Announcing the Prime Minister's literary awards on 8 November, Julia Gillard quoted the English playwright Tom Stoppard: 'Words are sacred… If you get the right ones in the right order you can nudge the world a little'. Stoppard and the Prime Minister are right, and if we are to nudge Australia and Asia towards each other we need to pay close attention to the words with which we do so. Language is the strongest feature of that strangely phrased (but sensible) concept, 'soft power'. This is perhaps fairly well-recognised but few of those involved take the next logical step and think about where language is used most richly, most resourcefully, most powerfully: in literature. If we are to understand Asian cultures and if we are to have Asians understand Australian culture in any depth we must attend to their literature and ours.