Cambria Press is pleased to present the following Q&A session with Dr. Brigitta Olubas on her recently published book, Shirley Hazzard: Literary Expatriate and Cosmopolitan Humanist.
Shirley Hazzard’s work has been extensively and extravagantly praised by writers and reviewers, such as Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Richard Ford, who raves that “if there has to be one best writer working in English today it’s Shirley Hazzard.” Novelist Michael Cunningham calls her “one of the greatest writers working in English today” and London Times critic Brian Appleyard hails her as “the greatest living writer on goodness and love.”
Despite the critical acclaim for Hazzard’s work, there has not yet been a full critical study, and only a handful of scholarly articles have been published since the early 1990s. This scholarly neglect is in part a consequence of Hazzard’s complicated location outside the limits of national literary canons.
In particular, Hazzard’s highly significant writing about the United Nations has never before been considered by critics, and it is not widely known today that she was the first writer to publish an account of the US State Department McCarthyist involvement in UN hiring of staff from its earliest years, and the first person to air claims that UN Secretary-general Kurt Waldheim had concealed details of his World War II activities. This public writing stands in a fascinating relation to her highly wrought literary fiction, presenting particular challenges to her critics and readers.
This study brings together Hazzard’s highly regarded literary fiction and her impassioned, polemical critiques of the United Nations through the rubrics of her humanist thought and her deep commitment to internationalist, cosmopolitan principles.
This book is part of the Cambria Press Australian Literature Series by Susan Lever.
Below is the Cambria Press Q&A session with Brigitta Olubas..
Question: Why did you decide to write this book?
Answer: I decided to write Shirley Hazzard: Literary Expatriate and Cosmopolitan Humanist because even though Shirley Hazzard is such a prominent international literary figure, there has never been a scholarly study of her work. Her novels have garnered esteem and major prizes over several decades, particularly in the US and Australia, but there hasn’t really been at any stage a substantial conversation about her work, and about where it sits in the contemporary and postwar literary landscape. I also wanted to look at Shirley Hazzard as a significant public intellectual. In addition to her novels, which present compelling dramas of individual love and loss, she has published essays and monographs on what she calls “public themes”, most notably trenchantly critical accounts of the United Nations; so I wanted to think about how we might consider this work alongside her literary fiction.
Question: What do you hope your readers take away from your book?
Answer: I want first of all to present for readers a sense of the particular historical contexts of Shirley Hazzard’s writing, in particular, a sense of the significance of her working in the shadow of the Second World War, that is to say, to read her as a Cold War writer. This context speaks to the particular preoccupations of her non-fiction writing. I also want to present to readers an understanding of Shirley Hazzard’s work in its moral dimensions––its concern with questions of goodness and with the possibility for meaningful action in a world shaped by poetry as well as politics, by love as well as war. First of all I want readers to gain a sense of the real substance of Shirley Hazzard’s writing in its aesthetic, intellectual, and ethical complexity. These are novels about love and morality that recall, as many reviewers have noted, writing from the nineteenth century in the demands they make of her readers.
I also want readers to take up the question of Hazzard’s aesthetics, which might be seen to be conservative in invoking the great works of western humanism, in light of her politics, which are consistently progressive and left-of-centre. This combination presents a certain ethical and intellectual challenge for contemporary readers, and I’ve addressed this in the first instance by exploring her use of direct citation and more oblique allusion, and considered what it means for an author to invoke the work of western humanism alongside the radical poetics of modernity, from the perspective of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.
Finally, through my focus on the ways that her fiction frames love and desire by loss and a certain indeterminacy of gender, I hope to introduce a sense for readers of the complexity and indeed the perversity of her understanding of human desire and its inheritances.
Question: What other research do you believe is needed on this topic?
Answer: My critical study of Shirley Hazzard is intended to open up the work of this remarkable writer for further critical study. I hope that readers of her work will pursue some of the threads I’ve identified, in particular the resonances of the Cold War contexts of her writing, including the ramifications of left-liberal politics and humanist aesthetics, her dense use of literary allusion and citation, and the poetics of melodrama. I would also hope that readers explore further the internationalist contexts of Australian writing across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, as exemplified in Hazzard’s mobile expatriate location.
Recommend this book to your library! Librarians can order the book directly from Cambria Press or they can order through their preferred academic book wholesaler (Cambria Press is on the approval list of premier wholesalers like YBP). Be sure to check out the great e-book program from Cambria Press too!
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