Mortification: Writers’ Stories about their Public Shame

Books And Writing Feature

I found this old (2004) conversation between ABC reporter Ramona Koval and Robin Robertson: poet, author and editor, (left)  on the ABC Arts site this week, when I was researching Judy Johnson’s work for the review I’m writing.

Mortification: Writers’ Stories about their Public Shame sounds funny, sad and tragic all at the same time. The conversation talks of the ritual humiliation of writers at their book launches, particularly poets. Robertson explains why the arts is particularly prone to humiliation:

People think about it a lot and work very hard within it,but for almost no reward. It’s a conjunction of high-mindedness and pitifully low income that is sort of funny, especially when it’s brought out into the public space. I mean, these people have been working for years and years at their manuscripts and they finally get them published, and read to a public audience who are often completely indifferent. It’s close to tragedy but also very close to comedy, and it’s something that I’ve noticed because I’ve been involved as a publisher for many years.

and Ramona Koval’s observation:

A lot of these shameful incidents occur in bookshops. There’s Rick Moody’s reading in Washington where his mother and a friend of his brother were the only ones in the audience. I think he says, ‘Only one member of the audience hadn’t expelled him from her womb.’ Why do people persist with these things? It happens over and over again—nobody comes to the bookshop. How many times have you seen an author sitting behind a desk with a whole lot of copies of their own book, and nobody there, nobody wanting to discuss it with them? You can’t really do very much other than sit there and wait expectantly, can you?

You can read the whole conversation HERE


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