Judith Wright

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 515

Wright was born May 31, 1915, and raised outside Armidale in Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales. She grew up in the rural Australian landscape, the oldest child of three in a well-off and literate family. Wright was fortunate enough to spend her childhood reading a great deal, especially poetry, which her mother had read to her since Wright was very young. Wright’s first formal education was through correspondence courses furnished by the New South Wales government to those in rural areas. This afforded the young Wright the advantage of lessened regimentation, a trait often advantageous to a career in poetry. At twelve, the year her mother died, Wright attended the New South Wales Girls’ School and there met a teacher who encouraged her to write poetry.

In 1933, Wright, now a teenager, left school. However, she did take one class at the University of Sydney. The light schedule enabled her to read heavily and widely outside class requirements. At twentytwo, Wright traveled through Europe and later, Sri Lanka. The next few years saw her at an array of office jobs, the last as an assistant to a geography professor. With the onset of World War II, she returned home to help out on the family property. In 1943, Wright, now twenty-eight, joined the administrative staff of the University of Queensland. Here, she helped the editor of Meanjin produce what would become Australia’s most influential literary magazine. In 1946, the editor of Meanjin published Wright’s first book of poems, The Moving Image, a major success in Australian poetry. Two years before, Wright had met her husband, the philosopher J. P. McKinney, who was a large influence on Wright’s work. Before McKinney died in 1966, he and Wright became the parents of one daughter.

Wright has published numerous books of poems, including The Gateway (1953), which contains her acclaimed “Drought Year.” She has also published children’s literature and short stories, edited anthologies of poetry, recorded her family’s history, and written in the field of conservation. In 1962, she became cofounder and president of the Wild Life Preservation Society of Queensland and served as its president several times thereafter. In this capacity she was instrumental in the effort to save The Great Barrier Reef located off Australia’s northeastern coast.

The recipient of numerous important honorary doctorates and awards, Wright eventually garnered Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, the Australia-Britannica Award for Literature. In 1970, she was made a fellow in the Australian Academy of the Humanities, the only member elected on the basis of a literary career alone. She also traveled to Canada and India as a representative of the writers of her country, and guest-lectured at numerous universities. In 1992, Wright won the Queen’s Prize for Poetry, and in 1995, the Human Rights for Poetry Award, especially for her work for the Aboriginal cause. She sums up her ethos this way: “I have, I suppose, been trying to expiate a deep sense of guilt over what we [white settlers] have done to the country, to its first inhabitants of all kinds, and are still and increasingly doing.”

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