|Writer Tash Hughes|
Freelance writer, Tash Hughes, has experience in a variety of writing styles and topics.
Following is a brief biography of poet and author, Dorothy Hewett.
RAPUNZEL IN SUBURBIA
A Portrait of Dorothy Hewett. Playwright, Novelist and Poet
"In whatever genre she wrote, her work resonated with passion, intelligence, honesty and the resolute courage of deeply held convictions.” Dr Peter Goldsworthy, Chair of the Australia Council's Literature Board, talking about Dorothy Hewett.
Dorothy Hewett was a country bred, Western Australian girl who grew into one of Australia’s most well known poets, playwrights and novelists, as well as being a feminist who fought for the little man, and woman.
She was born in a remote township called Wickepin in May 1923. Dorothy and her sister played imaginative games together between their correspondence lessons prior to commencing school at age twelve. Starting school late, Hewett was unused to children’s ways and found herself painfully shy. This is a startling contrast to the outspoken Hewett most Australians know of.
Peter Bishop, director of the Varuna writers centre in Katoomba, tells us that Hewett "always thought of herself as a poet. Her real voice is to be found in her poetry." Hewett had her first poem published at age nineteen in Meanjin and went on to have 12 poetry collections published, as well as numerous individual poems published in variety places.
Writing poems sometimes took Hewett only an hour or so, and at other times it was a slow, painstaking experience that could last months or years. She found that writing poetry was something that only really occurred when she was feeling miserable, whereas she could write a play, for instance, in any mood. The writing of a poem was more than therapy for her; it was a way for her to resolve some of the contradictions and issues in her own life.
Hewett’s work, be it poetry or otherwise, often relies on visual images. According to Hewett, many playwrights base their work on an idea, whereas she always has started with a landscape in which to set the story.
Hewett’s daughter, Rozanna Lilley, said "She wrote about issues that received little attention, she wrote about sex a lot, she wrote about promiscuity, she wrote about romance, about the Western Australian countryside, all sorts of issues." As John Kinsella says of Hewett, “She didn't follow the pack in any way whatsoever.” To publishers’ dismay, Hewitt’s work did not neatly fit into one genre at all times.
Amongst other things, Hewett has been referred to as a feminist writer/activist as she portrays women as more than maternal or sexual objects. Prior to the sixties, most female characters in plays existed mainly to support male characters and Hewett felt an obligation to show women as being more complex, diverse and interesting than that.
At the age of twenty, Hewett joined the Communist Party and moved to Sydney. Being somewhat naive and trusting, she allowed the Party to send her into a factory where she worked for a year. Working in the spinning mills directly resulted in her first novel, Bobbin Up, and influenced her play, This Old Man Came Rolling Down. During her years in Sydney, Hewett raised three children with her lover and often had to battle poverty. It is these experiences that earned her New South Wales Premier and author Bob Carr’s description as "an authentic working-class voice".
Joining the communist party was something that Hewett dedicated herself to without judging it to any real extent. Survival and an unspoken censorship by the party worked together to prevent Hewett writing for eight or nine years whilst she was in Sydney. The first piece she wrote after this time, Jeannie, was an exhilarating experience for Hewett. When Russia moved into Czechoslovakia in 1968, Hewett resigned from the party but this was not the end of her involvement in causes or movements.
The WA poet, Kinsella, knew Hewett most of his life and did some joint work with her. "She cared about people who were down and out, she cared about people who were oppressed, she cared about the individual and she cared about community as well," he said. Rosie Scott, novelist, recalled Hewett’s loving nature "under all that huge intellect and sardonic wit… A great writer and poet with a lifelong commitment to her craft, she never lost her passion for social justice or her courage in supporting left-wing causes.”
People with strong beliefs are somewhat off-putting for Hewett; it is people with beliefs, she declares, that end up with narrow minded, bigoted and fanatical attitudes. She would prefer to be with people holding no beliefs, than those expressing strong beliefs in any particular direction.
Writers are in one sense inhuman as they are always looking for material regardless of the emotions and situations surrounding them. Hewett believes that writers like her have their ears tuned to hear bizarre things, and take note of them even though many of these things are not included into her works to date. Ideas for Hewett’s plays and stories come from many places; Hewett gathers ideas from plays, books, autobiographies, TV, conversations, newspapers, characters and her own life.
Like many other writers, Hewett becomes very involved with her characters and their world whilst she is writing a novel or story. The characters actually become more real than reality for a time.
In 1985, Hewett believed that there were many obstacles in her way to writing an autobiography. Many people have assumed many of her previous work was autobiographical anyway; sometimes such comments have a sting to them as they are implying that she wrote them automatically, easily because they were her life. Much of her work is written in the first person, especially the poetry, and some of her work contains autobiographical components, but the thought of writing a story where “I” is blatantly revealing of herself is threatening for Hewett.
Wild Card was published in 1990 and is an account of Hewett’s life until 1959 when she was thirty-five years old. The sequel to this, The Empty Room, has not been completed. This sequel was even more confronting for Hewett to contemplate as she found it harder to be objective about more recent events and as there is a concern with more people being alive from this period to take umbrage at her words.
Until writing her autobiography, or memoir as some consider it to be, Hewett had an impression of novel writing being too organized and formal for her to deal with. Her first novel, Bobbin Up, is more accurately a collection of related short stories than a novel, and she had never had the courage to follow through with the novel drafts from her teen years. As she handed her autobiography to the publishers, she gained a different perspective and realised that novels no longer have to follow a rigid Victorian style. Soon after that, Hewett had five chapters of The Toucher written and Hewett had made her new niche.
Comparing the writing of plays and novels, Hewett said, “It’s very nice to have all that space to move in and to be able to talk about people’s innermost thoughts.” Furthermore, the writer owns the novel, whilst a play is shared with the director and actors. Hewett’s enjoyed writing in a variety of styles as evidenced by her words to Nicole Moore: “You can have that wonderful expansive, slow, introspective build-up of a novel. You can have the experience of working in a collaborative set-up in theatre and you can also have the marvellous sort of private exuberance of writing something short and memorable. So I can't see anything wrong with being a Jack-of-all-trades or a Jill-of-all-trades or a maverick -- that's all right.”
Hewett had a deep passion for Australia, and a great knowledge of the nation’s history and literature. She championed women’s writing, taught University students, supported community writing resources and, according to her publisher, “brought WA literature into the national spotlight.” Hewett was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for Services to Literature and an Australian Artist's Creative Fellowship.
The Australia Council formed in 1973 and awarded one of their first Fellowships to Hewett that year. She received further fellowships from them and eventually gained a lifetime emeritus fellowship grant. Hewett has also been the writer-in-residence in eight Australian Universities and various overseas positions.
Hewett has more than once commented on the growing conservatism in Australia, and expressed concern about the conservatism of youth in particular. A resultant backlash from this conservatism is a reduction in the amount of literary opportunities and cultural work available. Hewett dislikes the publishing industry being largely consumed by multinational corporations as this is reducing the markets available to writers and is likely to keep these markets conservative in turn. The Australian element of publishers has decreased; there are few independent publishing houses now, and they tend to be very small. Hewett assumes these small groups will continue forever, although in limited numbers.
The publishing industry is reluctant to look at poetry and new writers, which seems short-sighted to Hewett. She is quite resentful, also, of the absence of backlists in publishing houses now; this is making older books obsolete very quickly despite potential demand. It may be fact that publishers need to be commercially viable to survive, but that doesn’t mean writers like Hewett have to like it.
As she aged, Hewett experienced a number of physical difficulties including osteoarthritis. Hewett’s free-spirit personality made confinement and dependence difficult, but she continued writing and travelling to Varuna House for readings. She resented being unable to drive and even walk, and relied on her imagination to take her away from it all.
In the video, Rapunzel in Suburbia, Hewett admits her terror of dying. Part of this fear relates to the quantity of writing she felt she still had inside her; in The Chapel Perilous she expresses this thought as “I had a wonderful world in my head and three-quarters of it will be buried with me." She was obsessed with these thoughts, hating the idea of nothingness after death and often having nightmares about it.
Hewett thought there might be some comfort in knowing people would be reading her work after her death, but wasn’t sure if this would truly occur. Critic and publisher, Katharine Brisbane is quoted as saying "I have no doubt that Dorothy Hewett's work will last." After battling breast cancer, Dorothy Hewett died on the 25th August 2002; hopefully she would have been comforted to know that her work is still being read and praised, that she and her work are still being studied by students a year later.