By Eliza Berlage
Now in its 29th year, the 2015 UTS Writers’ Anthology showcases the best emerging writers from the Writing Program at the University of Technology, Sydney. In almost three decades, alumni from the anthology have made big names for themselves as authors including David Astle, Gillian Mears, Bernard Cohen and Gill Jones. This year’s anthology, Strange Objects Covered with Fur is a labour of love, the product of a four-month process involving an editorial team of seven students.
Under the supervision of Associate Professor Debra Adelaide, the editors – Harriet McInerney, Emily Meller, Lily Mei, Tom Lodewyke, Hanna Schenkel, Emma Rose Smith and Louise Jaques – undertook the daunting selection process. They had to read and make a selection of 30 works from more than 300 anonymous submissions across undergraduate, postgraduate and research students.
Editing the anthology, which is only open to UTS students, is an experience many work towards during their university studies. Having dreamt of being part of the team since starting her degree, final year Law and Writing student Emily Meller knew this was her last chance to get involved. She says the task of selecting the works was pretty natural and the final works just seemed to fit.
“In my classes I’m always surprised at how out-of-the box people’s writing can be. We wanted the anthology to reflect that, to show the strangeness. It’s experimental but not for the sake of it. It also has heart.”
A journey through the anthology reveals this effort to ensure diversity: it includes poems, essays, flash fiction mixed in with longer fiction and screen plays.
“It was important to get a good range,” Lily Mei says. “Showcasing the depth and breadth of student work is important as it not only provides a voice for individuals but it shows how great our program is.”
According to Emily Meller, the subjects in the anthology differ as wildly as the writing styles but there are some common threads. “Quite a lot of the writing involves death,” she says.
More intriguing was the way the theme of animals emerged more strongly as the editors read and selected. “There is a foreword by Ceridwen Dover, author of Only The Animals, which is uncanny considering the anthology’s name,” Emily says.
One of Lily Mei’s favourites was a creative non-fiction essay on knitting by a journalism student.. “We thought what on earth is this? It’s going to be really really dull but it was one of the best pieces we read,” Emily says. “At first glance, many of the pieces didn’t seem innovative but often these were the most engaging.”
Being an anthology editor means more than simply selecting and editing the works: the team was involved in the entire process of launching the book – deciding to whom to send it for critical review and liaising with the Sydney Writers Festival program coordinators. Thankfully these tasks ran smoothly. “We don’t have to worry about the marketability because the anthology is well established. Also the fact that its student writing means it’s always really exciting,” Emily says.
Louise Jacques, whose writing appears in the 2014 anthology Sight Lines, was keen to be involved in the editorial side. Despite not having technical editing skills, she enjoyed the challenge and felt she was able to make a useful contribution.
“I thought it would be a lot of copy editing but what I was really interested in were the media events and organizing side. I wanted to see how it would work from a publicist’s angle. I feel like I was able to complement the team.”
Another surprise for editors was the discovery of how to come up with a name for the anthology. “The title was actually one of the first things we had to decide on,” Louise says. The editors agree it was the key to creating a sense of ownership and connection to the project. “We brainstormed and the name gave the book an identity,” she says.
As for whether the editors felt a weight of expectation to honour the anthology’s legacy, they agreed they were aware of its public presence. “It didn’t feel so much like pressure but more like a standard to maintain. We needed to do justice to the writing program,” Emily said.
As Lily Mei put it, “As a writer, your dream is to make a book and publish it. I have the anthologies from 2000-2014 on my bookshelf at home. Now I’m part of that legacy.”