Acclaimed author Charlotte Wood, the first recipient of the Judy Harris Writer in Residence Fellowship at the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre, launched her new book The Weekend last night.
The award-winning author joined the academic and literary community on Monday night to launch her much-anticipated novel at the University’s Charles Perkins Centre.
The Weekend is the first novel to spawn from the Judy Harris Writer in Residence Fellowship, established in 2016 thanks to the generosity of University of Sydney alumna Judy Harris.
“The fellowship is unlike any other artist’s residency I have come across, not only in Australia but globally,” said Wood.
“When I began working here at the Charles Perkins Centre, I was told repeatedly - and had to daily pinch myself at this fact - that my only true obligation was to write the best book I could. What a dream for any novelist.”
The fellowship’s generous remuneration of $100,000, allowed the Stella Prize-winning author to “truly sink into the creation of her book without the need to earn other income for a whole year,” she said.
Joining the University as an Honorary Associate at the multidisciplinary Charles Perkins Centre in 2016, Wood worked alongside world-leading health and chronic disease experts to examine the complexities of aging in her new work.
The Weekend tells the story of four older women’s lifelong friendship, which enters dangerous territory when one of the women dies. Set over Christmas, the novel follows Judy, Wendy and Adele as they gather together to clean up Sylvie’s beach house.
Charlotte has enriched our academic community. And she has ensured that the Judy Harris Writer in Residence Fellowship has become something special in the Australian literary landscape.
Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre, Professor Stephen Simpson said, “Charlotte spent much of her year, not in a stone hut, but sitting in public view, open to passers-by and always ready to discuss and discover.”
Both Professor Simpson and Wood reflected on her “serendipitous” meeting with Professor David Raubenheimer, a leading expert in nutritional ecology.
Wood then met with Professor Michael Valenzuela from the University’s Brain and Mind Centre, whose innovations in stem cell therapy successfully reversed dementia in dogs.
“His advice about the ageing animal brain was absolutely invaluable,” said Wood.
Professor Raubenheimer urged Wood to consider adding an “evolutionary dimension” to her work, which informed her characterisation of a beloved dog named Finn.
Professor Simpson sees the ripples of the Charles Perkins Centre running through the veins of Wood’s novel: “The Weekend is deeply and deliciously imbued with the experience of having spent the year at the Charles Perkins Centre,” he said.
Reflecting on her hopes for the residency, Judy Harris said, “When I embraced the residency I was not fully aware of the degree of financial hardship faced by most committed writers, even those who are highly accomplished.
“I feel very gratified to have been able to alleviate this downside of writing in a small way.”
One aspect of the residency Wood highlighted was “Judy and Steve’s understanding that the making of a work of art takes time. [They] repeatedly and emphatically impressed upon me that I must not hurry nor worry about time. I believe this is in the end is what allowed me to give my novel the proper time it required to grow and resolve itself into the best work it could be.”
It is profound for a novelist to feel that people outside our small literary world ... believe that art matters, for everyone.
The brainchild of Professor Stephen Simpson, the residency is premised on experimentation and allows creative writers to sharpen the lens through which society sees chronic disease and illness.
“It is profound for a novelist to feel that people outside our small literary world – expert, brilliant minds in world-leading science and health and education spheres, no less – believe that art matters, for everyone,” said Wood.
“When so many in contemporary society seem to view art and literature as decorative, needless luxuries, for a novelist to be told that not only does her art matter, but that it is central to human development, health and happiness, and that the contribution of artists is not only welcome but essential if we are to flourish as a society and a species.”
Professor Simpson added, “Charlotte has enriched our academic community. And she has ensured that the Judy Harris Writer in Residence Fellowship at the Charles Perkins Centre has become something special in the Australian literary landscape.”
In August this year Tracy Sorenson was announced as the 2019 Judy Harris Writer in Residence. Alana Valentine, Mireille Juchau and Emily Maguire have also been residency recipients.