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Amy Witting (1918 – 2001)

Amy Witting was born Joan Fraser in the Sydney inner west suburb of Annandale, on 26 January 1918, the daughter of Thomas Alexander Fraser, a postal worker, and his wife Elizabeth (née Reid). She was educated at a local Catholic school, St Brendan’s (1923–1929), and at Fort Street Girls High (1930–1934). Her keen intellect occasioned social ostracism through her childhood, and she also suffered periods of illness with what was later diagnosed as tuberculosis. She began writing poetry at a young age, publishing her first poem in the Sydney Morning Herald, under the pseudonym 'De Guesclin', while still at school in 1934.

After school, Witting matriculated to the University of Sydney, where she studied languages and became associated with James McAuley, Harold Stewart, and Dorothy Auchterlonie, among others. The death of her father in 1937 meant she had to find work, and after holding a series of short-term jobs she was awarded a Teacher’s College scholarship in 1939 and completed a Diploma of Education. She subsequently held a number of teaching positions throughout New South Wales, meeting her husband Les Levick while teaching in Kempsey in 1948. In 1953, she received treatment for tuberculosis at a sanatorium in the Blue Mountains, a period of enforced isolation which allowed her to devote time to writing. From 1956, Witting began to publish short stories in literary journals and magazines, her work attracting praise from leading Australian writers such as Patrick White, Hal Porter, and Thea Astley. Her first novel, The Visit, was published in 1977, and in 1979 she completed her second, I for Isobel, but this was initially rejected by her publishers for its unflattering depiction of motherhood.

In the early 1980s, Witting returned to writing poetry in earnest, publishing a number of poems in literary journals, especially Quadrant; her first poetry collection, Travel Diary, was self-published in 1985. In 1989, I for Isobel was published by Penguin, and proved an outstanding critical success. She followed this with a collection of short stories, Marriages (1990), and a further poetry collection, Beauty is the Straw (1991), which absorbed the content of Travel Diary. Witting’s late-career emergence as a major Australian writer was recognised with her Patrick White Award in 1993. She continued to write with considerable energy until the end of her life, publishing four further novels: A Change in the Lightning (1994), Maria's War (1998), Isobel on the Way to the Corner Shop (1999), and After Cynthia (2001), two further short story collections, In and Out the Window (1995), and Faces and Voices: collected stories (2000), and a volume of Collected Poems (1998).

Witting died of cancer on 18 September 2001. Her contribution to Australian literature was recognised by the posthumous award of a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).

Poetry Collections
  • Travel Diary: poems (Lane Cove, NSW: Woodbine Press, 1985).
  • Beauty is the Straw: poems (North Ryde, NSW: Angus and Robertson, 1991).
  • Collected Poems (Ringwood, Vic: Penguin, 1998).
Suggested Further Reading
  • Stephen McInerney, ‘The Straw of Beauty,’ Quadrant 42.5 (1998), pp. 85–86.
  • Yvonne Miels, ‘Amy Witting,’ in Selina Samuels, ed., Australian Writers 1975-2000 (Detroit, USA: Gale Research Co., 2006), pp. 356–63.
  • Yvonne Miels. Amy Witting Website. Internet. http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/24743/20051116-0000/lythrumpress.com.au/witting/index.html
  • Yvonne Miels, ‘ “Gold out of Straw”: An Introduction to the Life and Work of Amy Witting,’ in Sharyn Pearce and Philip Neilson, Current Tensions: Proceedings of the 18th Annual Conference: 6-11 July 1996 (Brisbane, Queensland University of Technology, 1996).
  • Elizabeth Nelson, ‘Beating the Odds: The Career of Amy Witting,’ National Library of Australia News 14.9 (2004). http://www.nla.gov.au/pub/nlanews/2004/jun04/article4.html
  • Geoff Page, ‘Amy Witting,’ A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Australian Poetry (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1995), pp. 313–16.
  • Thomas Shapcott, ‘An Earlier Ambience,’ Australian Book Review no.199 (1998), pp. 45–46.
  • Amy Witting, ‘Surviving,’ Southerly 57.3 (1997), pp. 235–37.