Nigel Krauth, 68, is professor of Creative Writing at Griffith University. He was co-winner of the Vogel Prize 1982 with Brian Castro. He is General Editor, TEXT: Journal of Writing and Writing Courses.
Did you set out to be a fiction writer in the literary tradition before or after the Vogel?
‘I wanted to be a fiction writer. I wrote short stories and eventually published them. Being one of the people who started the short story magazine Inprint (1977-1986) was the best fillip to my career before winning the Vogel. The Vogel was the biggest fillip of all.’
So you did wish to write full time?
‘I wanted to be a full time university lecturer in an English department. And I already had been – at the University of PNG and Mitchell College (later Charles Sturt University), Bathurst – before I won the Vogel.
‘I wrote my Vogel-winning novel while on a New Writers Grant from the Australia Council, and while taking leave of absence from doing a PhD at the University of Queensland.
‘I actually made the decision to become a full-time writer (understanding the poverty-line consequences) before hearing that I had won the Vogel. I had given myself 10 years to “make it” as a fiction writer. I won the Vogel in the first year of my risky adventure and, of course, it seriously changed my trajectory.’
How did you conceive the ‘life of an author’ – romantically, if so how? Or were you tough-minded about the challenges of it? Or both at the same time perhaps?
‘I didn’t think about ‘the life of the author’ in any longitudinal sense. I thought about it, at the time, in terms of joining an immediate fight.
‘Having won a New Writers Grant, and having already experienced the competitive nature of the academic and writing industries, I figured that I was good enough to have a go in a highly contested environment. I associated “romantic” ideas with ideas of rebellion, and of changing the world. I believed that I had something to say in terms of changing the way white Australia thought about its history and its culture.
‘I was imbued with postcolonial histories by that stage; I claim that I started the first Third World Literature course in an Australian tertiary institution at Mitchell College in c.1975. I was very much up for trusting my own perceptions and telling others about them. So, of course it needed toughness to set out as a full-time writer. I don’t see that being in opposition to a ‘romantic’ view. The Romantics were rebels.’
What were the obstacles, if any, that interfered with the aspiration to be part of a literary tradition?
‘Amazingly, I don’t recall any obstacles. I survived as a full-time writer for almost a decade, 1982 until the end of the 1980s. I guess I had a dream run. What stopped me continuing as a full-time writer were financial considerations and having a wife and daughter who, eventually I thought, needed more to live on than I could earn from full-time writing.’
Has it worked out the way you wanted it to?
‘It has worked out in a way that I am entirely happy with. Instead of remaining a writer in tattered coat, I re-entered academia and started the Creative Writing program at Griffith University. In 25 years, thousands of students have gone through it at undergraduate level. At postgraduate level it has produced several outstanding writers, including Glenda Guest’s PhD novel Siddon Rock (2006) which won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize (2010) for best first book and was long-listed for the Miles Franklin Award, short-listed for the NSW Premier’s Prize Best First Book, Nike Bourke’s PhD novel manuscript The Bone Flute (2002) won the Queensland Premier’s Emerging Writer Award (2000) and novels and memoirs by Inez Baranay, Sally Breen, Brentley Frazer, and Kevin Roberts.
‘I think my life has turned out better than I wanted it to. I have not only written all my life, I have had the delight of teaching others about writing.
‘I am not certain the idea of ‘a literary tradition’ means much these days. I think we now have ‘a writing tradition’. ‘Literary’ and ‘the literature’ are terms created by English departments and literary critics, etc., and they are about reading. They valorize the act of reading above that of writing.
‘They are about critique, as most areas of the Humanities are, and not about the actual production. The creative writing discipline in universities is about writing from the writer’s point of view, not from the reader’s point of view. I don’t want to be part of a literary tradition, I want to be part of a writing tradition.’
As an irrelevant question how do you describe your occupation when asked? Writer? Author? Academic? Do you ever lie?
‘I call myself an academic these days. If I earned my living solely by writing, as indeed I did for almost a decade, I would call myself a writer.’
Is writing a way of life?
‘If “a way of life” is meant to mean “a way of earning a living”, then in Australia, writing is a hard way of life.
‘If “a way of life” means “devotion to a mission or cause or vision”, then I think writing is certainly that. The artist’s way of life cannot be reduced to the ordinary parameters of living, because it involves obsession and a not-normal self-view. Maybe psychologists have a term for it: “prophet syndrome” or “shaman delusion”, or whatever.
‘Many writers and artists in Australia put up with the most basic of lifestyles and remunerations because they believe in what they do and, in fact, they like it that way, ultimately.
‘It’s just a pity that the artistic ‘way of life’ is in so many cases so harrowing financially.’
- Matilda, My Darling, Allen & Unwin, 1983.
- The Bathing-Machine Called the Twentieth Century, Allen & Unwin, 1988,
- JF Was Here, Allen & Unwin, 1992.
- Freedom Highway, Allen & Unwin, 1999.
- Krauth, N and C Krauth (1990) I Thought You Kissed With Your Lips. Penguin Books, Ringwood
- Krauth, N and C Krauth (1989) Rack Off, Rachmaninoff. Penguin Books, Ringwood.
- Krauth, N and C Krauth (1987) Sin Can. Penguin Books, Ringwood.