Foreword by Hannah Kent

Not so long ago, while I was studying at university, I worked casual hours at a bakery. It was a job I enjoyed: letting myself into the warmth of the store in the dark morning hours to sort rolls into baskets, and serve blinking, tousled early-risers. Most of the customers were regulars and many would ask me – as they waited for their loaf to be sliced – what else I did with my life. When I told them I was studying creative writing, some would immediately, derisively, ask me why.

My knee-jerk reaction was to respond, ‘Because I love it,’ but I also knew that this was not the right answer. Their ‘why’ was not really a question at all, but an accusation of frivolity and inconsequentiality. They wanted me to tell them why writing was necessary. They wanted proof of its indispensability – not just to myself, but also to others.

Of course, literature is indispensable, but it can be difficult to articulate why, especially to those predisposed to think otherwise. These days I am glad that I was confronted with these demands to defend creative writing (despite the excruciating awkwardness at the time), because they prompted me to reflect deeply on the worth of literature, and the worth of my calling. If we are to succeed as writers, we must understand what it is we offer.

There are some people who claim that literature makes us better people. I disagree, both as a reader and as a writer. Great literature does not (nor should it) make us righteous, although it may inspire us to change. It does not instruct, although it may prompt us to act. It is complex, and it celebrates complexity. It questions. It doubts. It plumbs the depths of the human heart and surfaces with both beauty and the ugliness that lurks in unacknowledged corners. It is at once strange and familiar, and we are made both strange and familiar through it. It both slakes curiosity, and sets it burning.

Literature can be at once a mirror of distortion, exaggeration and accuracy, where we see some aspect of ourselves reflected back to us. As readers we may recognise our own foibles, passions and attitudes in the lives of characters, and be either reassured or discomforted. As writers we may be forced to attend to our limitations and our prejudices, while simultaneously heeding our curiosity and wonder.

It is in collections such as this, the 28th UTS Writers’ Anthology, Sight Lines, that we find pressing proof of literature’s capacity to bring us new ways of looking at things. While many of the authors featured here may just be starting out on their careers, it is clear from their strong, original voices that the future of creative writing is bright and its relevance certain. The imagination and intelligence evident here are thrilling in their promise.

In this anthology the reader finds stories of displacement, of the frailty and poignancy of human connection. Can we ever truly understand others? Can we ever truly be understood? What is the cost of perfect recognition? At times the reader is shown what has been hidden, or disregarded, and is asked to judge, bear witness or find meaning. Other stories simply invite us to understand and share in the rich emotional lives of characters experiencing regret, boredom, love, or anger. Beauty is found in language, which has been made strange and renewed again. We are transported through time, ages, landscapes and cultures. There is humour here, too.

Most significantly, the sheer variety of subject matter in Sight Lines assures us that literature is not limited in its usefulness and scope. Emerging writers bring with them unique perspectives and possibilities. Here, then, is an offering of thirty-one new ways of seeing the world.

A Xoum Publication.