A panel consisting of Shane Maloney, Wayne Macauley, John Tranter and Susan Wyndham, Chaired by Jane Gleeson-White discussed 'Our Literary Heritage: What role do the classics play in our culture?' at the Byron Bay Writers' Festival.
John Tranter defined the classic, in Latin - classicus, a work of superior literature.
Tranter said that: "classics can change your life".
The panel discussed Michael Hayward's Text Publishing Classics. Hayward believes his 30 books are classics, but they are not on university courses. Tranter believes that when people say that classics should be on university courses they are talking about their bank balances and not about culture.
Susan Wyndham told us that a classic is a story passed down through generations, but there are also new classics like Where the Wild Things Are.
Wayne Macauley asserted that classics are a marketing excercise. Macauley's writing skills were self educated, gained from looking for Penguin classics in books shops, taking books home and reading them. Macauley enjoyed collectiong the black spined Penguin books from second hand book shops and these books formed his writing education.
Shane Maloney said "I wasn't really interested in classics until I was made one".
Hayward has made a Text Publishing series of books he believed had been over looked.
Maloney think it is funny how many 'instant classics' there are out there: "it is remarkable how instant they often are and not classics".
Maloney did acknowledge that he has enjoyed reading the forward in Penguin classics. The forward frames the book. "A death in Brunswick inspired me to write because you know if he could do it any fucking idiot could and that won't be in the introduction".
Susan Wyndham believes that: "literature helps to define periods of a nation. Texts are snapshots to help us see how we've developed over time and it's our own selection that determines how this will look to future generations".
Wayne Macauley agreed, saying: "classics make up how we see ourselves".
John Tranter told us that: "not much international literature has been influenced by Australian classics, except Patrick White - he has had some influence". Malouf told Tranter "the older you get the more you'll realise that you speak with an Australian accent. It doesn't matter where you've been or what you do".
Best quote from this session I think, was Tranter's comment that: "all Australians carry around pictures of poets in their pockets everyday. There are two poets on the $10 note".
Hayward is pushing for a quota of Australian literature to be taught in the universities. Tranter believes that: "if you want to kill a book you put it on a university list - no one likes the books that they are made to study at university".
Wayne Macauley is not convinced that a book dies after being put on a syllabus.
Shane Maloney said that: "in approaching fiction I'm allergic to the notion of instruction. If a book is said to be able to better me, I will steer well away".
Margo Laidley-Scott's blog post on this panel discussion can be read at the Byron Bay Blog site.