Nancy Keesing, Poet, Writer and Anthologist (1923-1993)

Nancy Keesing was a vibrant figure in Australian literary life for more than forty years. A much published author, she wrote or edited some twenty six books which included stories, memoirs, poetry and different works of non-fiction. Educated at SCEGGS, Darlinghurst and Frensham, Mittagong, she spent 1941 as an art student at East Sydney Technical College. After a wartime job as a clerk with the Navy, she completed a Diploma of Social Studies and graduated from Sydney University in 1947, working at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children till 1951. In 1951 she published her first book of poems.

From the 1940s she became a prolific writer of poetry and prose, publishing in The Bulletin, which lead to a lifelong friendship with the poet and writer, Douglas Stewart. This led to their joint compilation of the anthologies Australian Bush Ballads (1955) and Old Bush Songs (1957). They were among the first to collect folksongs from the Outback which had begun to disappear with the advent of radio. In 1978, she edited Shalom- an anthology of Australian Jewish short stories and ten years later published her autobiography, Riding the Elephant, published in 1988. She described it 'as the kind of autobiography I write when I am not working on an autobiography'. Other published works included biography and children's books (By Gavel and Gum and The Golden Dream). One of her finest poems, the Three ring Circus, a moving portrait of her aged mother appears in the Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets (1986).

In 1969 she joined the Australian Society of Authors, editing their journal Australian Author for several years. In 1973 she was appointed to the new Literature Board of the Australian Council for the Arts (Now the Australia Council), becoming Chairwoman from 1974 to 1977. She was also a member of the National Book Council, the Kuringai CAE, and the Australian Jewish Historical Society.

In 1985 she endowed the Keesing Studio in Paris in memory of her parents, purchasing a seventy-five year lease from La Cite Internationale des Arts, to be administered by the Literature Board. This was to benefit writers by allowing them to stay there for periods of up to six months. For some years whe wrote book reviews for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age and also wrote scripts for ABC Radio. In 1989 she received an Order of Australia (AM) for her work. Perhaps less well known is that she supplied the funding for the Bibliography of Australian Judaica compiled by Serge Liberman and edited by Joy Ruth Young. Serge Liberman has published an expanded third volume entitled The Bibliography of Australasian Jewry 1788-2008.

Her work is included in many anthologies. At her husband's inititative, Mark Hertzberg, a collection of her poems, The Woman I am was published in 1995. It was edited by Meg Stewart, the daughter of her life long friend Douglas Stewart. Meg Stewart was the first Nancy Keesing Fellow of the State Library of New South Wales.