To stir up some launch frenzy, we are interviewing the people who will be speaking and performing at DOAS Issue 4 ‘Animal’ launch, over the next few weeks. We selected these folk to be a part of the reformatted launch, as we felt they best represented our contributors: sassy, politicised and in-your-face.
Jeff Sparrow is editor of Overland Magazine and the main man in the collaboration between Meanjin and Overland: publishing forum Meanland. He also co-wrote Radical Melbourne 1 and 2, published by Vulgar Press. We are very pleased that he will be speaking and launching DOAS’ fourth issue on 29 October 2011.
Meanland is a collaboration between two much loved literary journals with rather different audiences. What has been the main goal of Meanland from Overland’s perspective? Have any emerging writers from the Overland camp benefited from this union?
For us, Meanland has always had a number of goals. One is to generate discussion about the changes the industry is going through, since there’s clearly a public interest – even concern – about what’s happening to reading and writing. But it’s also about helping us think through our own practice. Meanland has meant that the staff at Overland have had to engage with all the arguments circulating about what publishing might become and that’s been vital in us theorising what we’re doing now and what we hope to do in the future.
And, yes, a large number of people have published, blogged or spoken under the Meanland banner now and quite a few of them have been ‘emerging’.
We’re excited that you’re speaking at the Issue 4 launch. Is your involvement in the ostensibly underground literary scene a nod to Overland’s mission to support emerging writers? Do you think the underground has to necessarily remain ‘underground’?
Well, I’m excited, too!
To be honest, I don’t really like the category ‘emerging writer’. It’s a metaphor that implies a straightforward career trajectory that, in many ways doesn’t really exist, since in a country like Australia, there’s nothing to ‘emerge’ into (hardly anyone makes a living by writing). More to the point, it begs the question as to why the ‘emergence’ of a writer is necessarily a good thing. It seems to me much more useful to think about the kinds of writing we’d like to see and then focus on aspiring writers who are working on that, rather than simply fetishising the creation of ‘new writers’ as if we were discussing cars rolling off the assembly line.
‘Underground’ writing seems a more meaningful category, if by that we mean work that’s politically or aesthetically oppositional. Overland’s about encouraging that: we’re not necessarily about fostering new writing for the sake of it.
No, I don’t think the underground (defined as above) should remain underground. If you’re producing work opposed to the mainstream, you want that work to be as widely circulated as possible, so that your critique can lead to genuine change. The progressive movement might be underground at the moment but that’s a problem, not something to be celebrated.
What still gives you the biggest kicks as an editor?
Unexpectedly finding work by someone you’ve never heard of that says perfectly what needs to be said.
What in your opinion has Overland maintained and changed with respect to its ethos over the years? Any compromises?
Overland emerged out of the Communist Party in 1954, only three years after the federal government had sought to make communism illegal in Australia. In other words, at its inception, it was a pretty brave project and one unequivocally committed to creating a different kind of world.
I’d like to think that’s still the ethos today.
As for compromises, well, every writer knows that the work you end up with is always a pale shadow of the work you tried to create. But, hey, that’s art.