Canberra / Writing

A Literary Guide to Canberra


Muse, Canberra. Photograph by Jonathan McFeat.

Blogger in Residence, Shu-Ling Chua has the run-down on everything literary in our fine city. 

There’s no denying it. I’m immensely proud to have gotten my writing ‘break’ in Canberra. Like the city itself, Canberra’s literary scene combines the best of a big city and a smaller, community-focused town. It’s ambitious yet unpretentious, diverse, supportive, and importantly, welcoming.

Here’s a guide to some local literary gems.

Canberra-based publications

Online feminist literature and arts journal Feminartsy publishes fiction, features, memoir and profiles (submissions are paid) and presents monthly events, including reading nights, panels and discussions. “Feminartsy aims to be an inclusive, safe space for discussions around gender, feminism, and identity, as well as numerous other topics,” says editor/founder Zoya Patel. “Excitingly, we were successful in an application for artsACT funding for 2016, so we’ll be launching an exciting new writers’ development program.” Applications for Feminartsy’s ten-month, paid writing residencies close 29 January 2016.

Entertainment street press BMA Magazine covers the latest in music, film, literature, theatre and art. Since moving to a monthly publishing cycle, BMA is looking for longer and more in-depth, research-based features. “For literature-based coverage, that could mean a collection of interviews with local authors about the scene, it could mean coverage of any writers’ event or festival, it could mean a piece tracing a history of literary representations of Canberra,” says editor Jeremy Stevens*. “If it’s part of Canberra’s culture and worth documenting, we want to hear your ideas.”

Dedicated to creating a critical and creative space for politics, poetry and ideas around the theme of democracy in a changing climate, Demos is a progressive journal that aims to put the demos or “people” back into democracy. It publishes poetry, long-form articles, essays, short stories, mixed media creative writing, interviews, features, book reviews, memoirs and non-conventional forms.

Winner of the Most Underrated Book Award 2015, Grapple Publishing publishes The Grapple Annual, a calendar-based anthology. Founding editor Duncan Felton started Grapple for many reasons, including to “feature and boost the work of Canberrans alongside others nationally and internationally, to connect Canberran work with the world.”

Other local publishers include Editia (digital first publisher focused on short nonfiction and longform journalism), rip publishing (focused on participatory and collaborative content), Blemish Books (fiction, poetry and essays by new and emerging Australian writers) and Odyssey Books.

Young writer?

Scissors Paper Pen (SPP) is all about supporting new and young writers under the age of 35 in the ACT and surrounds,” says co-director/founder Rosanna Stevens. “We give opportunities for publication, creative experimentation, community and professional development, and we pretty much lose our cheese toasties over welcoming aspiring writers into a Canberra literary community.” SPP will be back in 2016 with its WordSMITHS monthly writers group, online writers’ residency program, and Papercuts review writing program held in conjunction with Noted and You Are Here festivals.

Author events

The Australian National University, National Library of Australia, Libraries ACT, National Gallery of Australia, The Asia Bookroom and independent bookstores Paperchain and Harry Hartog often host book launches and author events.

Contemporary yet cosy, Muse offers a carefully curated selection of books and regular book launches, author talks and ‘in conversation’ events with journalists, writers, artists, chefs and winemakers. “We’re looking next year [in 2016] to build on our events with local authors, poets, journalists, people here in Canberra because we want it to be a shop that really reflects not just the writing community but the thinking community here in Canberra,” says co-owner Dan Sanderson.

Interested in literature for children or young adults?

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is one of the largest existing organisations specifically for those writing and illustrating for children and young adults. The ACT chapter meets 5-6 times a year and membership is open to anyone. “Our meetings range from social gatherings to meetings covering industry news and events, and members’ news,” says ACT coordinator Tracey Hawkins. “We welcome aspiring and published writers and illustrators, librarians, educators, artists, students, dramatists, musicians, filmmakers, and others.”

Interested in speculative fiction?

The Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSFG) is a community of writers of all things speculative – fantasy, science fiction, horror and all their myriad sub-genres. “We do a range of things for our members, including short story and novel critiquing circles, a novel writing group, and a whole bunch of other activities like retreats, workshops and competitions,” says Leife Shallcross, CSFG president.

Usually held on the October long weekend each year, Conflux is Canberra’s convention aimed at writers, readers and fans of speculative fiction. Leife explains, “We have workshops, book launches, networking events, guests of honour from the writing and publishing industry, a short story competition and pitching opportunities, as well as fascinating panels and presentations on every aspect of speculative fiction, from making zombie movies through to tax issues for writers.”

Interested in poetry?

BAD!SLAM!NO!BISCUIT! is the poetry slam that gives anyone two minutes on the microphone with an audience, MCs, the Master of Conflict, feature acts, the Score Adder, bar(s), bar staff(s) and toilets; all for 1st prizes, all in the Phoenix Pub, all monthly on the third Wednesday,” says the team behind the ACT’s only poetry slam in said pub. You can also find The Salt Room re-starting in March at the Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres, Canberra Slamboree at The Front and That Poetry Thing That Is On At Smith’s Every Other Mondayat Smith’s Alternative.

Writers’ festivals

Noted (16 – 20 March 2016), Canberra’s first ever experimental festival of words, encompasses a literary bar hop, multi-art collaborations, online interactions, live events and workshops. “Before Noted’s launch in 2015, Canberra had been without a writers’ festival for five years,” says co-director/ co-founder Lucy Nelson. “There is so much pre-established lit-love in this town, Noted Festival is just a way of building on that, as well as sharing it with fellow lit-lovers outside Canberra.”

As a further reflection of this lit-love, Canberra will be treated to not one but two (!) writers’ festivals this year. “We’d love to hear from anyone who would like to volunteer and help build the festival,” says Vickii Cotter, Festival Director of the newly revived Canberra Writers Festival (26 – 28 August 2016). “We’d welcome any ideas or suggestions on who people would like to see at the event as well as any workshops they would like to participate in.”

Also of note: the annual Jane Austen Festival (15 – 17 April 2016) and Canberra Zine Emporium. And of course, a HUGE shout-out to ACT Writers Centre.

* Andrew Nardi will be BMA’s editor from January 2016.

Shu-Ling photo

Shu-Ling Chua is a writer, reviewer, Noted festival 2016 Live Producer and HARDCOPY 2015 participant. She blogs at hello pollyanna while living the memoir she hopes to finish one day. Her work has appeared in BMA Magazine, The Victorian Writer and Scissors Paper Pen. Shu-Ling spends her free time reading (favourites include Alice Pung and Sylvia Plath), traipsing and measures her life in playlists.

12 thoughts on “A Literary Guide to Canberra

  1. Great summary, Shu-Ling. Another resources, while not an event, is the Local Author Showcase maintained by Libraries ACT. It holds recent publication by Canberra and regional authors; all of which are available to borrow.

  2. I’ve just read with interest your “Literary Guide to Canberra” article. In the section headed Author Events, I wonder why you have omitted The Asia Bookroom which hosts very regular launches and talks given by authors and also the National Gallery of Australia. I run their quarterly Members Book Club and in November, 70+ people came to hear Tim Bonyhady. A week later there was a sell-out event (I think more than 300) to hear Annabel Crabb in conversation with Katy Gallagher.

    • Thanks Claudia – both The Asia Bookroom and the NGA are wonderful parts of the Canberra literary scene, really sorry that we missed this one, is was certainly not an intentional omission! (Links have been added). The Centre looks forward to promoting their events this year 🙂

  3. Pingback: Canberra Poetry Scene: Part 1- Bush Poetry | CAPITAL LETTERS

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