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Jennifer Strauss (1933 – )

Jennifer Strauss was born Jennifer Wallace at Heywood, western Victoria, in 1933. The child of Edith (née Armstrong) and Herbert Wallace, she grew up on a dairy farm in Heywood before her family moved to nearby Portland about 1939. She attended Loretto convent in Portland until she was ten, then went to Alexandra College, Hamilton, as a boarder. In 1951 she was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship, enabling her to attend university, and in 1954 graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Arts honours degree in English. She subsequently undertook postgraduate studies in Glasgow, Scotland, suspending her studies to marry a fellow Australian expatriate student, Werner Strauss. The couple returned to Melbourne in 1959, when Jennifer Strauss began a long career as an academic teacher and researcher, mainly at Monash University, while also raising a family. After the death of Werner Strauss in 1978, she raised their three sons alone while continuing to write and teach. In 1991 she received a PhD from Monash, where she became Associate Professor in the Department of English, and on her retirement in 1998, an Honorary Research Fellow. Throughout her academic career she published widely on Australian poetry, particularly Australian women’s poetry and poetics, and was a pioneer in feminist literary criticism in Australia. Her scholarly work includes book-length critical studies of the work of Judith Wright (1995) and Gwen Harwood (1992), and she has edited a number of poetry anthologies including The Oxford Book of Australian Love Poems (1993) and Family Ties: Australian Poems of the Family (1998). She also edited a two-volume scholarly edition of The Collected Verse of Mary Gilmore (2004–2007) for the Academy Editions of Australian Literature, and, with Bruce Bennett and Chris Wallace-Crabbe, co-edited The Oxford Literary History of Australia (1998). In 2007 she was created a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her service to education as an academic and scholar in the field of Australian literature and poetry, and to a range of organisations involved in women’s issues and industrial relations.

Strauss began writing poetry while still a student, publishing her first poems in the Melbourne University Magazine. From the late 1960s her work began appearing regularly in Australian literary magazines such as Meanjin Quarterly, Poetry Australia, and Twentieth Century. Her first collection, Children and Other Strangers, was published in 1975. She has since published three further collections, including a volume of new and selected work, Tierra del Fuego (1997). Motherhood and other aspects of women’s experience—often examined in ironic contrast with the discourses surrounding the social construction of gender roles—has been a key theme in her poetry, which has been praised for its wit and challenging association of the poetical with the political.

Poetry Collections
  • Children and Other Strangers: poems West Melbourne, Vic Nelson 1975
  • Winter Driving: poems Carlton South, Vic Sisters Publishing 1981
  • Labour Ward Melbourne Pariah Press 1988
  • Tierra del Fuego: new and selected poems Altona North, Vic Pariah Press 1997
Suggested Further Reading
  • Jenny Digby, ‘Love and Death, But Not So Much the Weather,’ A Woman’s Voice: Conversations with Australian Poets (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1996), pp. 24–42.
  • Barbara Giles, ‘Where to Now? Recent Poetry by Women,’ Fine Line no.4 (1988), pp. 82–87.
  • Felicity Plunkett, ‘Jennifer Strauss,’ in Selina Samuels, ed., Australian Writers 1975–2000 (Detroit, USA: Gale Research Co., 2006), pp. 310–14.
  • Jennifer Strauss, ‘No Place Like Home,’ Meanjin 66.2 (2007), pp. 133–41.
  • Jennifer Strauss, ‘Statement,’ in David Brooks and Brenda Walker, eds., Poetry and Gender: Statements and Essays in Australian Women’s Poetry and Poetics (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1989), pp. 66–67.
  • Jennifer Strauss, ‘Why I Write,’ Kunapipi 16.1 (1994), pp. 160–61.
  • Stephanie Trigg, ‘Uncanny Silence,’ Australian Book Review no. 197 (1997), pp. 54–55.