How global is Australian literature in the twenty-first century? This large question generates many others, the two most obvious being: What is meant by global? What is meant by Australian literature? These are important but technical, easily answered. The real question is: What might the answer to this question tell us? How might focusing on the international circulation of Australian novels challenge our understanding of the Australian literary field itself?
This paper draws primarily on data produced for the Conditions of Access (COA) project, supplemented by data from the industry report Success Story (Crosby et al) and AustLit’s The Miles Franklin Rights Project. Specifically, it draws on data relating to what the COA project models as international rights ‘transactions’ for adult novels first published in print between 2000-2020. These ‘transactions’, visible in deal announcements, licenses and published editions, demonstrate whether and when the rights to a novel have been licensed--or an agreement to license them has been reached--in a language other than English and/or territories other than Australia (and New Zealand which, in publishing terms, is normally considered part of Australia). In this respect, they provide evidence of a commercial and cultural exchange that can be used as a measurable indicator for ‘the global’.
Analysis of this data reveals several rather different accounts of international access over a twenty-year period, but all have one element in comment: in contrast with the domestic field, they tell a positive story for women authors. As rights transactions are an often neglected link in the literary value chain, this new story has significant implications for our understanding of the structure of the Australian literary field.
Airlie Lawson is a Visiting Fellow at the ANU, hosted by the School of Literature, Language and Linguistics, Postdoctoral Fellow on the Untapped Project at the University of Melbourne, Lead Investigator on The Miles Franklin Rights Project (working with AustLit), a co-author of ‘Success story - international rights sales of Australian-authored books’ (with Paul Crosby, Jan Zwar and Sunny Y. Shin) and co-author of ‘Success story - international rights sales of Australian-authored books: Case Studies’ (with Jan Zwar). Lawson developed the research project Conditions of Access to better understand, from a data-driven and conceptual perspective, where, when and why Australian novels have travelled in the early years of the twenty-first century. Her research interest and approach stems from a professional background trading international rights for publishers in Australia and London.