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This report is taken from PN Review 143, Volume 28 Number 3, January - February 2002.

Letter from Melbourne Kris Hemensley

I wonder what John Harriot - who lamented the passing in England of traditional bookshops before the onslaught of American imports and commercial style - would have made of the bookshop I hardly dare call mine? Harriot mourned the disappearance of the 'dark corners', and 'winding staircases', and their replacement by 'neon lights and rows of paperbacks in alphabetical order and a computer to tell the customer that everything worth reading is out of print'. Such bookshops, he wrote, 'are savage places where there is always a keening wind and moans of spiritual hunger troubling the air'.

Mr Harriot wrote his article 'Farewell to True Bookshops' in 1984, coincidentally the year in which Collected Works first opened its doors, in a building with backrooms and a staircase, occupied by the principals of several small presses involved in the production of books and magazines by way of a government funded employment and training scheme. That eminently successful scheme's publications' showcase soon began an independent career as a bookshop devoted to the small press and specialising in poetry. Now at its fifth address in Melbourne, Collected Works has survived for seventeen years in business.

The mid-1980s collective of writers, editors and publishers, who volunteered to run the shop, have long gone. I seem to have inherited the entire treasure but, perhaps superstitiously, characterise myself as the 'co-ordinator' or simply 'the man who works here'! Two partners, assorted family and friends, back me up in substance and morale. ...


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