Institute for Creative Writing and Literary Translation Welcomes Susan Bradley Smith
On May 24, the Institute for Creative Writing and Literary Translation kicked off its Summer 2023 events with a reading by this year’s Writer in Residence, Australian author and feminist scholar Susan Bradley Smith.
Institute Director Professor Carlos Dews introduced Bradley Smith, who grew up in rural New South Wales before studying in Sydney and working as a journalist in the United Kingdom and Germany.
Bradley Smith holds a Ph.D. in English and is a graduate playwright of Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA). An award-winning writer and teacher, her areas of research interest are bibliotherapy, feminist cultural and literary history, creative nonfiction, and poetry. Since beginning her professional writing life as a rock journalist in London, she has worked as an academic in both Australia and the U.K., publishing extensively as a literary critic, theatre historian, and creative writer.
A qualified bibliotherapist, in 2013 Bradley Smith founded the writing and wellbeing consultancy Milkwood Bibliotherapy, building on her award-winning work in the medical humanities. She is the Artistic Director of the Lennox Head Poetry Festival, founded in 2017.
Her professional practice as a teacher, creative writer, and scholar is informed by a belief in the dialogue between academia and the world beyond, including schools, community organizations, the media, cultural institutions, and cultural policy bodies.
Bradley Smith’s latest books are the poetry collection Gladland, the suffrage theatre history A Splendid Adventure, and the brand new verse novel Bonfire Got Hot. She is the author of the bestselling memoir about writing and well-being for mental health Friday Forever: Memoirs of Madness.
In introducing Bradley Smith, Professor Dews read how other authors have described her work. “Poet John Kinsella said, ‘These poems are Plath unleashed.’ And Janet Turner, novelist and former Philip K. Dick Chair of Creative Writing at the University of Southern California, wrote of Susan, “I would put her in the small and select category of the poets of intensity. Plath, Hughes, Shamus Haney, John Donne, and Gerald Manley Hopkins. Susan Bradley Smith belongs in their company.”
Bradley Smith read from some of her work, including Bonfire Got Hot, a fictional memoir-in-verse, a story that begins with the protagonist’s wild, ungraspable girlhood and follows her to an untranquil 21st-century womanhood. The book explores, as Bradley Smith explained, questions like “What did you really do with your life? Are you happy? How to answer a dying teenage daughter’s questions?” In between hospital visits, a mother sorts through her private archive of diaries and letters, preparing to burn the lot, taking a final look at times gone by. From suburban seaside villages and 1980s Sydney to Thatcherite London and Berlin beneath the wall, to motherhood and beyond, the reader of Bradley Smith’s latest book witnesses a life illuminating the times. Bonfire Got Hot is a saga of one woman’s hunt for freedom and the price paid for liberation, a cautionary tale to a young woman who may never get to find out for herself the revolutionary promise of love.
Just call it what it was, the 1970s
Lots of schoolgirls get lost in car parks after the night is over.
After the stars have done being ever clear and started shining
in another hemisphere. They stand alone in these carparks
in the mothering rain, waiting for lifts that never arrive.
The rain is really radium, it rinses them, the kind of clean that,
for now restores poise, fill their empty tanks with courage,
enough to get them home – it’s a long uphill country walk –
and write sweet notes in their diaries that tell truths which
are also lies about the boy, the music, the kiss, the pub doors
that lured them in like a trapped wolf’s smile. The girl plucks
at a wet daisy. I know he loves me, she thinks – until the next
day at school and the hopscotch of shame. All the same, she’ll
never forget him, even when her teeth are falling out. This is me,
I am that girl. Go ahead, tell me what I did wrong.
Says Bradley Smith, “Writing poetry is an act of self-making. It’s distilling the past, but you’re creating a new self as you’re actually doing it and creating a truth in the moment that the poem hits the page.”
On May 31, 2023, Susan Bradley Smith will lead a Workshop on Bibliotherapy at 6 pm, Frohring Library Upper Reading Room, Guarini Campus.