Voiceworks #104 editorial, originally published in June 2016
By Lucy Adams
In the current arts funding climate, Voiceworks relies, in part, on maintaining a solid subscriber base. If you’re part of our incredible community of readers, contributors, followers and alumni, get on board our Subscribe-a-thon campaign. From November 2–26, we need to sign up 100 new subscribers to help cover the cost of printing in 2017—that means editing, publishing, paying and representing over 100 young writers and artists. So, if you’ve ever thought about subscribing to Voiceworks, the time is now. You’ll get four issues a year, each filled with seriously good work by young writers, and help secure the future of Australian writing.
Each morning, after dusting the brimstone off my boots and zipping up my hazmat suit, I strike out into the acid fog, skipping over toxic waste puddles, on my way to the Voiceworks headquarters. The journey has felt perilous at times, what with the apocalypse still hanging in the air.
On May 13 this year, a day of reckoning now known as Black Friday, Express Media, which publishes Voiceworks, was one of sixty-two arts organisations to lose multi-year operational funding as a result of cuts to the Australia Council for the Arts. There’s been plenty of media coverage on the devastation the cuts will have on the creative landscape of Australia (including articles written by our beyond-talented alumni Anwen Crawford, Sam Cooney, Patrick Lenton, Elizabeth Flux, Van Badham and Liam Pieper), and the dominant narrative reads like doomsday.
Before the cuts, we already existed in an environment fundamentally hostile towards young writers—a culture that dismisses the validity and legitimacy of young voices. Writing by young people is so often patted on the head and sent to wait in the corner until it’s ready to play with the grown-ups. If the terrain for young writers was once inhospitable, now it’s been irradiated.
The current state of alarm is warranted, and the outrage appropriate, but what all this means exactly for the fate of the defunded organisations remains uncertain. Our readers and contributors want to know: what will happen to Voiceworks?
A world without Voiceworks is my idea of a dystopian hellscape. Left with no-one to value or publish their work, young writers—rogue and feedbackless—would take to keying poems into train windows or Artlining short stories onto spools of toilet paper.
But we’re not there yet—this is not the end of Voiceworks.
In dark and dangerous times such as these, it’s difficult not to internalise the apocalypse. We live in a perpetual state of unease brought about by the realisation that our lives depend on things—institutions, policies, errant asteroids—beyond our control. As young people, we feel this lack of control acutely. There’s a huge disparity between the strength of our ambitions and desires, and the lack of power or agency we’re granted by society. At times this discrepancy is so stifling it can feel like the world is ending.
But there are strategies for surviving the apocalypse. Knowing I still had to see this issue to print, despite Nostradamus tapping at my window, I looked to learn from those who’ve already succeeded in surviving several mass extinctions. I transformed into an editor extremophile—a critter that withstands catastrophic conditions detrimental to life on Earth.
At first I channelled the tardigrade (aka water bear or moss pig), a micro-animal able to withstand all manner of extremes—pressure, radiation, dehydration, boiling and freezing temperatures, the vacuum of space—by entering a cryobiotic ‘tun’ state that renders it practically indestructible. Lesson: be a real tough guy.
Then came the mummichog, a fish with the ability to activate and deactivate a large number of its genes according to its environment. It can thrive in any water type—fresh or salty, warm or cold, polluted or clean—and even in the weightlessness of space. Lesson: adapt and modify.
When all of this failed, I became the lingula, a clam-like creature with a hinged shell, which burrows deep under the ocean floor to shelter from cataclysmic events. Lesson: retreat from the world, need nothing and no-one until it’s safe to emerge again.
It turns out the best animal to model yourself on when faced with human problems is the human—a creature fundamentally reliant on community. There’s only so much we can achieve through toughening up or burrowing down. Voiceworks #104 wouldn’t exist unless I’d asked for help. Reaching out to other humans makes for a pretty good survival strategy.
If post-apocalyptic young adult sci-fi has taught us anything, it’s that our future rests on the shoulders of a rag-tag gang of loveable young misfits (and that at least one of them can operate a crossbow). In case you haven’t figured it out yet, that means you. When we lose faith in the ability of our institutions, our safety nets and our federal government to consider our needs and take care of us, we need to turn to each other for support.
In a culture that tells young writers what they do doesn’t matter and isn’t valued, Voiceworks provides a safe space—a rebel base, a radiation-free zone, a rogue space station. You don’t need a bankable name to be published here or to be welcomed into our community. We hear your voice, and it does matter. When the world has abandoned us and deemed us expendable, we get scrappy, we get resourceful, we build a shanty town out of blasted tin and tell each other stories.