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My DIY – MFA. Part 2. Compiling your reading list.

Image: The start of my compilation. (Source: Pete Mitchell original)


Okay, so you’ve decided to 'enroll' in your own course. A course designed specifically for you: Do-it-Yourself Master of Fine Arts from the University of [insert your name here]. Of course, to make it bespoke, you will need to think about exactly what you want to achieve.

Knowing where you want to end is a precursor to choosing which path you go. In the words of bestselling non-fiction author Steven Covey, "Begin with the end in mind" (1). You can also choose to do your DIY-MFA over the period you choose and focused on the topic or topics of your choice.

 

The DIY-MFA I’ll describe is me-centric. Its mine after all. I'll be attending the University of Pete Mitchell for 12-18 months! Make your DIY-MFA specific to your requirements. Don’t rush into this decision. Think about what is most applicable and meaningful to YOU and don’t forget to have fun. Get creative with being creative.


I’ve provided you with the compiled list of books that are relevant to my DIY-MFA to assist you with selecting the content for yours, but it's just a guide. To make this discussion the best it can be I’d love to hear what you think of the books I’ve selected. Have I missed any landmark books that you think I should have included? What have you decided for yours? Let me know how you go?

 

Image: Look for books that tug on your heart AND your mind (Image: Freestock).


The base design of your DIY-MFA can follow the same template as mine. I have gleaned this from multiple sources. I've done a great deal of the leg work for you. This doesn't mean you're going to be spoon-fed. You've still got to do some work yourself.


I’ve decided my DIY-MFA will focus on modern Australian literature and my book list reflects this. If you love romance, fantasy, or sci-fi, think about what seminal works best represent these genres. Your DIY-MFA is for you.


For my DIY-MFA I’ve compiled a list of core and supplementary texts that represent a broad spectrum of modern Australian literature. For your list remember to include a selection of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and drama from a diverse range of voices and perspectives as it relates to your area. You might like to work towards a narrower list and the choice is yours, but I'd encourage you to emerge from your comfort zone.


Be realistic in the volume and complexity of your list. For me, I think about 25 texts will be about right (and leave room for recreational reading too, of course) in the 12-18 months i've decided on. So here's my list:


 Non-Fiction

"Dark Emu." Bruce Pascoe challenges the notion that pre-colonial Australian Indigenous Peoples were solely hunter-gatherers. I’ve read this book previously and it was a paradigm shift. This author has courted controversy and may have made a jump or two beyond credibility (you decide), but it is impossible to deny the stone fish-traps and aquaculture industry at Nyemba on the Barwon River in NSW that predates the pyramids. The title hints towards a revelation that you will never see the night sky the same.

“The Novel Project.” Graeme Simison's book is cited as a step-by-step guide to writing your novel. Part textbook, part biography by the author of the wonderful “The Rosie Project”. A perfect fit for my DIY-MFA, and yours.

“The Writer Laid Bare.” Lee Kofman claims her book is for voracious readers, writers, and lovers of the printed form and it's hard to argue with her. She even includes an alternate and comprehensive list of books to read (Check it out if you’re having trouble compiling your DIY-MFA list)

“Growing Up Queer in Australia.” edited by Benjamin Law. Assembled from voices across the LGBTIQA+ spectrum and spanning diverse places, eras, ethnicities, and experiences. Another one to expand my thinking.

 

Fiction

"Cloudstreet." Tim Winton - A quintessential Australian novel, set in Perth, exploring two working-class families living under the same roof. Early Winton at his brilliant best. I can’t wait for his new novel, "Juice", out in October.



"Carpentaria." Alexis Wright - A groundbreaking novel, that blends myth, history, and storytelling. Alexis Wright employs mysticism, stark reality, and pointed imagination to re-create the land and the Aboriginal People of Carpentaria.

"The Book Thief." Markus Zusak - An internationally acclaimed novel by an Aussie author set in Nazi Germany.

"The Slap." Christos Tsiolkas - A contemporary novel that explores the complexities of modern Australian society. Tsiolkas has been described by Colm Toibin (the brilliant Irish writer) as "one of the most significant contemporary storytellers at work today".

“River of Salt.” Dave Warner's novel is described as part Goodfellas and part a love letter to Australian coastal towns. Warner is credited with forming Australia’s first punk band, Pus. He has written 11 crime novel and lists writing scripts for Aussie soaps McLeod's Daughters and Packed to the Rafters on his resume. He's come a long way from singing "Suburban Boy."



“The Historian’s Daughter.” Rashida Murphy describes a world of secrets, jealousies, and lies. A family ruled by the Historian but smoothed over by the Magician, whose kindnesses and wisdom bring comfort and all-enveloping love to a ramshackle building that seems destined for chaos. Murphy is a guru.

“Song of the Sun God.” Shankari Chandran’s novel which preceded her current bestseller "Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens" tells us of a family saga dealing with issues and the effects of the cruel Sri Lankan Civil War. It will be interesting to read a novel that focuses on a theme that also occurs in Darwin's Wake.

"Edenglassie." by Melissa Lucashenko - Two extraordinary Indigenous stories set five generations apart. A vivid narrative that explores Indigenous lives, politics, and identity, following the success of her acclaimed “Too Much Lip”.



“Jack Maggs.” Peter Carey, two-time winner of the Booker Prize, Carey is sure to never disappoint. This one is set in London in 1837. Described as a trick box of a novel, masterfully paced and galloping fun.

“Whisky Charlie Foxtrot.” Annabel Smith, another Perth-based author of the charming “A New Map of the Universe”, which was shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards. This explores sibling relationships and the mess that some families seem destined to fall into.

“Danged Black Thing.” Eugene Bacon. A collection of short stories that "we yearn to tell", from an African-Australian writer who has left the world of computer science to be "mentally re-engineered" into a creative writer. Proof that scientists can be transformed into writers.



“Skimming Stones.” Maria Papas. A Hungerford Award-winning novel exploring how ordinary people open their hearts to the most tender and extreme experiences.

​“Invisible Boys.” Holden Sheppard is an award-winning West Australian author, originally from Geraldton. His debut novel explores three teenage boys coming to terms with their sexuality in a country town. The book has been greenlit for production as a ten-episode television series with filming commencing 2024.



“Greater City Shadows.” Laurie Steed. A collection of short stories exploring family, friendship, and identity that leads us toward faith, love, and resilience.

“That Deadman Dance.” Kim Scott won a swag of prizes (and rightly so), including the 2011 Miles Franklin Literary Award for this work set in the early 1800s around what is now known as Albany, Western Australia. 



“The Removalists.” David Williamson wrote this play in 1971 addressing violence and the abuse of power and authority. As compelling today as it was when first released. This is the oldest book in my compilation.

 

Poetry

"New and Selected Poems." Les Murray - A collection from one of Australia's greatest poets.

"No Friend but the Mountains." Behrouz Boochani - A poetic and powerful account of life imprisoned on Manus Island. The winner of multiple Australian Literary awards, yet he was denied Australian citizenship. The story behind the story is as powerful as the work itself.



“The Cost of Seriousness.” Peter Porter is a national treasure that should be more widely recognised. A prolific author who was once the Poet in Residence at the Royal Albert Hall, shortlisted to be the Professor of Poetry at Oxford University and made a Royal Society of Literature Companion of Literature, an honour bestowed on a maximum of ten living writers.

 

You will note that my book list is decidedly Australian (and heavily Western Australian) as that is the focus of my DIY-MFA but make yours what is significant to you. I have also tried to make it represent current times, with diversity in all its hues. In addition, if you want your DIY-MFA to be focused on, for example, screenwriting ensure you weigh your reading list in that direction. Get as narrow or as broad as you want. This MFA is yours to play with.

 

It is always great if you can buy your books - the authors will appreciate your support, but don't stress if the cost of your collection is prohibitive. Second hand is fine. You can also check out your local library as a potential source. If you haven't discovered Libby - do yourself a favor. Libby is the Western Australian on-line library. I am sure there are Libby equivalents where you are too.


Now that you've compiled your list don’t read them like you may have done previously or as if you are reading them for pleasure (though you should find your selections enjoyable). The aim is to develop an intense understanding of the themes, styles, and cultural significance of the writing so that you develop your DIY-MFA eye. Allocate a suitable time and place to read each work, taking detailed notes on themes, narrative techniques, character development, and socio-political commentary. Some of these works (or those on your list) will be tougher going than others so do them justice by reading them with mindfulness and insight. This requires more focus than you will employ in recreational writing, but this is your DIY-MFA. 


 Image: Don't get too stressed about compiling your list. It's your list and you can add or subtract as much as YOU like. (Source: Freestock).


As you read each work write a synopsis. Read between the lines to understand what the writer is trying to convey and look for tropes or techniques that they have employed. Get online and read the reviews that other readers have made on each work. Review Goodreads, the author’s websites, and online forums. Keep an open mind. If you love a particular book, it doesn’t mean everyone will, but try to understand the reason why and hone your critical mindset. When you have read a few of your compiled works compare and contrast the different styles of each writer. Think about what attributes you might want to incorporate into your writing.

 

In the next blog, I will give you some hints and guidelines that will assist you in the next part of your DIY-MFA journey.


Reference:

  1. Covey, Stephen R., The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. Simon & Schuster, 2020.

 

Next Week: DIY-MFA Part 3. Developing Your Critical Eye.


Book cover images and synopses from Goodreads and or the book. NB this is entirely a program compiled by Pete Mitchell and is provide free to anyone who is interested. There is no link (real or implied to DIY-MFA radio, a podcast about books and writing).

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Excellent, you’ve given me some other great books to read. I don’t think I’ll get through them before your next post though.

いいね!
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