Alexis Wright, the multi-award-winning writer, has been named the second Boisbouvier??? Chair in Australian Literature at the University of Melbourne. Wright succeeds the inaugural professor, Tasmanian novelist Richard Flanagan.
Wright, who won the Miles Franklin Literary Award for her novel Carpentaria and whose new book, Tracker, a collective memoir of the Aboriginal leader, Tracker Tilmoth, was launched on Monday, said she wanted "to create some sort of vision of how Australians can celebrate our literature". She said it was time to have an Aboriginal person in a position such as the Boisbouvier. Her term is for three years.
The chair was established after a $5 million donation in early 2015 from merchant banker John Wylie and his wife, Myriam Boisbouvier-Wylie. It is a partnership between the university and the State Library Victoria, of which Mr Wylie is president. Its structure, which involves a mix of teaching and public lectures, resembles Oxford University's poetry chair, which is customarily filled by an eminent poet such as the late Seamus Heaney.
Wright would be using the experience of her own writing, "which has come from wide searching to find an idea of how to imagine this country and say the things I want to say. And I want to encourage Australian and Indigenous writers to think more deeply."
She would also be keen to look at how "we send Australian literature across the world to other countries and our nearest neighbours ... it's about how we understand each other. Literature is the heart and soul of each country and can help develop greater understanding."
Wright takes up her position in December. But she is not going to be ignoring her own writing while she is concentrating on that of others. She has completed the manuscript of a new novel, Praiseworthy, which she hopes will be published after more editorial work next year, and is planning a book about her great-grandfather, a Chinese man from Guangdong province, and her great-grandmother, a Waayni woman from the southern highlands of the Gulf of Carpentaria.