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Gig Ryan (1956 – )

Gig Ryan, portrait by Juno Gemes© Gig Ryan, portrait by Juno Gemes©

Gig Ryan was born Elizabeth Anna Martina Ryan in Leicester, England, in 1956, the fourth of ten children of Peter and Margery Ryan. The family had moved to England so that Peter Ryan could qualify as a surgeon, and they returned to Australia in 1957, settling in Melbourne. Educated at Catholic schools in Melbourne, Ryan became interested in literature, music and the arts at a young age. In 1974, at seventeen, she won a Victorian poetry prize, and published her first poems shortly thereafter. After school she enrolled in an Arts degree at La Trobe University, supporting herself with a variety of casual jobs. In 1974, she helped found a feminist literary journal, Luna, which she co-edited with others (including Barbara Giles) until 1978. As well as writing poetry, Ryan remained interested in music, and as a singer/songwriter performed in Melbourne bars and cafes.

At the end of 1978, Ryan moved to Sydney, where she pursued her interest in music, studying musical theory and forming a three-piece band Disband with two other women. She continued to write poetry and, at the end of 1980, published her first collection The Division of Anger. While some critics responded negatively to the intensity and formal looseness of her poems, others were more positive, and the collection was joint-winner of the Anne Elder award in 1981. Ryan has since published six further poetry collections, including Pure and Applied, winner of the C. J. Dennis award in 1999. Returning to Melbourne in 1990, Ryan completed her B.A. (majoring in classical languages) in 1993, and continued to perform and record with the band Driving Past. She has been active as a critic and freelance book reviewer, particularly of poetry, and since 2001 she has been poetry editor for The Age. Her poetry is noted for its satirical edge and sharp observations on social mores, and idiosyncratic use of language.

Poetry Collections
  • The Division of Anger: Poems (Glebe, NSW: Transit Poetry, 1980).
  • Manners of an Astronaut (Sydney: Hale and Iremonger, 1984).
  • The Last Interior (Parkville, Vic: Scripsi, 1986).
  • Excavation (arguments and monologues) (Chippendale, NSW: Picador, 1990).
  • Pure and Applied (Brooklyn, NSW: Craftsman House and Paper Bark Press, 1998).
  • Research: Poems (Applecross, WA: Folio/Salt, 1999).
  • Heroic Money (Rose Bay, NSW: Brandl and Schlesinger, 2001).
Suggested Further Reading
  • Georgie Arnott, ‘Attacks that Sting: The Angry Poetry of Judith Wright and Gig Ryan,’ Overland no. 177 (2004): pp. 34–38.
  • John Kinsella, [untitled review], Westerly 37.2 (1992), pp. 84–85.
  • Rose Lucas and Lyn McCredden, ‘Knife-Edge: The Poetry of Gig Ryan,’ in Lucas and McCredden, eds., Bridgings: Readings in Australian Women’s Poetry (South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 184–94.
  • Geoff Page, ‘Gig Ryan,’ A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Australian Poetry (St. Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1995): pp. 254–257.
  • Nicolette Stasko, [untitled review], Southerly 62.1 (2002), pp. 227–31.