Spinifex Press, established in March 1991 by Susan Hawthorne and Renate Klein, publishes innovative and controversial books by Australian and international authors. It maintains a strong political focus, producing specialist books on topics such as pornography, globalisation, women’s health, and racism, among others. Here I talk to Susan Hawthorne, writer of fiction and non-fiction. She has authored six collections of poetry, two chapbooks and a verse novel. Her writing has won her numerous national and international awards.
Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I’m a writer and publisher, as is also Renate Klein, and we are also both academics. We bring different skills and strengths to our publishing work. Renate is fluent in five languages, has been the editor of several international journals and book series; my interest is more in fiction and poetry and I have a background in trade publishing rather than academic publishing.
Could you tell me a little bit about why you started Spinifex Press and what is emerged from?
Renate and I started Spinifex because we could see that postmodernism was killing off feminist ideas. For example, just when women writers were really hitting form, the author was declared dead.
Words like ‘essentialist’ were used as insults to feminists who thought that women should be activists around issues concerning women, for instance: rape, violence against women, the new reproductive technologies making women redundant and more.
What kind of audience is Spinifex speaking to?
We have a very broad international audience and we specifically publish books that are radical feminist. We also publish literary fiction and poetry because it’s a bit like Emma Goldmann’s statement, ‘If I can’t dance then I don’t want that kind of revolution’. If we don’t publish poetry and imaginative fiction what sort of revolution will it be?
How do you feel Spinifex has changed over the years?
That’s hard to answer because some conditions have not changed and others have changed hugely. We have always been early adopters, so we were editing on computers a long way ahead of mainstream presses and we were very early in publishing on cyberfeminism, in producing an interactive novel and in creating eBooks which we started doing in 2006 about four years ahead of most other publishers in Australia.
We’ve changed in knowing more about markets, but globalisation has made some things much more difficult and others easier. For instance, social media reaches lots of our audience immediately and for free.
Are there any books you are particularly proud of having published through Spinifex?
Books that change policies are important. Sandy Jeffs’ collection Poems from the Madhouse has influenced many people who make policy about mental health. Diane Bell’s book, Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin is a landmark in recognising Indigenous women’s traditions. Judy Atkinson’s Trauma Trails has been important in recognising how trauma is passed down transgenerationally, Judith Wright’s classic The Coral Battleground is a reminder of how important poets, artists and ecologists have been in saving Australia’s environmental heritage, currently Penny Mackieson’s Adoption Deception is challenging ideas in that field and the forthcoming Prostitution Narratives will do the same in discussions around human rights and prostitution. There are many others I could mention. In fiction: Merlinda Bobis’ Locust Girl is a novel about climate change, and Finola Moorhead’s Remember the Tarantella, a novel that met a challenge from Christina Stead that one could not write a novel without any men in it.
Spinifex has been running since 1991. You are a prolific writer yourself. I wonder, how do you find balancing this with you career, academic interests and personal life?
I work hard. I write a lot. I have taken out time to write from time to time.
Who do you like to read?
I love reading poetry daily, I try to read interesting fiction. I do my best to keep up with political commentary. Renate also reads in these three areas but probably in reverse order.