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Alister Kershaw

Author of A History of the Guillotine

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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Poet, writer and broadcaster Alister Kershaw was educated in Melbourne at Wesley College. During the 1930s and 1940s Kershaw was part of the bohemian life in Melbourne. He contributed to the magazines Comment, Art In Australia and Angry Penguins including, in the latter, a satirical poem The Denunciad about the literary 'isms' of the time. Kershaw says he was 'detested by large numbers of my fellow-writers for being passionately anti-communist'. He was rejected for military service ('to my great satisfaction'). Instead of serving in the military during World War II, Kershaw worked first for the Australian Broadcasting Commission and then for the Department of Information in the short-wave service. During this time his friends included Adrian Lawlor, Max Harris, Albert Tucker, David Strachan and Geoffrey Dutton. Together with Adrian Lawlor, Kershaw created the fictional poet 'Mort Brandish'. The two writers fabricated a life and death for Brandish in conversations and in print. Lawlor contributed Brandish's poems to the little magazine Comment in the 1940s. Kershaw's recollections of this period are covered in his memoirs, The Pleasure of Their Company (1986) and HeyDays (1991). The books also cover his association with controversial people like P.R. Stephenson (Kershaw calls them anticonformists) and artists such as Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd and recounts his opinion of the Melbourne literary and artistic milieu.

Kershaw left Australia in 1947 and worked for the BBC in London. In 1948 he moved to France where he worked as secretary for the British writer Richard Aldington. Kershaw lived in France for the rest of his life. During the 1960s he was the ABC's Paris correspondent. A book of his programmes, A Word from Paris, was published by Angus & Robertson in 1993. He also took jobs as a dishwasher and van loader and, for ten years, worked for UNESCO, a role he describes as his 'lowest ebb'. From 1982 Kershaw lived in the small village of Maison Sallé in the Sancerre region of the Loire Valley where he described one of his main occupations as 'drinking wine in my neighbours' cellars'.

Many of Kershaw's selected works of poetry were published in limited editions. He wrote reviews and columns on a variety of subjects for newspapers and magazines including the Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald. As well as his poetry, radio broadcasts and reminiscences, Kershaw wrote works about France including A History of the Guillotine (1958) and Murder in France (1955), and wrote about, or edited works by Richard Aldington, Roy Campbell, Léon Daudet and other overseas writers.

Kershaw continued to write essays, many unpublished, fought against political correctness and the 'bureaucraticiasation of the arts', and corresponded with old friends and new in Australia until his death in the garden of his house in France. With the assistance of Arnaud Lefebvre, who organized exhibitions of Kershaw's work, some of the information about Kershaw's work has come from the private archives of Mrs. Kershaw in Maison Sallé, Sury-en-Vaux, archives kept in the house where Kershaw spent his last years. Lefebvre published A Bibliography of the Works of Alister Kershaw in 2005.

Source: Quotations are from material held at Special Collections, UNSW @ ADFA in the Tom Thompson and Elizabeth Butel manuscript collection, mssG9.

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