Australian writer Zora Cross — best known for a bold collection of love poems published at the end of the First World War — was born in Brisbane on 18 May 1890.
Her ambition was apparent from an early age, when her letters and stories began appearing in the Australian Town & Country Journal’s ‘Children’s Corner’, edited by Ethel Turner. After moving to Sydney as a teenager, she became a teacher and an actress before committing to writing full-time. She established herself as a poet in magazines such as the Triad, Lone Hand and the Bulletin.
When the publisher George Robertson came across the author’s self-funded collection Songs of Love and Life in October 1917 he immediately bought the rights, rushing out a revised edition before Christmas. (Norman Lindsay declined to produce illustrations because he didn’t think a woman could write love poetry, but he did provide a cover design.)
The book brought Zora Cross a level of recognition that was rare for an Australian poet. Nationwide reviews praised her artistry and her passion, calling her an Australian Sappho (in reference to the Greek love poet from 600 BC).
Cross’s fame lasted into the 1930s. Living at Glenbrook in the Blue Mountains, she published another book of poems, one of the earliest guides to Australian literature, an elegy to her brother who died in the First World War, several novels and a large amount of poetry and journalism. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, under the pseudonym Bernice May, she interviewed about 40 of her fellow women writers for the Australian Woman’s Mirror.
An archive of Zora Cross’s papers at the University of Sydney Library includes drafts of a trilogy of novels set in Ancient Rome, which she was writing for several decades until she died in 1964. (The first was published as ‘The Victor’ in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1933.)
Cross also features strongly in the collections of the State Library of NSW through letters, photographs, and manuscripts in the Angus & Robertson archive. She wrote hundreds of letters to prominent literary personalities including George Robertson and his colleague Rebecca Wiley, editor Bertram Stevens, writer and academic John Le Gay Brereton, and writers Ethel Turner and Mary Gilmore.
These letters give us an intimate view of an author’s experience in the early to mid twentieth century, and bring us closer to Zora Cross than to many writers whose fame has better endured.
Cathy Perkins, Editor, State Library of New South Wales, 2018