Open main menu

Fay Zwicky (4 July 1933 – 2 July 2017) was an Australian poet, short-story writer, critic and academic primarily known for her autobiographical poem Kaddish, which deals with her identity as a Jewish writer.

Fay Zwicky
BornJulia Fay Rosefield
(1933-07-04)4 July 1933
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Died2 July 2017(2017-07-02) (aged 83)
Perth, Western Australia
Alma materUniversity of Melbourne
Notable awardsKenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry (1982)
Patrick White Award (2005)


Born Julia Fay Rosefield, Zwicky grew up in suburban Melbourne. Her family was fourth generation Australian—her father, a doctor; her mother, a musician. Zwicky was an accomplished pianist by the age of six, and performed with her violinist and cellist sisters while still at school. After completing her schooling at Anglican institutions, she entered the University of Melbourne in 1950, receiving her Bachelor of Arts in 1954. Descended from European Jews, she described herself as an "outsider" ("I was ashamed of my foreign interloper status") from an "Anglo-Saxon dominated" Australian culture. She began publishing poetry as an undergraduate, thereafter working as a musician, extensively touring Europe, America and South-East Asia between 1955-65.[1]

She settled in Perth with her Swiss husband Karl Zwicky (the two married in 1957) and two children (one son, one daughter) and returned to literature working primarily as a Senior Lecturer in American and comparative literature at the University of Western Australia until her retirement in 1987. From 1978-81 she was also a member of the Literature Board of the Australia Council in Sydney. After her retirement she concentrated on her writing, which won her international recognition.[1]

In 1990, Zwicky married her second husband James Mackie, who predeceased her. She led a reclusive life in Perth: "I never expect anything. I always think I'm drifting and nobody knows I'm here, and it's great."[2] In 2004, Fay Zwicky was declared a Western Australian "Living Treasure", a term she called "repulsive ... like being prematurely obituarized."[2]


Recurrent themes of Zwicky's were the relation between art and the artist, the exploration of the author's Jewish heritage and autobiographical experiences. Her poetry collections won several awards. The committee for the Patrick White Award praised Zwicky as "one of Australia's most original and accomplished poets".[2] The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English describes her style as "densely textured but elegant and direct".[3]

Zwicky's first collection, Isaac Babel's Fiddle (1975) included a number of poems about her Lithuanian grandfather and his cultural displacement in Australia, which nevertheless saved him from the Holocaust ("Summer Pogrom", "Totem and Taboo"). Zwicky also writes of her own alienation, in spite of her being "whiter than Persil".[4]

The title poem of her most-admired collection, Kaddish (1982), is an elegy for her father who died at sea. In her poem Zwicky uses the Aramaic phrases of the traditional prayer of mourning to frame her own memorial prayer detailing her complex relationship with her father. She draws on the Haggadah, the Passover Seder night liturgy. Kaddish" also uses the Lord’s Prayer and invokes God in female form as a goddess. Ivor Indyk describes Kaddish as "a mosaic of textual citations, of the Kaddish, the Passover Haggadah and numerous allusions to myth and nursery rhyme."[5]

Ask Me, Zwicky's third book of poetry, contained poems on China, America, and a series of religious poems on the deities of the Hindu pantheon ("Ganesh", "Vishnu", "Siva", and the goddess "Devi"). In Zwicky's subsequent books she developed a sparser style of poetry. In the title poem of The Gatekeeper’s Wife Zwicky wrote of the devastating loss of her husband, and recalls the custom of lighting a memorial candle. In "Losing Track" the death of her husband is linked with the tragic Jewish loss of Zion. The collection included an elegy, "Banksia Blechifolia", for Primo Levi, and "Groundswell for Ginsberg", an homage to Allen Ginsberg.[1]

Her latest collection of poems, Picnic, published in 2006, gathered primarily poems about the nature of poetry and the poet's role in the world. Aside from her poetry, Zwicky published a collection of short stories, Hostages, in 1983, and a collection of essays on literature and survival, The Lyre in the Pawnshop, in 1986. In her essays Zwicky traced the ways in which the construction of an Australian literature has served to marginalize minority writers and women. She discussed the absence, until very latterly, of any place for a Jewish writer in Australian literature: "Living and growing up in this country has been an exercise in repression".[1]


Zwicky died in Perth, Western Australia on 2 July 2017, aged 83, two days before her 84th birthday.[6]

Awards and nominationsEdit



  • Isaac Babel's Fiddle (1975) ISBN 0-909387-00-1
  • Kaddish and Other Poems (UQP, 1982) ISBN 0-7022-1680-1
  • Ask Me (UQP, 1990) ISBN 0-7022-2282-8
  • A Touch of Ginger (with Dennis Haskell, 1991)
  • Fay Zwicky: Poems 1970–1992 (UQP, 1993) ISBN 0-7022-2466-9
  • The Gatekeeper's Wife (Brandl & Schlesinger, 1999) ISBN 1-876040-04-1
  • Picnic: New Poems (Giramondo, 2006) ISBN 1-920882-18-9
  • The Collected Poems of Fay Zwicky (ed. Lucy Dougan and T. Dolan) (University of Western Australia Press, 2017) ISBN 9781742589329

Short Stories


  • The Lyre in the Pawnshop: Essays on Literature and Survival 1974–1984 (UWAP, 1986) ISBN 0-85564-267-X


  • Quarry: A Selection of Western Australian Poetry (1982) (FACP) ISBN 0-909144-38-9
  • Journeys: Judith Wright, Rosemary Dobson, Gwen Harwood, Dorothy Hewett (1982) ISBN 0-908207-48-4
  • The Witnesses CD (2010) River Road Press CD Series No. 19
  • Procession: Youngstreet Poets Three (1987)


  1. ^ a b c d The Age (5 May 2007),; accessed 2 August 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Solitary life interrupted by award,, 12 November 2005.
  3. ^ Dominic Head (ed.): The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, 3rd edition. (Cambridge: University Press, 2006), p. 1240, ISBN 978-0521831796
  4. ^ Zwicky, Fay. "Waking" (poem), Poems 1970–1992, Australian Poetry Library, ISBN 0-7022-2466-9
  5. ^ "The Poetry Archive". Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  6. ^ Taylor, Paige (4 July 2017). "Acclaimed poet Fay Zwicky dies in Perth at 83". The Australian. Retrieved 13 July 2017.