Warwick Newnham, Contributing Editor

Interview with Catherine Noske

Catherine Noske is a lecturer in Creative Writing and editor of Westerly Magazine at the University of Western Australia. Her research focuses on contemporary Australian writing of place and has been awarded the A.D. Hope Prize from the Association for the Study of Australian Literature. She has judged the ALS Gold Medal, the WA Premier’s Book Prize, and the TAG Hungerford. She has twice been awarded the Elyne Mitchell Prize for Rural Women Writers, has received a Varuna fellowship, and was shortlisted for the 2015 Dorothy Hewett Award. Her first novel is forthcoming with Picador. 

Newnham for O:JA&L:  What is your definition of experimental discourse/writing?

Noske: To be honest, I feel some resistance when asked to define writing in general. I think there is a tendency in all publishing to look to classify, which is often pragmatic, but sits counter-intuitively to the creative process and impulse. For instance, at Westerly, when an author submits work, we ask them to classify the ‘type’ of writing as part of the submission process. We have set types, which helps structure the manner in which each submission is assessed. This means the writer has some autonomy in determining how the work is approached. But the strongest writing often pushes at the boundaries between these types, or uses techniques from multiple forms, combined into something new. We really welcome this, and there is the category ‘Other’ for writers to use in submitting when their work resists classification by traditional means. Perhaps this is experimental… writing which moves between definitions? In a broader sense, I would say that experimental discourse and writing is the desire to push towards a new means of expression.

Newnham for O:JA&L:  What is the importance of experimental discourse/writing?

Noske: For me, the importance of experimental discourse is the space it creates for new ways of knowing the world. Experimentation is natural and unstoppable, it is inherent to all creative processes, and to learning, and to life. There is a joy in this, pure and simple, which can’t be underestimated as a positive thing in the world! But experimental discourse also has the capacity to be political – it is important in the sense that the contemporary global space is one marked by various structures of power and inequity. Experimental discourse and writing are important tools in subverting this, in carving out a space for alternate voices to speak in ways unconfined by the status-quo. It is also a tool to challenge conservatism and foster change.

Newnham for O:JA&L:  Who are your favorite experimental writers and why?

Noske: I am very much enjoying work from Elizabeth Tan at the moment, which uses the surreal in a way that I think is really innovative across the structure of her novel Rubik (Brio). I also really enjoyed the piece from Eloise Grills, ‘BIG BEAUTIFUL FEMALE THEORY’, which won the Prize for Experimental Non-fiction run by The Lifted Brow and RMIT’s non/fiction lab. And, of course, I am a huge fan of the writers we are publishing in Westerly – people like Amanda Gardiner, Cailtin Prince, Danielle Clode, Chris Arnold (especially in his digital work), Ouyang Yu, Pete Mahwinney, Vahni Capildeo, and you yourself, Warwick, to name just a few – all of whom I think are experimenting in different ways in their work.

Newnham for O:JA&L:  What are the difficulties for writers working in this experimental mode?

Noske: There will always be resistance to things which are unfamiliar. But I think the biggest challenge for writers in this mode is managing to balance the mundane requirements and routines of publication with the idiosyncrasies of an individual piece. There are ways in which publishing is limited by constraints which have nothing to do with the quality of the work – a big part of this is the constant battle for funding. Experimental writing is often more tricky and time consuming to bring to publication on a page, which is difficult for literary magazines working on a tight budget. But there is always a ‘pay out’ to this, too, in the sense that this writing is also dynamic, exciting and challenging.

Newnham for O:JA&L:  What do you see in the future as being the boundaries explored by experimental writers?

Noske: I’m not sure… There is more and more work being done in experimental collaboration, which I find exciting. But I suspect the boundaries which are most important to probe at are the ones which aren’t always visible to me, the ones which are mitigated by my social privilege as a straight, cis-gendered, educated white person. All power to the writers who continue to push back against those boundaries!


About the interviewer:
W.J.P. Newnham hitchhiked around Australia working as barman, bum and waiter, slaughter hand, deckhand and master, spending 25 years working in the Northern Prawn Fishery. He has travelled extensively in Southeast Asia, the Americas, and Japan and speaks marketplace Indonesian with some fluency. He is the winner of the 2016 The Lifted Brow’s Experimental Non-fiction Prize. His numerous short stories have been published in Nocturnal SubmissionsOverlandThe Lifted BrowMeanjinWesterly and Horror Sleaze Trash [to name but a few]. Newnham is a Contributing Editor for Experimental Discourse at O:JA&L.

Image: Portrait courtesy of Catherine Noske.