PERSONAL: Married; husband's name, Russell (a minister); children: four. Education: Attended Flinders University; University of Adelaide, M.A., Ph.D. candidate.
CAREER: Freelance writer and editor. Has worked as a writer-in-residence at schools and a creative-writing instructor for universities; knitter for clothing designers.
Daisy Bates: Keeper of Totems (biography; for children), Reed Library (Carlton, Victoria, Australia), 1997.
(Editor, with others) Iron Lace: An Anthology of Writing by Students from the 1997 Graduate Diploma in Creative Writing, the University of Adelaide, University of Adelaide (Adelaide, South Australia, Australia), 1998.
The Aboriginal Peoples of Australia (nonfiction; for children), Lerner (Minneapolis, MN), 2002.
(With Garnett Ian Wilson) The Chairman: The Story of Garnett Ian Wilson OAM, Australian Scholarly Publishing (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 2004.
Knitting (novel), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Australian writer Anne Bartlett is best known in the United States for her novel Knitting, but before that work was published she wrote two children's books about her country's history. The first of these books, Daisy Bates: Keeper of Totems, is a biography of the nineteenth-century Irish immigrant to Australia who became famous for her anthropological work with the Australian Aborigines. The second, The Aboriginal Peoples of Australia, includes an overview of the geography and environment of Australia and the history and culture of the aborigines, all "neatly divided into categories," Gillian Engberg noted in Booklist. The book also "provides a fairly straightforward look at the treatment of Aboriginal peoples by the Australian government," Jeanette Larson commented in School Library Journal.
Bartlett's first novel, Knitting, tells the story of two widows. The elder, Sandra Fildes, is an academic who is considered an expert in the history of textiles; the younger, Martha McKenzie, is a former professional knitter who found that knitting with deadlines and constraints drained what was formerly her favorite hobby of its pleasure. Now, she supports herself as a cleaning lady in a church and knits just for the love of the craft. The two strike up an unlikely friendship across class and generational lines after they are the only two good Samaritans who stop and help a man who falls. At first, this friendship helps Sandra to cope with the loss of her husband, who died only a year before: she finds in Martha a project that helps her to occupy her time and keep her mind off of her pain. However, when Sandra commissions Martha to help her mount an exhibition of historical knitted garments both the friendship and Martha's sanity are threatened.
Knitting was praised by several critics. For example, Library Journal reviewer Robin Nesbitt declared it to be "an enthralling story about the healing power of friendship, enriched by knitting details," and a Kirkus Reviews contributor deemed it "a brief, sweetly winning tale" and "a spirited feminist take sure to find favor with women's book groups." Aside from feminist underpinnings, some critics recognized theological undercurrents in the novel as well. Bartlett explained on her Web site, "The novel was partly a subterranean attempt to define women's work and to explore the tension I've always felt between different types of work."Each of the women personifies one type: Sandra, the career-woman, works for money and prestige, while Martha pursues her vocation for knitting purely for love and enjoyment and does not expect to earn anything else from it. Knitting "is not autobiographical," Bartlett explained, "but at the same time I think the different characters probably do represent different parts of myself which I was trying to get to co-operate rather than be in conflict."
Bartlett told CA: "I have written since I was a child, and always loved books, reading and writing. My work is greatly influenced by the Australian landscape, both rural and urban, and also by my interest, both personally and as a pastor's wife, in the experience of grief and grieving.
"I used to try and write in a linear fashion, but I have found that accumulating a series of fragments is an easier process. This means that in the difficult phase of first draft I'm not too burdened by the huge task ahead—I can just write what I feel like on the day, and it doesn't necessarily have to connect with work from the day before. When I have a reasonable pile of fragments I put them all out to see if some kind of story is emerging, and go on from there.
"I try to make a book work at several levels, the surface story, but also with other layers of meaning that make it interesting for the reader. I have a painter friend, Dieter Engler, who says a painting is best if it 'lets out its secrets slowly,' and I think that a good book needs to do the same, lingering in the mind for further reflection."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 15, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of The Aboriginal Peoples of Australia, p. 405.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2005, review of Knitting, p. 65.
Library Journal, March 1, 2005, Robin Nesbitt, review of Knitting, p. 74.
Publishers Weekly, February 2, 2004, John F. Baker, "Houghton Executive Editor Jane Rosenman Preempted a First Novel by Australia's Anne Bartlett called Knitting, the Story of an Unlikely Friendship between Two Women Whose Lives Are Defined by Wool," p. 14.
School Library Journal, March, 2002, Jeanette Larson, review of The Aboriginal Peoples of Australia, p. 241.
Anne Bartlett Home Page, http://www.annebartlett.com.au (June 25, 2005).
Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (June 25, 2005), Norah Piehl, review of Knitting.
Christianity Today Online, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ (October 17, 2005), Cindy Crosby, review of Knitting.