Writing the next chapter

As the University of Queensland Press celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, emerging poet and UQ PhD student Shastra Deo pays tribute to the publisher’s influence on Australia’s cultural landscape and looks forward to adding her own pages to its history.

Whether it’s her childhood stories about mermaids or her poetry about physical trauma and its connection to memory, Shastra Deo has always had a voice.

It’s a voice that called to the editors of the University of Queensland Press (UQP), and it’s a voice that reflects both the publishing house’s history and vision for the future.

Deo is one of UQP’s brightest up-and-coming authors. She was the winner of the 2016 Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize and, in July 2018, pipped several established and award-winning Australian authors to win the 2018 ALS Gold Medal for her debut collection The Agonist.

The Agonist, published last August, combines Deo’s love of writing with academic interests in biology to explore the languages of anatomy, etymology and incantation, while sparking conversations about fracture and repair, energy, love and danger.

“I’m really interested in the words we use to describe parts of the body and I’m intrigued with the idea that bodies are not just the sum of physical parts,” Deo said.

“I think it’s incredibly fascinating and baffling that we hold memory within our entire physical being. 

“Society has typically separated science and the arts, but I think we’re now doing more to integrate the two fields. Even if you don’t know the meaning of the scientific words, there’s something about the music of them that resonates.”

“I believe UQP is the best publisher of Australian poetry. Hopefully great poets like David Malouf are okay with me standing somewhere in their shadows."

UQP was established in 1948 and, for the past 70 years, has played a crucial role in giving voice to emerging writers who now contribute so much to mainstream Australian cultural life.

UQP Publishing Director Madonna Duffy said celebrating 70 years of independent Australian publishing was a monumental achievement. 

“It demonstrates longevity in the competitive world of publishing and reaffirms our role as a major contributor to arts and culture in Australia,” she said. 

“We have maintained our conviction to publish enduring and important books that have impact.”

UQP’s first two decades were largely spent producing academic books and scholarly journals, but a dramatic transformation occurred in the 1960s under the stewardship of Frank Thompson, who began to publish literary fiction and poetry. 

“We were one of the first mainstream publishers to introduce an Indigenous writing list and create the David Unaipon Award for unpublished Indigenous writers,” Duffy said.

“Championing diverse voices remains important to us and we have evolved into a substantial and reputable cultural arm of UQ, responsible for publishing dynamic work and taking artistic chances with new and emerging talent.

“Finding and nurturing the writers who will lead the way in decades to come has been a highlight for all of us at UQP.”

Deo (Bachelor of Creative Arts ’14, Bachelor of Arts (Honours) ’15, Master of Arts (Writing, Editing and Publishing) ’16) is currently completing her PhD in creative writing at UQ and said she has valued the welcoming environment at UQP, as well as the care it has shown in publishing the poems that mean so much to her.

“I’m the first poet of South Asian descent to be published by UQP, and the fact that UQP continues to embrace young writers from a range of backgrounds and ethnicities is exciting,” Deo said. 

“They’re doing what’s right, and they’re doing what’s important right now for the literary community.” 

Deo follows in the footsteps of a long list of poets and novelists who have appeared under the UQP banner, including David Malouf (Bachelor of Arts ’55, Doctor of Letters honoris causa ’91), Peter Carey AO (Doctor of Letters honoris causa ’89), Kate Grenville, Rodney Hall AM (Doctor of Letters honoris causa ’03), Olga Masters, Roger McDonald, Murray Bail and Marion Halligan AM.

“I believe UQP is the best publisher of Australian poetry. Hopefully great poets like David Malouf are okay with me standing somewhere in their shadows,” Deo said.

To mark its 70th anniversary, UQP has commissioned new work from 25 of its authors to form the dynamic collection Reading the Landscape: A Celebration of Australian Writing, available at The Co-op Bookshop at UQ’s St Lucia campus.

Did you know these works were all published by UQP?

Johnno (1975) David Malouf

Oscar and Lucinda (1988) Peter Carey

Steam Pigs (1995) Melissa Lucashenko

A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove (1996) James Moloney

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) Doris Pilkington

The Birth Wars (2009) Mary-Rose McColl

After January (2010) Nick Earls

The Promise of Iceland (2011) Kari Gislason

Destroying the Joint (2013) Jane Caro

Three Crooked Kings (2013) Matthew Condon

Heat and Light (2014) Ellen van Neerven

Common People (2017) Tony Birch

To learn more about UQP, visit uqp.uq.edu.au.

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