In conversation with Professor Don Graham about his new book, "Michael Wilding and the Fiction of Instant Experience: Stories, Novels, and Memoirs, 1963–2012"
Posted: October 8, 2013
Professor Don Graham's latest book, "Michael Wilding and the Fiction of Instant Experience: Stories, Novels, and Memoirs, 1963-2012," discusses Wilding's prodigious body of work in the last fifty years and explores within it Wilding's aesthetic of "instant experience." A full description of the book, published by Teneo Press, can be found here. We spoke with Professor Graham about his work on the book, his interest in Wilding's career, and the future of Australian literature.
Why did you choose to write about Michael Wilding? What interests you about his career and body of work?
I first read some of Wilding’s stories back in the early Nineties when my wife (Betsy Berry) and I were teaching at the University of Sydney on exchange. Then we met Michael and became good friends. Later, I made several trips back to Australia for conferences and such, and I continued to read his works and reviewed some new books of his as they came out. In the late Nineties I invented a course titled Australian Literature and Film, which Betsy Berry currently teaches. Then, in 2009, I set to work on a study of his oeuvre. I was fascinated about his English background and his expatriation to Australia in the early 1960s.
Wilding’s work is hugely varied: he writes novels, memoirs, short stories, literary studies; he has taught at multiple universities; he co-ran a publishing company; etc. How would you say that certain distinct areas of his work influence other areas?
Wilding is the complete man-of-letters. For half a century he has been very active in writing fiction, producing first-rate literary criticism and scholarship on figures from John Milton to Christina Stead, and engaging in various publishing ventures, the most notable of which is Wild & Woolley, founded in the early 1970s. W&W published some of the most interesting experimental writing in that very exciting period of Australian literary and social history.
Would you say that there is a common thread that runs through his creative work? Or, alternatively, that there have been certain distinctly themed periods?
Wilding went through at least two major phases. Early on, Henry James was one of his narrative models, and the James influence is readily apparent in the stories collected in Wilding’s first collection, Aspects of the Dying Process (1972). Though always Wilding’s Jamesian stories are suffused with modernity and a level of sexual content you won’t find in James, not directly anyway. Then the other phase came from the influence of Jack Kerouac, whose sense of immediacy and free-lancing narrative manner much influenced Wilding to turn from social realism to a kind of spiced-up postmodernism or pure Kerouacian voices in such classic stories as “Bye Bye Jack. See You Soon,” which appeared in the 1975 volumn, The West Midland Underground.
Did you make any interesting discoveries in your research for this book that you ended up not including in your published book?
I don’t know about discoveries, but I did learn a lot about the girlie magazine scene in Australia in the 1960s. I had a whole chapter on these magazines (in which Wilding published six stories) but had to cut it because of length requirements by the press. The same with a story set in Austin, “An Afternoon for Political Dissidents in Texas,” which takes place right here in the capitol city, in the 1960s. Fortunately my commentary on this story will appear in Antipodes in May, 2014.
One of the strengths of my book, I think, is its extensive use of emails between Wilding and me over a period of years during which time I asked him many questions about particular works and he always had interesting, insightful things to say.
How would you say Wilding has been a formative part of the modern Australian literary scene? How does his influence present itself?
Well, he has published some forty-odd books and has been involved in virtually every literary activity one can think of, for fifty years. His influence presents itself in his own words and in the hundreds of thousands of words he has encouraged other writers to write.
What do you see as some of the most exciting directions in which Australian literature is moving today?
Hard to say. The publishing scene in Oz today is dominated by multinationals, and the day of small press publishing is in decline. Has been since the Eighties.
Now that you have published this book, what’s next for you?
The next one will be back in the U.S.A., focusing in some way on Texas (a part of the U.S., by the way) and culture.