Wright, Judith 1915–2000

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Wright, Judith 1915–2000

(Judith Arundell Wright)

PERSONAL: Born May 31, 1915, in Armidale, New South Wales, Australia; died of a heart attack, June 25, 2000, in Canberra, Australia; daughter of Phillip Arundell (a farmer and university administrator) and Ethel Mabel (Bigg) Wright; married Jack Philip McKinney (a philosophical writer), 1962 (died, 1966); children: Meredith Anne. Education: Attended New South Wales Correspondence School, New England Girls' School, and University of Sydney. Politics: "Swing voter." Hobbies and other interests: Gardening.

CAREER: Poet, writer, and activist. J. Walter Thompson (advertising agency), Sydney, Australia, secretary, 1938–39; University of Sydney, Sydney, secretary, 1940–42; Australian Universities Commission, Brisbane, Australia, clerk, 1943–46; University of Queensland, Brisbane, statistician, 1946–49. Part-time lecturer in Australian literature at various Australian universities. President, Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, 1962–74; member, Committee of Inquiry into the National Estate, Australia, 1973–74; secretary, Aboriginal Treaty Committee, 1978–83.

MEMBER: Society of Authors (Australia; council member), Australian Academy of the Humanities (fellow).

AWARDS, HONORS: Grace Leven Prize, 1953; D.Litt., University of New England, Armidale, Australia, 1963, Monash University, 1977, University of Sydney, 1977, Australian National University, 1980, University of New South Wales, 1985, Griffith University, 1988, and University of Melbourne, 1988; Encyclopedia Britannica Award, 1964; Robert Frost Medallion, Fellowship of Australian Writers, 1975; Asan World Prize, Asan Memorial Association, 1984; New South Wales Premier's Special Prize for Poetry, 1991; Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, 1992; Human Rights Poetry Award, 1994; establishment of The Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia), 2001.


Kings of the Dingoes (juvenile), illustrated by Barbara Albiston, Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1958.

The Generations of Men, illustrated by Alison Forbes, Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1959, revised edition, Harper (New York, NY), 1995.

The Day the Mountains Played (juvenile), Jacaranda, 1960, Boolarong, 1988.

Range the Mountains High (juvenile), Lansdowne Press, 1962, 3rd edition, 1971.

Charles Harpur (biography and criticism), Lansdowne Press, 1963.

Country Towns (juvenile), Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1963.

Preoccupations in Australian Poetry (history and criticism), Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1965, new edition, 1966.

The Nature of Love (short stories), Sun Books (Melbourne, Australia), 1966.

The River and the Road (juvenile), Lansdowne Press, 1966, revised edition, 1971.

Henry Lawson, Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1967.

Because I Was Invited, Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1975.

The Coral Battleground (documentary), Thomas Nelson (Australia), 1977.

The Cry for the Dead, Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1981.

We Call for a Treaty, William Collins/John M. Fontana (London, England), 1985.

Born of the Conquerors: Selected Essays, Aboriginal Studies Press, 1991.

Going on Talking, Butterfly Books, 1992.

Tales of a Great Aunt: A Memoir, Ett Imprint (Bondi Junction, New South Wales), 1998.

Half a Lifetime (autobiography), edited by Patricia Clarke, Text Publishing (Melbourne, Australia), 1999.

Also contributor to periodicals, including Honi Soit, Bulletin's Red Page, and Meanjin.


The Moving Image, Meanjin, 1946, revised edition, 1953.

Woman to Man, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia) 1949, 2nd edition, 1955.

The Gateway, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia) 1953.

The Two Fires, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia) 1955.

Birds, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia) 1962, 3rd edition, 1978.

Five Senses: Selected Poems, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia) 1963, revised edition, 1972.

City Sunrise, limited edition, Shapcott Press, 1964.

The Other Half, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia) 1966.

Collected Poems, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia) 1971, 2nd edition, 1975.

Alive: Poems 1971–1972, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia) 1973.

Fourth Quarter, and Other Poems, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia) 1976.

The Double Tree: Selected Poems, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1978.

Phantom Dwelling, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia) 1985.

A Human Pattern: Selected Poems, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia) 1990.

Collected Poems, 1942–1985, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia) 1994.


Australian Poetry, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia) 1948.

(And author of introduction) A Book of Australian Verse, Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1956, 2nd revised edition, 1968.

(And author of introduction) New Land, New Language: An Anthology of Australian Verse, Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1957.

Judith Wright (selected poetry), Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia) 1963.

Shaw Neilson (biography and selected poetry), Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia) 1963.

(With Andrew Thomson) The Poet's Pen, Jacaranda, 1965.

John Shaw Neilson, Witnesses of Spring: Unpublished Poems of Shaw Neilson, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia) 1970.

SIDELIGHTS: A well-known author and poet in Australia, Judith Wright was "outrageously neglected" outside of her native land, according to London Magazine critic D.M. Thomas. After years of publishing her verse in Australian periodicals, as well as in books in her homeland and abroad, Wright accumulated much critical attention in Australia for her distinctly endemic poetry. One Australian reviewer, Meanjin contributor Elizabeth Vassilieff, considered Wright to be "the most interesting of Australian poets, with no exceptions." "Her poetry has the touch and feel of [Australia]," noted another Meanjin reviewer, S. Musgrove, "for she knows that man … must not lose that immediate contact" with the land. But although her poetry gained her the most attention, Ken Goodwin wrote in his A History of Australian Literature that Wright, "in both poetry and prose, presents a wide panorama of the interests of the socially conscious present-day Australian."

Wright's prose writing included children's stories, which she originally composed for her daughter, as well as criticism, the biographical novel The Generations of Men, and an historical work, The Cry for the Dead. The latst two books concern the author's own ancestors; Wright's grandfather, Albert Wright, figures prominently in both books, and the author borrowed much of her material for these books from her grandfather's diary. Next to other comparable novels, critics viewed these retrospects on life in nineteenth-century Australia favorably. One "never has the feeling … that he is watching an artificial period-piece or costume melodrama," remarked Meanjin contributor Russel Ward. New Statesman critic V.S. Pritchett observed, too, that in The Generations of Men Wright "is also free of that family complacency which affects so many writers when they are describing their pioneer forebears." In another review of this book, Leonie Kramer wrote in Southerly: "Wright has shown herself to be a biographer of rare sensitivity." Kramer concluded that the author's "prose transmits particularly well the atmosphere of the times, and the arid beauty of the country."

Both books not only tell the story of the author's family, but also that of the land itself. Albert Wright's diary became a helpful source in this regard, for, as Goodwin described, "his book tells less of the official story than of the disastrous neglect of proper land-management procedures and the story of the brutal extermination of Aborigines." The tragic waste which these practices have brought to Australia is a concern in much of Wright's poetry as well. As a result, several of the author's poems are meditations "on the problem of how to give meaning to, or discover meaning in, this 'flowing and furious world,'" stated Australian Quarterly critic R.F. Brissenden, quoting a poem from Wright's Five Senses: Selected Poems.

Maintaining a respect for the timelessness of the land throughout her work, Wright expressed in such poetry collections as Alive: Poems 1971–1972 and Fourth Quarter, and Other Poems a horror "at the efficiency with which her fellow countrymen are raping their country," wrote Peter Porter in the London Observer. Having been raised on a "station," or ranch, as a child, and being active as an adult in the conservation movement in Australia, Wright maintained a strong bond with her surroundings, which is evident in her poetry. She had, asserted Arthur Murphy in Southerly, an ability "to merge herself with all natural forces, delving deep into the almost inexpressible in verse of highly wrought formation and full content." But although several critics, such as one Times Literary Supplement reviewer, felt that her poems "about people, landscapes, and animals are good when she describes her subjects directly," Val Vallis remarked in the Times Literary Supplement that "the most commonly heard objection to her poetry as it progressed was that its author had gone too philosophical." Carleton Miscellany critic Keith Harrison, however, noted that even though one might see some "occasional vagueness" in Wright's sometimes metaphysical poems, "the strengths of her work far outweigh the faults."

Some of these strengths, declared Elyne Mitchell in Southerly, include "vivid imagery, lovely songs of creation and of a creator, poems of philosophic journey, of the integration of dark and light, [and] of rebirth." Wright was a poet, who, as S.E. Lee characterized her in Southerly, was "a rare combination of metaphysical thinker … and down-to-earth realist." Her "best poems then," concluded Lee, "integrate the intellect, passion, imagination and common sense of the thinker-mystic-poet-country wife." What is evident in both Wright's prose and poetry is "her bond to her native land and its once pastoral wilderness," asserted Margaret Gibson in the Library Journal.

Wright died of a heart attack in Canberra on June 25, 2000. Since 1976 she had been living in the nearby town of Braidwood and had maintained a peaceful existence where she focused on Aboriginal and environ-mental causes and her writing. A writer for the Times of London described her as representing "a generation and a section of Australian society which deplored the ravages of a materialistic culture on that vast and beautiful yet ecologically vulnerable land…. Wright became perhaps the best-known poet in Australia." In the Age, an editorial writer expressed that "Wright was not only a remarkable poet, she was a fine human being." Goodwin summarized the author's career this way: "Her lifelong quest [was] to define Australia as a land, a nation and a metaphysical entity, in language that [shows] awareness of contemporary overseas writing in English but also [recognizes] the unique environment and society of Australia." Veronica Brady, a biographer of Wright, stated to the Canberra Times upon Wright's death: "'It's very sad but in a sense, with somebody like Judith Wright, the spirit doesn't die.'"



Brady, Veronica, South of My Days: A Biography of Judith Wright, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia), 1998.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 11, 1979, Volume 53, 1989.

Contemporary Poets, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Goodwin, Ken, A History of Australian Literature, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1986.

Hope, A. D., Judith Wright, Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1975.

Kramer, L., editor, The Oxford History of Australian Literature, Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1982.

Poetry Criticism, Volume 14, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Strauss, Jennifer, Judith Wright, Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1995.

Walker, Shirley, Flame and Shadow: A Study of Judith Wright's Poetry, University of Queensland Press, 1991.

Walker, Shirley, The Poetry of Judith Wright, Edward Arnold, 1980.

Walker, Shirley, Judith Wright, Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1981.

Walker, Shirley, Vanishing Edens: Responses to Australia in the Works of Mary Gilmore, Judith Wright, and Dorothy Hewett, Foundation for Australian Literary Studies, 1992.


American Poetry Review, September-October, 1980.

Australian Literary Studies, October, 2003, p. 178.

Australian Quarterly, March, 1964.

Carleton Miscellany, summer, 1980.

Library Journal, June 15, 1978.

London Magazine, May, 1967.

Meanjin, September, 1946; March, 1950; June, 1960; December, 1962.

New Statesman, September 5, 1959.

Observer (London, England), May 7, 1978.

Quadrant, October, 1999, Clement Semmler, review of Half a Lifetime, p. 82; May 2001, p. 9.

Southerly, Volume 11, number 3, 1950; Volume 16, number 1, 1955; Volume 17, number 2, 1956; Volume 20, number 9, 1959; Volume 23, number 2, 1963; Volume 27, number 1, 1967; Volume 61, number 1, spring 2001, pp. 78, 82, 160.

Times Literary Supplement, September 10, 1964; April 9, 1976; October 15, 1982; November 27, 1987.


Judith Wright Centre, http://www.judithwrightcentre.com/ (October 26, 2003).

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