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Journalist Spotlight | Interview with Astrid Edwards, Host and Director of The Garret: Writers on Writing podcast

14 February, 2024

Today, Medianet is joined by Astrid Edwards, Host and Director of The Garret: Writers on Writing podcast. Whether as an Academic researching the potential of climate fiction or a literary judge for The Stella Prize and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award - among others - Astrid’s work has promoted and nourished the Australian literary ecosystem. Screenshot 2024-02-15 094052


Can you tell me about the books that made you a reader/influenced you to pursue a career in literature?


There was no one book; it was more that books of any kind always made sense to me. The ability to learn something new or go somewhere different hooked me at a young age. Perhaps it was the sense of possibility books gave me. Anything can happen between the covers.


How important a role does a traditional book review still play in the literary sphere, particularly when there seems to be a push into cultural criticism at large when discussing books?


Review culture is expanding. Some authors have become international bestsellers because of their fan base on Tik Tok, and Colleen Hoover is a great example of that. It reflects different genres and different ages and, to be honest, different marketing campaigns.


But that doesn't threaten or eclipse ‘traditional’ book reviews (and by traditional book reviews I assume the question is referring to reviews written by a critic that are commissioned by an editor). A literary review is not written to drive sales (although authors obviously hope that will happen, and it is lovely if it does). It is written to engage with a text, to place it into context, to interrogate what it says about an aspect of our world. In that sense, the traditional book review has a longer lifespan that a TikTok review (or a review on any other social media platform), although depending on where it is published, it likely has a much smaller audience.


In terms of cultural criticism at large, what better way than through books? Any book that matters is cultural criticism, regardless of genre or style.


With social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, book recommendations seem to be rapidly homogenising. How do we combat this and, in your experience, is it more difficult now to get Australians to read and support local writers? 


Do we need to combat it? What does it matter if a teenager starts to read because they found a book recommendation on social media? It probably works better than what I did as a teenager, which was to wander around the shelves and pick a book with a cover I liked and then, if I did like it, obsessively read everything by that author.


And not at all. Readers want good recommendations, and they are just as likely to read a book by an Australian author as one published overseas. In Australia, the cultural cringe is falling away from our literature. We have world class literature! That said, we need to do a better job of selling our work on the world stage. That remains a challenge.


From talking with other readers and writers, genre fiction doesn’t seem to have as much cultural capital/significance within the Australian literary landscape.  What can be done to realise the full potential and impact of genre fiction?


Australian publishing treats genre terribly. Honestly, I haven’t figured out why. Readers love it, and genre sells very well, but it does get marginalised. Perhaps it is because genre is often not considered to be literary, which is maddening. So many works considered ‘classics’ are genre – think Frankenstein or The Handmaid’s Tale or Nineteen-Eighty-four. But that is also a superficial answer. To be honest, I haven’t figured this one out yet.


What narratives/experiences do you hope to read more of in fiction?


Climate fiction. And by climate fiction I don’t mean stories of fire or flood or drought, although they will always have a place. I mean stories exploring the societal impacts of a changing climate. What does it mean for class or gender or race? For the regions compared to the cities? For education and health and immigration policies? For the different generations? For each state and territory? I want to read imaginative understandings exploring the nuance behind the headlines.


Are there any upcoming writers you’ll be featuring in The Garret that we should keep an eye out for?


I’ll be interviewing the six writers shortlisted for this year’s Stella Prize, which is the national prize for women and non-binary writers. The shortlist will be announced on 4 April 2024 and I can’t wait.


What has been the most memorable experience of your career thus far?


Interviewing writers live on stage and seeing their connection with the readers. It is phenomenal. Benjamin Law, Richard Fidler, Maxine Beneba Clarke and Richard Flanagan cast a spell over their audience and it is mesmerising. It’s also very easy on me as the interviewer when that happens!


And lastly, what do you look for in content pitching?


Originality. Who has time to read a book derivative of ten others recently published?

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