In the introduction to this new collection, the editors quote the author, historian and 26th president of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt, and his 1912 speech in praise of ‘history as literature’. Today, over 100 years later, it’s impossible not to compare that Republican president to the one just inaugurated who, in becoming #POTUS45, has so clouded our expectations of ‘truth’. Whatever your thoughts on US politics, the introduction of ‘alternative facts’, ‘media lies’ and ‘post-truths’ are difficult to fathom – or forgive. They ignite for readers and writers of history the same questions of truth in historical fact or fiction exposed by Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and debated all the way to and across Kate Grenville’s The Secret River. Once Upon a Time has arrived just in the nick of time. It is a tidy set of reflections on how writers engage with and reconcile the past, edited by public historians Paul Ashton, Anna Clark and Robert Crawford. The project invited responses from 16 established and emerging Australian writers of fiction, non-fiction, family memoir, media, political speeches, historical texts, crime fiction and film. The glimpse into writerly practice is both generous and rewarding. Pity such generosity is less evident in Washington.
Anna Clark and Robert Crawford are co-directors and Paul Ashton is a former co-director of the UTS Australian Centre for Public History, based in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.