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Lee Cataldi (1942 – )

Lee Cataldi was born Lee Ann Sonnino in Sydney in 1942, of an Italian father and Anglo-Australian mother. The family subsequently moved to Tasmania, where Lee attended the Friends’ School in Hobart. She returned to Sydney to study at the University of Sydney, graduating as Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours in English and the University Medal in 1962. After living in Italy for a time, she went to England on a Commonwealth Scholarship to study at Oxford University, attaining a Bachelor of Letters degree in 1968. In 1967 she published a textbook, A Handbook to Sixteenth-Century Rhetoric, and from 1967–1973 she lectured at the University of Bristol. She was influenced by the events of May 1968 and became a dedicated socialist. Returning to Australia in the mid-1970s, she taught at Tempe High School in Sydney from 1975–1981, and in 1981–1982 worked on the Australia Council’s Poets in Schools project. In 1983 she moved to the Northern Territory, where she worked as a teacher and linguist at a school in the remote Walpiri Aboriginal settlement of Lajamanu until 1991. With Peggy Rockman Napaljarri, she was awarded a grant to collect and translate Walpiri traditional stories and oral histories, published in 1994 as Walpiri Dreamings and Histories. Cataldi has since worked on a number of other linguistic and educational projects relating to indigenous communities. In 1998, she was awarded an ASIALINK Writer’s Residency in Delhi, India. More recently, she has lived in South Australia, managing a sheep farm.

Cataldi began publishing poems in the late 1960s, and some of her work appeared in Kate Jennings’ influential anthology of Australian feminist poetry Mother I’m Rooted (1975). Her first collection, Invitation to a Marxist Lesbian Party, published in 1978, won the Fellowship of Australian Writers’ Anne Elder Poetry Award. She has published two other poetry collections: The Women Who Live on the Ground (1990), and Race Against Time (1998) – the latter winning the NSW Premier’s Kenneth Slessor Prize in 1999. Aside from her poetry and her work as a linguist and translator, Cataldi has been active as a reviewer and critic.

Poetry Collections
  • Invitation to a Marxist Lesbian Party (Sydney: Wild and Woolley, 1978).
  • The Women Who Live on the Ground: poems 1978–1988 (Ringwood, Vic: Penguin, 1990).
  • Race Against Time: poems (Ringwood, Vic: Penguin, 1998).
Suggested Further Reading
  • C.T. Indra, ‘Cultural Tourism and a Poet’s Eye: A Study of Lee Cataldi’s Indian Poems,’ in Cynthia van den Driesen and Satendra Nandan, eds., Austral-Asian Encounters: From Literature and Women’s Studies to Politics and Tourism (New Delhi, India: Prestige Books, 2003), pp. 138– 48.
  • Leigh Dale, [untitled review of Race Against Time], Journal of  Australian Studies no.58 (1998), pp. 200–01.
  • Greg McLaren, ‘The Sky Existed with or Without Observation,’ Southerly 58.4 (1998), pp. 219–27.
  • Felicity Plunkett, ‘Bone and Poetry: The Canon and Beyond: New Australian Poetry: Porter, Forbes, Cataldi, Ryan and Fogarty,’ New England Review no.14 (2001), pp.10–12.
  • Barry Spurr, The Poetry of Lee Cataldi (Newtown, NSW: The Author, 1994).