Fiction or non-fiction; poetry or prose; literature or art; politics or pop culture; philosophy or Justin Bieber: do any of these describe your writing? Well perhaps it’s time to consider the eclectic pages of Meanjin. This Australian literary institution is now accepting submissions for its upcoming Canberra-themed issue and beyond.

Founded in Brisbane in 1940 by Clem Christesen, before moving to Melbourne in 1945, Meanjin remains one of Australia’s longest-running and most prestigious literary journals boasting a sparkling list of contributors including J.M. Coetzee, Judith Wright, Peter Carey, Patrick White, Helen Garner, David Malouf, Manning Clark, and even Jean-Paul Sartre and Kurt Vonnegut.

If you have an interesting voice or a compelling story that you think might fit into the pages of this diverse publication, then tune them up, and send them in.

Speakeasy recently spoke to Meanjin Associate Editor, Zora Sanders, who has more interesting and authoritative things to say than I do, so let’s get to it.

Speakeasy: The Meanjin website announces that the journal attempts to reflectthe breadth of contemporary thinking, be it on literature, other art forms, or the broader issues of the times’. Can you talk about what is meant by ‘the breadth of contemporary thinking’? Is this ‘breadth of thought’ demarcated by any particular ideological or philosophical ethos?

Zora Sanders (ZS): I think ‘breadth of contemporary thinking’ refers to the fact that Meanjin is actually a very diverse publication in terms of content, obviously, but also in terms of style and the voices we publish. Certainly particular issues and themes crop up again and again, but when I consider that in the past 12 months we’ve published an essay about the Scribbly Gum moth, a biography of Patrick White AND an essay about Justin Bieber, it seems to me that Meanjin is actually an unusually eccentric and diverse publication. I think our main philosophical ethos, if you can call it that, is a dedication to gathering interesting and untold stories.

Speakeasy: Meanjin has a long and proud tradition of publishing some of Australia’s most celebrated writers. This legacy can often be daunting to new or emerging writers. What advice would you give to emerging writers who might be aiming to see their work published in Meanjin?

ZS: I think if people read the bios closely they’d see the words ‘this is the author’s first publication’ far more often then they might imagine. Yes, we commission work from writers we know to have particular expertise, but we also have an open submissions box that anyone can submit to, and we absolutely love finding good unsolicited work. There is really no reason not to submit to anywhere and everywhere (after having read the publication in question, and their submission guidelines closely, of course).

Speakeasy: What do you think makes Meanjin stand out among the various Australian literary journals?

ZS: Well we’ve had some very bright covers of late, so there’s always that. But more seriously, I think Meanjin stands out for its longevity, its authority and its continual process of reinvention. Every editor from Clem onwards has made Meanjin their own, and even within each editorship you can see shifts in direction that mirror the changing mores of its editors, its writers and its times. It has always had a stubborn streak as well, a dedication to lost causes and the underdogs.

Speakeasy: During a time of shrinking arts funding (at least in Queensland) and the increasing presence of digital formats, can you talk a little about the ongoing importance of Meanjin as a print journal? Conversely, can you discuss Meanjin’s digital presence and any potential plans for the future?

ZS: In September last year we commissioned a new print design from well-known artist and designer, Jenny Grigg. It’s a design we love, and it’s still evolving. We know how valued the print edition is by our readers, and we feel the same way. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be expanding and exploring all our digital and online possibilities. We now publish daily online, we publish an eBook edition, and then of course there are all the extras which are only possible online, like classifieds ads, multimedia posts, experimental visual art and poetry projects, the Tournament of Books, online personals and even mundane things like creating an easy way for people to subscribe and submit work are all things made possible in a digital space. But it’s never a question of either/or, both can, do, and will work together.

Speakeasy: When do submissions reopen for Meanjin? Will you be looking for any particular kind of work for the upcoming issue?

ZS: They are open now! We’re planning a special Canberra-themed edition for March 2013 to coincide with the Centenary, but we’re still accepting all non-Canberracentric work as usual for editions after that.

Speakeasy: Other than looking through back issues of Meanjin, what advice would you give to potential contributors? What does Meanjin look for in quality fiction or non-fiction submissions?

ZS: In non-fiction a great and unusual subject matter is always thrilling to encounter. For that matter, a great and unusual subject is great in fiction, poetry and memoir too! I look for authors who are writing because they have a fantastic story, fiction or non-fiction, that they simply MUST tell, rather than writers for whom the act of writing itself is the goal. Give me substance! Give me story! I’d love to see interesting uses of genre conventions in fiction submissions too!

Speakeasy: Are there any exciting upcoming developments or opportunities you’d like to mention?

ZS: Well we’ve just launched our classifieds and personal ads (at www.meanjin.com.au/classifieds) which we’re hoping will be a great resource for readers, writers and publishers, as well as being a lot of fun and helping to foster a sense of community around Meanjin. We’re also offering some special subscription deals, and as I mentioned, submissions have just reopened. So there’s plenty going on, all of which you can find on our website.

Speakeasy: Is there anything else you might like to mention to our readers?

ZS: You really don’t need to double-space after fullstops in your submissions. I know some people are attached to the practice, but I’d sure appreciate it if they could break the habit.


Julian Thumm is a freelance editor and writer. He has degrees from The University of Queensland and The University of Adelaide. He has worked with the Australian Journal of Communication, The University of Queensland Press, and Corporate Communication International through The City University of New York. He is currently based in Brisbane.

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