Kate Harrison's farewell from Island 156

After six years of being part of the engine room of Island magazine, I am departing from my role as General Manager. Along with many former editors and staff who have given their life and soul to this magazine, I know this will not be a clean break. The love and energy that is required to be a part of an Australian literary magazine very rarely ends in a complete departure. After you’ve made the decision to move on, it is inevitable that you’ll still try to do whatever you can to ensure that an important institution like this can thrive in what has always been, and continues to be, a challenging industry.

I could not have achieved all I have without the sage advice of former editors Andrew Sant, Pete Hay, Dale Campisi, David Owen, and many more. I have always enjoyed hearing about the history of the magazine from anyone who was willing to impart their knowledge and interesting stories. It is not only the editors that have helped this Tasmanian institution thrive for 40 years; the list of people who have been involved as staff and board members is extensive and I have been constantly surprised to find out just how many Tasmanians, former and current, have had a part to play in keeping this magazine alive.

I’ve never felt the pull to be a writer. My love of literature comes in the form of being a reader. As far back as I can remember, my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles read to me. I remember hiding under the covers with a torch reading Enid Blyton and Judy Blume or a copy of my grandma’s latest issue of Reader’s Digest. Writers were my rock stars. I will never forget standing in a second-hand bookshop and seeing a whole shelf of books written by people I have met through this wonderful opportunity at Island and through my role as marketing manager of the Tasmanian Writers and Readers Festival. The advice and friendship I have received from people such as Sarah Holland-Batt, Vern Field, Richard Flanagan, Robbie Arnott, Rachel Edwards, Heather Rose, Adam Ouston, Michael Blake, James Dryburgh, Rosie Martin, Ruth Dawkins, Justy Phillips and Margaret Woodward has changed me in ways I’ll never be able to properly articulate.

If you have ever met former Island editor Matthew Lamb, you will know that he would not enjoy being mentioned in this ‘farewell’. The reality, however, is that I would not be who I am today without him. Matt is the older brother I always wanted, and I have never had a more supportive mentor. Matt encouraged me to read Albert Camus, and when I saw Tasmanian photographer Lou Conboy’s breathtaking artwork in her Sisyphina exhibition at Sawtooth ARI, I knew that I had to feature it with this piece. This quote is for Matt:

The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

– Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

At the time of writing, I’m still working out what’s next for me, but I can assure you that I won’t be far away from the literary community. I have many mountains up which to keep pushing rocks. Almost half the population of Tasmania is functionally illiterate – and promoting the benefits of reading, writing and communication is only the beginning of transforming this situation.

In my favourite book, The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath wrote:

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

Thank you to all our readers and supporters, it has been a joy to be part of this community. Fear not, I will not starve. I’m off to pick some figs.

– Kate Harrison