This wrap-up of books reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge is a little different in that, rather than discussing a single genre, it contemplates issues of diversity across all the books reviewed. In this, the wrap-up mirrors the efforts of the AWW Challenge as a whole: to encourage awareness of groups that are often overlooked.
In the same spirit, a page was created for reviews of books by Indigenous women writers. While, as Elizabeth Lhuede has noted, this runs the risk of ghettoism, it is an important means of creating visibility and recognition of these authors. We also have another page, Books on Indigenous Issues, for works that address or represent Indigenous people, but are not necessarily written by Indigenous authors.
Dr Anita Heiss’ extremely accessible Am I Black Enough for You?, an autobiographical discussion of Indigenous issues in conjunction with the Andrew Bolt case, was the most widely reviewed text by an Indigenous woman writer. A number of reviewers commented on how easily they absorbed its ideas, and of Anita’s positive attitude and desire to educate (see Linda Funnell’s post for a comprehensive review). Anita’s endeavour to embrace a wide readership, and to inform them of Indigenous issues while also entertaining, is apparent in her ‘choc-lit’ novels, Avoiding Mr Right (reviewed by Cathy Powell) and Manhattan Dreaming (reviewed by Christine). It was also heartening to see readers embracing Alexis Wright’s beautiful and fluent Carpentaria despite the challenge of its length (see Kate Rizzetti’s engaging review). Non-fiction also featured, with devastating stories of the stolen generations (see Kate Rizzetti again on Too Many Tears by Heather Vicenti and Deborah Dickman), while Yvonne Perkins gives a thoughtful account of how Indigenous history is told in her review of Ruby Langford Ginibi’s My Bundjalung People.
Excitingly, Indigenous authors are also producing speculative fiction. Ambelin Kaymullina of the Palyku people in WA, and daughter of Sally Morgan (author of My Place, reviewed by Marilyn Brady), published The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, which was enthusiastically reviewed by Tsana and Mandee. In other genres, Jeanine Leane’s short stories (or short story cycle) were reviewed by Sue while Heidi reviewed Elizabeth Hodgson’s book of poetry, Skin Painting.
White authors have also written of their unsettlement about our history, including Gail Jones in Sorry (gracefully reviewed by Kevin Rennie) and Kate Grenville in her trilogy about early contact between Indigenous Australians and the settlers, consisting of The Secret River, The Lieutenant and Sarah Thornill. Some reviewers, despite their clear admiration of Grenville’s skillful writing, were unsure how successfully she had depicted Indigenous Australians (see Marilyn’s review of Sarah Thornhill), while others expressed difficulty with reading about this confronting aspect of Australia’s past (see Erin’s and Lucy’s reviews of The Secret River). It was good to see a variety of reactions to all these texts, and that they were getting their readers thinking.
On 5th July 2012, Elizabeth Lhuede posted ‘Are We Letting Them Down’? in the Australian Women Writers blog, looking at reasons for why so few books by Indigenous women authors were being read, and asking if we could do more to rectify this. By the date of that post, 15 reviews had been written about 10 books by Indigenous women authors. Six months later, out of some 1500 reviews, there were 46 reviews of 27 works by Indigenous women authors. So, there’s been a little improvement, but I think much more can be done, and I’m intending to read and review at least one book by an Indigenous woman writer per month over 2013. I also encourage interested readers to look at Anita Heiss’s 100 Black Book Choice List for a list of more books in this area.
On a positive note, Elizabeth also asked if the books listed in Anita Heiss’ ‘top 10 reads’ could have at least one review by the end of the year. Of the 10 books listed, 8 were reviewed, missing Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Flash and Fabienne Bayet-Charlton’s Watershed. Do pop over to the Indigenous Writing page for a list of the other great books by Indigenous women writers which have been reviewed over 2012, as I couldn’t cover all of them in this post.
Finally, it’s interesting to see that, of 24 winners of the David Unaipon Award, which is given by the University of Queensland press to an unpublished manuscript by an Indigenous author, 15 of these have been Indigenous women. The future looks bright for writing by Indigenous women authors, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they write next.
Stories about lesbianism were represented through reviews such as Marilyn Brady’s on Finola Moorhead’s Remembering the Tarantella (see here for her thoughts on its themes and structure) and Darkness more Visible (also reviewed by Marilyn). In the crime genre, Thicker than Water by Lindy Cameron was seen by Mindy as a refreshingly matter-of-fact representation of lesbians, with a great plot to boot. In children’s literature, Rachel Cook’s Closets are for Clothes: A History of Queer Australia provides an introduction to gay and lesbian identity for middle-grade to young adult readers, (see Heidi’s review) while Holly Kench’s review of The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group by Catherine Jinks provides a wonderful interpretation of that novel as a coming-out story for young adult readers. Books about gay men didn’t seem feature (I’d be happy to be corrected on this in case I’ve overlooked them), and I’d be keen to know of any books by female writers about this subject.
Kathy Lette’s The Boy Who Fell to Earth, about a mother of a child with autism who begins dating again, is a welcome portrayal of living with this complex disability – see reviews by Sally and Lara. Physical disability is referred to in Lauren Murphy’s review of The Beloved by Annah Faulkner, about a girl afflicted with polio and living in post-war Port Moresby, while mental illness is explored in the non-fiction work The Waterlow Killings: A Portrait of a Family Tragedy by Pamela Burton (reviewed by Tom Kelly). Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy, although it was about a little boy adopted by a pack of dogs, rather than about disability, prompted a number of thoughtful reviews about what it means to be human, and how we treat those who are perceived to be less than human. See Elizabeth Lhuede’s, Christina Houen’s and my review.
Given Australia’s rich history of immigration, it’s apt that a number of books by female authors on the migrant experience have been reviewed. Europeans emigrating to Australia after the horrors of WWII are described in Louise Armstrong’s Empire Day (reviewed by Stephanie Campisie) and in Halina Wagowska’s memoir The Testimony (see review by Janine Fitzpatrick). The Memory of Salt, a first novel from Alice Melike Ülgezer, moves in the opposite direction, with the Turkish Australian protagonist travelling to Istanbul to find out about her father (see Jennifer Mills’ review). Asian Australian experiences are also recounted in novels such as Alice Pung’s Unpolished Gem, reviewed by Jo Tamar.
Speculative fiction has long been used to explore other ways of living, and thus it’s no surprise to see that many works use this genre to play with gender, a number of them in an Australian context. Nancy Corbett’s Heartland (reviewed by Maree Kimberley) looks at the two sexes living on either side of the continent, while Kim Westwood’s The Courier’s New Bicycle (also mentioned in the Speculative Fiction Wrap-Up), set in Melbourne, uses a protagonist who is neither female nor male in to explore ideas of othering (see Sean’s review). In a completely different world, Alison Goodman’s novels Eon and Eona provide a fascinating interpretation of gender and disability, as outlined by Tsana.
For those who are interested in reading books that depict some of the themes above, you can refer to the Reading for Diversity page on the Australian Women Writers website. We also welcome suggestions of other lists of books regarding diversity that we could usefully include. As you can see, there are some brilliant books around that explore these issues, and it would be wonderful to discover more of them in 2013.
I’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis. I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007), about botany and lesbianism, and Entitlement (2012), about Native Title and grief. You can find more information about me at my website. I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.