The storytelling process is important to us because of its capacity to tell truths overlooked by history as a Western discipline, and to challenge non-Aboriginal historical and current accounts, and acts of colonisation. Hearing a story in our own voice, in our own language, in our own way of speaking — and from perspectives as Aboriginal people — can be empowering.
These words of Indigenous author Dylan Coleman, penned in her Author’s Note at the end of her wonderful novel Mazin Grace, are an eloquent reminder of why we should read and celebrate the writing of Indigenous authors. There’s always more than one side to a story, and in hearing the voices of those who are often overlooked, we can gain a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of our history. Not only does this act of listening empower Indigenous people, as Coleman notes, but it also demonstrates that readers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, have a capacity for acceptance and respect, for reading involves a receptiveness to other lives. This is why, over July, we want to celebrate the writing of Indigenous women writers.
On 5th July last year, Elizabeth Lhuede, who established the Australian Women Writers Challenge, wrote a post on Indigenous women writers and asked, ‘Are we letting them down?’ At the time of writing, there had been 15 reviews of 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. This year to date, out of 978 reviews, there have been 26 reviews of 24 books. Compared to last year, we’re definitely making progress in terms of getting more readers to pick up and discuss books by Indigenous women writers, but much more can be done, particularly given the wealth of writing by Indigenous women authors.
Initiatives such as Indigenous Writers Week, established by Lisa Hill of ANZ LitLovers blog, are a great way of inspiring more people to read Indigenous literature. To coincide with NAIDOC week, which runs from 7th to 14th July and celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Lisa is asking readers to review literary books by male and female Indigenous authors from anywhere in the world, and to post the links on her site.
In the spirit of this excellent project (which we urge all readers to join), the Australian Women Writers Challenge is encouraging readers to review books by Australian Indigenous women authors from any genre, across the month of July.
There are a number of resources to which readers can refer for suggestions for books. Lisa has a list of literary titles to choose from for her challenge, Dr Anita Heiss has compiled a Black Books Choice list and, if you have access, you can also search BlackWords at Austlit (the Australian Literature Resource). BlackWords is the most comprehensive record of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander publications available, and is available to all Australian schools, any member of the National Library of Australia, state libraries and many universities and educational institutions. If you aren’t able to access the site, you can have a look at their Teaching with BlackWords page, which has marvellous BlackWords Identity Trails that help you identify works of literature that are associated with Indigenous groups, such as Nyoongar or Wiradjuri. They also have trails of books for kids, or about sporting heros. BlackWords also has a list of the major publishers of Indigenous writing, and you can search the publishers’ individual websites for resources. For those who are on Twitter, you can also search for books suggested by other tweeters using #IndigenousXBooks.
On the Australian Women Writers website, we also have a selected list of prize-winning Australian Indigenous women authors, and there are our lists from 2012 and 2013 of books that have been reviewed.
Readers who are interested in venturing further afield to read books by other women of diverse backgrounds might want to head to Marilyn Dell Brady’s Global Women of Color reading challenge and blog. Marilyn has discussed her reasons for setting up this challenge in an interview with AWW contributing editor Paula Grunseit. Paula describes how ‘African American women writers, along with various feminists, helped [Marilyn] envision what it meant to be a woman,’ while Marilyn herself explains, “They gave me alternative visions that allowed me to move beyond the helpless, white lady I had been raised to be.” This demonstrates how listening to voices other than the mainstream can not only empower speakers and writers, as Coleman observes, but also change their readers. For this reason, too, we’ll be running a similar celebration in September, this one of Australian women writers of diverse heritage.
Reading books by Indigenous women, women of colour, and women of diverse backgrounds helps us to listen, think, and then speak about their lives and writing. I’m really looking forward to reading more reviews of Indigenous women writers across July, while participating in Lisa’s Indigenous Writers Week will be a great way of championing Indigenous writing during NAIDOC week.
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.