Lily Brett

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Lily Brett
Born Luba Brajsztajn, Lilijahne Breitstein
(1946-09-05) 5 September 1946 (age 69)
Feldafing displaced persons camp, Bavaria, Germany
Occupation Novelist, essayist, poet
Language English
Nationality Australian
Notable works The Auschwitz Poems, Things Could Be Worse, Just Like That, Too Many Men
Notable awards C. J. Dennis Prize for Poetry, Commonwealth Writers' Prize
Years active 1966–present
  • Rob Lovett (ca. 1968 – ca. 1979) divorce
  • David Rankin (1981–present)
Children Jessica Rankin (step-daughter)

Lily Brett (born Luba Brajsztajn 5 September 1946, Feldafing displaced persons camp, Bavaria) is a German-born Australian-American novelist, essayist and poet. She lived in Melbourne from 1948 to 1989 and then in New York City. In Australia she had an early career as a pop music journalist, including writing for Go-Set from May 1966 to September 1968. From 1979 she started writing poems, prose fiction and non-fiction. As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, her works include semi-autobiographical depictions of family life including living in Melbourne and New York. Four of her fictional novels are Things Could Be Worse (1990), Just Like That (1994), Too Many Men (2001) and You Gotta Have Balls (2005).


Brett's parents, Max (born Brajsztajn, 1916) and Rose (nee Spindler, ca.1922–1986), lived in Łódź, Poland before the outbreak of World War II.[1][2] During that war they survived more than five years of Nazi control including being confined to the Łódź Ghetto, where they married, in occupied Poland, before being taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp where they were eventually separated.[1][2] After the European theatre of war ended in May 1945 it took six months for the couple to find each other. Brett was born as Luba Brajsztajn (Germanicised as Lilijahne Breitstein) in 1946 in Feldafing displaced persons camp, Bavaria, Germany.[3][4]:12, 20

Brett was aged two (1948) before her parents were able to leave Germany and emigrate to Melbourne, Australia. She later recalled "I grew up in North Carlton knowing there had been a catastrophe, but my parents revealed only odd fragments. Then I started reading about the Holocaust and have never stopped."[5] Her younger sister, Doris Brett, was born in 1950, she later became a clinical psychologist and writer.[4][6] Rosa worked "behind a sewing machine in a factory."[2] Brett attended University High School, Melbourne but did not matriculate – instead of sitting two of her final exams she watched Hitchcock's Psycho.[5]

In 1966 Brett successfully applied to be a music journalist at pop music weekly, Go-Set, and in May she replaced founding feature writer, Doug Panther.[7] She later reflected, "My career is inexplicable and it's a career path that nobody should follow! It basically starts with an 18-year old refusing to go to university because that was the one thing that my parents wanted of me, that and to be slim. So I defied both of those desires. My mother said I had to get a job, which shocked me. There was a new newspaper opening up in Australia called Go-Set and I walked into the office and I started work the next day. I don't think this would happen today."[8] The paper's editor was Tony Schauble, and according to Go-Set staff photographer, Colin Beard, "[Brett] had been to see Schauble several times and had made a favourable impression on him and more importantly, she had a car, which was an attractive incentive to employ her."[7] Fellow writers included Vince Lovegrove, Molly Meldrum, Ed Nimmervoll and Stan Rofe.[7] In November 1966 Brett was interviewed on The Go!! Show, a Victorian-based pop music show, by its host, Johnny Young (also a pop singer).[9] Young described Brett's style "She seemed genuinely interested in the pop stars she interviewed, but she could also be intimidating at times."[7]

In January 1967 Brett and Beard travelled to the United Kingdom for Go-Set, "where they experienced a swinging live music scene."[7] According to Beard "at first she had little idea about what to write, but eventually developed her own style, which was more personal and intimate than Panther's. Her features in Go-Set showed that she was able to help the musicians feel relaxed and in doing so they would disclose more to her than they had to Panther."[7] As a result of her work, "for the first time Australian teenagers saw that two Australians they knew [were] reporting on the English music scene."[7] The pair then travelled to America to cover the Monterey International Pop Festival (mid-June 1967), before returning to Australia.[7] Soon after Brett married Rob Lovett (ex-the Loved Ones guitarist) and the couple have two children.[10][11]

Brett regularly appeared on Uptight, one of the first weekly national TV shows devoted to pop music,[12] it broadcast for four hours on Saturday mornings, which ran from October 1967 to 1969.[13] While working for Go-Set, early in 1968, Brett became a band manager for a newly formed male soul vocal trio, the Virgil Brothers, modelled on the Walker Brothers.[14][15] The original line-up was her then-partner Lovett, Mick Hadley (ex-Purple Hearts) and Malcolm McGee (ex-Python Lee Jackson).[14] In May Hadley left and was replaced by Peter Doyle.[15] The group issued three singles, "Temptation's 'Bout to Get Me" (June 1968), "Here I Am" (September) and "When You Walk Away" (September 1969).[15] They had relocated to the UK prior to the third single, where they subsequently disbanded.[15]

Brett continued with Go-Set until September 1968, "she wanted more fulfilling work, and was also about to have a family and so needed a better income than the low wages Go-Set Publications paid."[7] After she left Meldrum took on her interview-based "Pop Speak Out" column, however "Meldrum lacked Brett's skill in personalising her columns or being able to get celebrities to disclose deep information; on top of this he also lacked Panther's literacy."[7] Another aspect of her Go-Set work was record reviews, which were taken up by Nimmervoll, he was "more descriptive, knowledge-based, and historically comparative than Brett's reviews. In the limited column space available, Nimmervoll captured the meaning of the recording and its place in rock music history."[7] In January 1969 her cover story on Johnny Farnham appeared in the second edition of Gas (an offshoot of Go-Set).[16]

In the late 1970s Brett was interviewing Jennifer Rankin (November 1941 – December 1979), a terminally ill poet, when she met Jennifer's husband, David Rankin, a visual artist and the couple's daughter, Jessica.[10] Jessica became friends with Brett's two children.[10] Brett divorced Lovett and, in 1981, married Rankin.[10] From 1979 she resumed writing: including poetry, prose fiction and non-fiction. Lily and her sister, Doris, became estranged after their mother's death, in 1986, due to cancer.[4]:27[10][17] Their dispute is "over representations of their parents, particularly their late mother."[4]:24

Brett published her first collection of poetry, The Auschwitz Poems, in 1986, which was illustrated by Rankin's drawings.[18] Her short story, "Luba", was entered in the National Short Story of the Year competition in 1988 and received an honourable mention.[19] It was printed in The Canberra Times, one of the competition's sponsors, in December.[19] In the following year Brett moved from Melbourne to New York City with Rankin and the three children.[10][12][20]

Brett's first work of fiction, Things Could Be Worse, appeared in 1990. Stephanie Green of The Canberra Times described it in April that year as a set of "self-contained [stories], they are all about a group of Jewish immigrants living in Melbourne after World War II. The characters form a community, strive to success in a new land, fend off the memories of war, and hold on to their sense of what it means to be Jewish in the face of centuries of displacement."[21] Green's fellow reviewer, Helen Elliott, felt Just Like That (1994) showed that "The joke, and the entire seriousness of this brilliant novel, lies in the way Brett has turned the anguish of generations into art... [and] has created an unusually lovely woman [Ester Zepler, the protagonist], full of laughter, torn with anxiety, capable of malice and brimming with love."[22]

Her fifth novel, Too Many Men, was published in 2001.[23] Kirkus Reviews' staff writer felt that while it "has a historical depth that most tales of father/daughter relationships lack, her inability to weave all its messy elements together keeps it from being much more than a well-researched oddity."[23] Her next novel, You Gotta Have Balls (2005), is the third to feature Ruth Rothwax and her father Edek.[24] Helen Greenwood of The Sydney Morning Herald finds that "Brett herself travels a brave road to joy, instead of the tracks of despair, which is not an easy path for a born worrier. To do so, she sidelines one of the major characters in her work, the Holocaust, and the book is the less for it."[24]

Lola Bensky (2013), Brett's seventh novel is a semi-autobiographical work of fiction, and was short-listed for the Miles Franklin Literary Award. It won the 2014 Prix Medicis étranger in France. She has published ten volumes of poetry, four collections of essays, and seven novels. She has also contributed writings to a wide range of publications.




Awards and nominations[edit]


  1. ^ a b Brett, Lily (2007), Papers of Lily Brett, circa 1946-2007, retrieved 10 June 2016 – via National Library of Australia 
  2. ^ a b c Overington, Caroline (7 May 2016). "Lily Brett: Dad Max, Manhattan, and me". The Australian. Retrieved 10 June 2016. 
  3. ^ Nentwich, Andreas (19 April 2001). "Eine Entgleisung". Die Zeit (in German). Retrieved 10 June 2016. 
  4. ^ a b c d Breyley, Gay Jennifer (2005). "Abstract: long-term effects, continuing legacies of extreme political acts, in aus, wherever initial act took place". University of Wollongong. Retrieved 11 June 2016. 
  5. ^ a b Cawthorne, Zelda (31 October 2012). "Brett revisits swinging '60s". The Australian Jewish News. Retrieved 10 June 2016. 
  6. ^ Baum, Caroline (13 April 2014). "Doris Brett reporting on the role as her husband's caregiver". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 10 June 2016. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Kent, David Martin (September 2002). "The place of Go-Set in rock and pop music culture in Australia, 1966 to 1974" (PDF). Canberra, ACT: University of Canberra: 9, 13, 54, 60–64, 68, 73, 128, 139–140, 226, 237.  Note: This PDF is 282 pages.
  8. ^ Hugall, Caroline (5 November 2015). "Lily Brett on the ability to love". How Did She Get There. Retrieved 11 June 2016. 
  9. ^ "Special Event Let's Go!! Back to the 60s" (PDF). St Kilda Film Festival. 30 May 2015. p. 49. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 July 2015. Retrieved 11 June 2016. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f Robey, Charity (15 January 2016). "Islander Lily Brett – Nothing is valuable, except for love". Shelter Island Reporter. Retrieved 11 June 2016. 
  11. ^ "Weddings: Rivka Bernstein, Paris Lovett". The New York Times. 9 September 2007. Retrieved 11 June 2016. 
  12. ^ a b "Lily Brett b. 1946". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 11 June 2016.  Note: includes a portrait of Brett by Rankin.
  13. ^ McFarlane, Ian (1999). "Encyclopedia entry for 'Ross D. Wyllie'". Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-072-1. Archived from the original on 12 July 2004. Retrieved 11 June 2016. 
  14. ^ a b Kimball, Duncan (2002). "Groups & Solo Arists – The Virgil Brothers". Milesago: Australasian Music and Popular Culture 1964–1975. Ice Productions. Archived from the original on 7 March 2008. Retrieved 11 June 2016. 
  15. ^ a b c d McFarlane, Ian (1999). "Encyclopedia entry for 'Peter Doyle'". Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-072-1. Archived from the original on 6 August 2004. Retrieved 11 June 2016. 
  16. ^ Kimball, Duncan (2002). "Media – Press – Gas". Milesago: Australasian Music and Popular Culture 1964–1975. Ice Productions. Archived from the original on 7 March 2008. Retrieved 11 June 2016. 
  17. ^ Kissan, Karen (17 September 2001). "A literary feud born of family trauma". The Age. Retrieved 10 June 2016 – via Karen Kissan Official Website. 
  18. ^ Brett, Lily; Rankin, David (1986), The Auschwitz poems, Scribe, ISBN 978-0-908011-10-0 
  19. ^ a b c Brett, Lily (28 December 1988). "Magazine: 'Luba'". The Canberra Times 63 (19,440). pp. 21–22. Retrieved 10 June 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  20. ^ Cavenett, Wendy (1997). "An interview with Lily Brett author of In Full view". Between the Lines. Archived from the original on 15 October 1997. Retrieved 11 June 2016. 
  21. ^ "Drawing light out of the darkness". The Canberra Times 64 (20,090). 14 April 1990. p. 16. Retrieved 11 June 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  22. ^ "Books: Turning anguish into art". The Canberra Times 69 (21,675). 20 August 1994. p. 55. Retrieved 11 June 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  23. ^ a b "Too Many Men by Lily Brett". Kirkus Reviews. 13 August 2001. Retrieved 11 June 2016. 
  24. ^ a b Greenwood, Helen (5 November 2005). "You Gotta Have Balls – Book Reviews – Books – Entertainment". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 11 June 2016.  Note: User may have to click on 2 or next to access further material.
  25. ^ Brett, Lily; Rankin, David (1987), Poland and other poems, Scribe, ISBN 978-0-908011-13-1 – via National Library of Australia 
  26. ^ Brett, Lily; Rankin, David (1990), After the war : poems, Melbourne University Press, ISBN 978-0-522-84415-3 – via National Library of Australia 

External links[edit]

Miles Franklin Literary Award: [1]