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Glenda Adams Biography

Nationality: Australian. Born: Sydney, 1939. Education: University of Sydney, B.A. (honours) 1962; Columbia University, New York, M.S. 1965. Career: Writing Workshop instructor, Columbia University, New York, and Sarah Lawrence College; fiction writing teacher at University of Technology, Sydney; associate director, Teachers and Writers Collaborative, New York, 1973-76. Awards: Miles Franklin Literary award, 1987; Age Fiction Book of the Year, 1990; National Book Council award for fiction, 1991. Member: Australian Society of Authors; Australian Writers Guild. Agent: Goodman Associates, 500 West End Ave., New York, New York 10024, USA.



Games of the Strong. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1982; NewYork, Cane Hill Press, 1989.

Dancing on Coral. New York, Viking, and Sydney and London, Angus and Robertson, 1988.

Longleg. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1990; New York, Cane HillPress, 1992.

The Tempest of Clemenza. New York, Angus & Robertson, 1996.

Short Stories

Lies and Stories. N.p., 1976.

The Hottest Night of the Year. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1979;New York, Cane Hill Press, 1989.


Pride, 1993.

Wrath, 1993.

The Monkey Trap. Sydney, Australia, Griffin Theatre, 1998.


Manuscript Collection :

Australian Defense Force Academy, University of New South Wales, Canberra, Australia.

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Born in Sydney, Glenda Adams left an Australia she found too restrictive in 1964 and lived in New York for many years before finally returning to her home country in what she sees as the completion of a personal odyssey. Her first collection of short pieces, written and published in various periodicals in the United States, was Lies and Stories, but The Hottest Night of the Year, which includes seven stories from the first collection together with more recent work, was the first book to establish her reputation. Most of the stories are written in the first person and concern vulnerable or alienated female protagonists, who fiercely insist nevertheless on retaining their individuality and independence. The first six stories seem to be set in Sydney (though the setting is not always named) and deal with the experience of childhood and adolescence. Running through them is a note of implicit protest against the mistreatment of women. This emerges clearly in "The Music Masters," with its bitterly misognynistic father, and is carried on in several stories about the early days of marriages in which husbands invariably dismiss and behave condescendingly toward their new wives. The later stories are more playful and whimsically self-conscious in form. "Twelfth Night, or The Passion," for instance, shows the narrator determinedly exercising her option to have an improbably happy ending, whereas "Reconstruction of an Event" ostentatiously flaunts its different narrative possibilities. The stories are written in a deceptively simple style and marked often by a bizarre kind of humour and almost surreal disconnectedness, qualities that will emerge in Adams's later fiction.

Games of the Strong is, in retrospect, Adams's least characteristic novel. Written in the genre of the dystopian novel (a surprisingly ubiquitous one in Australian fiction) it describes an impoverished police state; dissidents are expelled to "The Island," where they are left to die, where poverty is rampant, and where no one is to be trusted. Its heroine, Neila, is hardly political at all and is mostly concerned to discover the truth about her parents' deaths (allegedly in a car accident), but slowly she is drawn into resisting the injustices and inequalities she sees all around her. It is a world that is full of betrayals and one in which, although she insists constantly on her own weakness ("I have no valour," "I am a coward and did not want to get hurt"), Neila develops into another of Adams's sturdily independent female protagonists. Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the novel is its allegorical intention or lack of it. There is only one reference to this world, a brief mention of David Oistrakh playing a Beethoven concerto, but there are several contemptuous observations on outside democratic powers that willingly tolerate the excesses of "The Complex."

Adams came into her own as a writer, however, with her two recent novels. Dancing on Coral, which won the Miles Franklin Award for the best Australian novel of the year, is a very funny and witty novel, its style built around a sense of derangement, non sequiturs, and conversations not connecting or at cross purposes. Lark Watters (who had appeared briefly in one of Adams's early stories) grows up in Sydney during the 1960s and falls in love with Solomon Blank, but he wins a scholarship in America. Then she is attracted to an American named Tom Brown. She and Donna Bird, her rival for Tom's attentions, embark on a freighter bound for the United States, but en route Lark, tormented by her dominant companion, allows her to be left behind when the ship sails.

The novel is in part a satire on what the author sees as a decade of silliness. It is peopled by grotesques, like the German captain of the freighter and Lark's father, who is building a coffin for himself and who indulges in trivial pursuits, such as learning how to get around London and memorising all the stops on the air route from Sydney to London. Underneath the comedy the serious point is being made, through a letter that Lark's mother writes to her saying that her father has disappeared: "Too, before I left on my holiday he said to tell you, you have made your own way in this tricky world. You have done it all yourself. There has not been much help from us, I am aware." Bereft of both lover and husband at the end, Lark is finally free to be her own person.

Independence is also a theme of Longleg, Adams's most disturbing novel. William Badger is ten when the novel opens shortly after the war and is fearful that his mother—beautitful, young, and dissatis-fied with the country she lives in and with everything else—will leave him, which she does. When she eventually returns she is a different woman, from whom William closes himself off. We see William then at various stages of his life and in various places as he grows through relationships with women as if to gain the security he has never had—with Meg Meese, who takes him cave exploring with her Trogs; Tillie Pepper and her group of radical activists, the Pan-European Barbarians; and Amanda, the married woman he falls in love with until finally he realizes the truth of what the most sympathetic of the Barbarians had said to him: "I think you can always recognize when you have to take a new path and when you should stay where you are." It is a brilliantly inventive novel and in its protagonist, William, Adams has created her most sympathetic character.

Certain types appear constantly in Glenda Adams's fiction: the vulnerable adolescent or young woman often just married; the older, sophisticated woman who is a threat to the bride; idiosyncratic or irresponsible parents. Her principal characters are questers seeking to find the identity so many people leave undiscovered; even the constant name-changing is a symbol of their uncertainty. Voyages dominate her two most recent novels, which are both very funny and at times poignant.

—Laurie Clancy

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