Flinders University Amy Witting Website by Yvonne Miels


An introduction to the life and work of Amy Witting

(Joan Levick nèe Fraser) born 26 January 1918, died 18 September 2001


Australian realist fiction writer and poet


Amy Witting was 71 when her powerful novel I for Isobel was published in late 1989. This novel attracted considerable critical attention, and since then most of the backlog of her stories and poetry (written over a lifetime) have been published. In 1993 Amy Witting received the Patrick White Award and she is now known to a wide readership for the quality and sophistication of her work.

She was born on 26 January 1918 in Annandale, an inner-city suburb of Sydney, then a 'tough place' inhabited by many who were hard-up. Witting claims that this environment at least provided her with an inexhaustible subject - one that recurs throughout her prose and poetry - 'survival'.

Joan Fraser attended the local Catholic school, St Brendan's, at Annandale from 1923 to 1929. Family circumstances were difficult and she was under a great deal of pressure both at home and at school; she was also often ill with what was eventually diagnosed as TB. Like her character Isobel, Joan Fraser was an avid reader and retreated from reality into a rich inner world.

Her secondary schooling took place at the prestigious Fort Street Girls High from 1930 to 1934. Whilst there, Joan Fraser, aged 16, had a poem published. 'Wanderers' appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald on 28 July 1934, under the pseudonym Du Guesclin.

At the University of Sydney, from 1935 to 1937, Joan Fraser studied English and Modern Languages and became part of what Peter Coleman calls the 'sourly brilliant literary circle' that gathered around James McAuley. She joined Harold Stewart, Dorothy Auchterlonie (later Green), Oliver Somerville, Alan Crawford and Ronald Dunlop as part of this elite group. She graduated Bachelor of Arts, but when her father died during her final examinations at the end of 1937 she had to seek work.

After gaining a Teachers' College scholarship Joan Fraser completed her Diploma of Education at the end of 1939. Her first appointment was at Riverside Domestic Science school in 1940 followed a number of short transfers within the New South Wales education system, leading finally to Coonamble where she stayed for three-and-a-half years. At the end of the war Joan Fraser taught in Young, then Manly Boys High for a year. In 1948 she went to Kempsey, where she remained until 1953. It was there that she met Les Levick, a high school teacher who specialized in Industrial Arts. They were married in December 1948.

Joan Levick entered the Bodington Sanatorium in 1953 after a routine TB check of her Kempsey pupils revealed that she was suffering from this disease. During this enforced isolation she turned, in earnest, to writing.

In the early 1960s Joan Levick and Thea Astley were both teaching at Cheltenham Girls High. Astley, already an established writer, was very impressed by Joan Levick's story 'Goodbye, Ady, Goodbye, Joe', and encouraged her to submit it for publication. This story, inspired by factual details of a major flood in Kempsey, was accepted and published in The New Yorker in April 1965. Witting has always written under a pseudonym, and her choice appropriately reflects a long-held promise to herself to 'never give up on consciousness', not be be unwitting, but to always remain 'witting'.

After six years at Cheltenham (1957 to 1962) Witting's teaching career concluded with her appointment as Mistress of Modern Languages at North Sydney Girls High School - a position she held for seven years. After retirement Witting taught English as a second language for twenty years.

Collected Poems was released in January 1998 to coincide with her 80th birthday, and in August her fourth novel, Maria's War, was published. Since then, the sequel to I for Isobel, Isobel on the way to the Corner Shop appeared in June 1999, followed by a comprehensive collection of her short stories, Faces and Voices in 2000. Isobel on the Way to the Corner Shop won the 2000 Age Book of the Year Award. A final novel, After Cynthia, was published just before she died.

Despite years of struggling with diminished eyesight, Witting remained actively involved in life, and she continued to write until her death on 18 September 2001.



Flinders University Amy Witting Website - Biography


© Copyright Yvonne Miels 2001

Last updated on 25 November 2001

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