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Personal profile


Before joining academia, Willa worked as a journalist in print, television and radio for outlets including the Sydney Morning Herald, the Bulletin, the Times on Sunday, ABC TV and ABC Radio National. While her expertise is in writing, her experience in the electronic media includes researching/associate producing the award-winning television documentaries Ladies in Lines and The Time of Your Life, as well as devising and producing two series of programs for Radio National, Love Stories and the ACIJ Journalism Forums.

Willa joined Macquarie University in 2000 after teaching communications and writing at the Sydney Institute of Technology, TAFE and the University of Technology, Sydney where she was also manager of the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ).  Originally trained as a lawyer (BA/LLB UNSW), she completed her PhD in 2000 on the political activism of the literary critic, poet and peace activist Dorothy Auchterlonie Green. That research underpinned her political biography of Green published in 2009. She was also co-founder of the Arts Faculty HDR conference and companion journal NEO: Journal for Higher Degree Research Candidates in the Social Sciences and Humanities at Macquarie University.


Willa is currently Co-Director of the Centre for Media History at MQ. She is on the advisory board of the international journal, Literary Journalism Studies. She has been a judge of the UN Media Peace Awards since 2015 and was a committee member of the American-Australian Fulbright Awards, NSW Selection Committee, from 2003-2007. Her memberships include: the International Association of Literary Journalism Studies (IALJS) (and member of the executive in 2010 and 2011); the Australasian Association of Writing Programs (AAWP); the Journalism Education Association of Australia (JERAA), and the Australian and New Zealand Communication Associaiton (ANZCA) 


  • 2015 - Best Article in Literary Journalism Studies Prize by the International Association for Literary Journalism Studies.
  • 2009 - MQ Arts Faculty Higher Degree Research Award
  • 2007 - SCMP Award for Excellence in Student Engagement in 2007
  • 2000 - Letter of Congratulations from Vice-Chancellor on the excellence of her PhD thesis (the practice at the time in lieu of formal prizes or commendations)

Research Interests

Willa is currently working on several research projects concerning creative non-fiction writing and literary/narrative journalism. These include a history of literary journalism (long-form narrative journalism) in Australia.

She welcomes postgraduate students in literary journalism (practice and history), creative non-fiction, life writing (including biography and memoir), fiction, nature and place writing, travel writing, ethics in writing, and long and short narrative storytelling generally.

Fingerprint Fingerprint is based on mining the text of the person's scientific documents to create an index of weighted terms, which defines the key subjects of each individual researcher.

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Projects 2009 2019

Research Outputs 2000 2019

A call to action: Behrouz Boochani's Manus Island prison narratives

McDonald, W., 2019, (Accepted/In press) Still here: memoirs of trauma, illness and loss. Avieson, B., Giles, F. & Joseph, S. (eds.). Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterResearchpeer-review

correctional institution

Giving voice: a different teaching approach to life writing

McDonald, W., 2019, (Accepted/In press) New and experimental approaches to writing lives. Parnell, J. (ed.). Palgrave Macmillan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterResearchpeer-review

Having your story and data too: the Australian Colonial Narrative Journalism Database

McDonald, W. & Avieson, B., 2019, (Accepted/In press) In : Literary journalism studies. 11, 1

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Data Base
Cultural Memory

Redressing the silence: racism, trauma, and Aboriginal women's life writing

McDonald, W., 2018, Mediating memory: tracing the limits of memoir. Avieson, B., Giles, F. & Joseph, S. (eds.). New York ; London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, p. 284-298 15 p.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterResearchpeer-review


The IALJS and LJS: decade of pioneering scholars and the new wave

McDonald, W., 2018, In : Literary journalism studies. 10, 2, p. 73 1 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/opinionResearchpeer-review

Open Access