in there, along with many others, makes this an international extravaganza to be proud of.
The issue is available here on the McSweeney’s store.
Or to buy in bookstores. Readings in particular have lots of stock if you’re in Melbourne, or will gladly post it to any location in Australia.
- Alien Onion
- Ampersand Duck
- Andrew McDonald
- A Pair of Ragged Claws
- Arts Victoria
- Australia Council for the Arts
- Bookshow blog
- City of Tongues
- darkly wise, rudely great
- David Astle
- Dorothy Johnston
- Elmo Keep Does Stuff
- The Ember
- Going Down Swinging
- Griffith Review
- Killings blog
- Lorraine Crescent
- Lynden Barber
- Mandy Ord
- Marcus Westbury
- Melbourne University Publishing
- Mel Campbell
- The Monthly
- Musings of an Inappropriate Woman
- Oslo Davis
- Paul Callaghan
- Read, Think, Write
- Right Now
- Sleepers Publishing
- Sorrow at Sills Bend
- The Stella Prize
- Tom Cho
- Wheeler Centre
12 Sep 12 at 12:01
Well may McSweeney’s win multiple design awards… but why then is the cover of this edition so ghastly?...
25 Sep 12 at 12:24
What an incredibly snarky and irrelevant response, Cat....