It’s 2017 and I am writing this to you from Nyoongar country in WA on which I live, work and play with acknowledgement of and respect to the elders and the traditional custodians of the Whadjuk/Nyoongar people – on land that never was and never will be seceded. Thank you for your grace and courage.
I have been transplanted over from non-fiction where Ms Rizzetti has taken over and is frankly doing wonders and I am now taking over from Jessica White who is still around in the background doing the occasional interview and offering advice. For those of you new to the diverse roundups on the blog: hi, welcome, and “diversity” as we use it includes authors/characters/issues within the LGBTQIA+ community, people of colour (POC), those who are of indigenous or aboriginal and torres strait islander heritage (ATSI), those who are differently abled or disabled and those of culturally linguistic and diverse backgrounds (CALD). The abbreviations are used when appropriate.
We do a diversity roundup because we cannot work towards gender equality without being intersectional and acknowledging that quite often minority authors find it even harder to a) get published and b) get press once they are published. And we know it’s not because of that old excuse given to such writers that they cannot be published because Australian readers only want to read books about white Australia and white Australians. So the roundups are here to help you find diverse work to read and review and to do your bit in making the entire literary scene a bit more equal for everyone involved. You can also check out the lists here.
Indigenous/ATSI work and authors
All that aside, onto the reviews and numbers. There were 361 reviews of 292 books across all genres during January and February this year. Please remember to add as much information as possible when you submit your review links so we can track these statistics without missing anyone out. Out of the 292 books reviewed, 22 books were on indigenous issues and/or by indigenous authors. 8 of these books (with 10 reviews) were actually listed by reviewers as having indigenous authors and 20 books (29 reviews) were listed as being on indigenous issues irrespective of the author’s heritage.
This raises an interesting question: are readers getting their information on indigenous issues from non-indigenous writers? Or are these collaborative efforts or actual indigenous authors where the reviewer hasn’t added that information in?
Some Indigenous/ATSI authors and books reviewed were: Anita Heiss’ Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms and Am I Black Enough For You, Ellen Van Neerven’s Heat and Light, Sally Morgan’s The Memory Shed and Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby.
Diverse work and authors
It is hard to determine exactly how many books were reviewed that were by diverse authors but at the moment, those linked to and listed as diverse whether in their content or their authorship number 23 books with 31 reviews.
Some diverse authors you should check out are Julie Koh’s Portable Curiosities, Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The Hate Race and Foreign Soil and Sarah Ayoub’s The Yearbook Committee, Roanna Gonsalves’ The Permanent Resident and Michelle de Krester’s Springtime: A Ghost Story.
And just yesterday, the first podcast episode of In Conversation With for 2017 went live so if you have not listened to that, go check it out. It is an interview with first time author Raifeif Ismail who is also a former Sudanese child refugee and a political candidate for Mirrabooka in the upcoming WA state election. She has some interesting things to say about diversity.
Writers with disability
Jackie French was exceedingly popular with six different titles being reviewed: The Road to Gungadai, A Waltz For Matilda, The Girl From Snowy River, To Love A Sunburnt Country, The Ghost By The Billabong and If Blood Should Stain The Wattle. Anna Spargo-Ryan’s The Paper House also got a review and I recommend that you read it if you get the chance. It is an amazing novel.
Hannah Kent was the most popular writer reviewed with both Burial Rites and The Good People being reviewed twice and six times respectively and Melissa Lucashenko‘s Mullimbimby fell into this category as did Ellen Van Neerven.
All that and yet even more – an interview with Yen-Rong Wong:
Wait, isn’t this a roundup? Yes, but I wanted to add things and change things around a bit. This is an interview with Ms Yen-Rong Wong, a young writer based in Brisbane who has just started up her own literary magazine Pencilled In for Asian Australian writing and art. She is also the creator of the #readasianoz project where she leaves copies of Asian Australian authored books all over public transport in an effort to get people to read more widely. I like people with out of the box ideas.
What compels you to write?
If you’d asked me this question a couple of years ago I daresay I would have a very different answer! Currently, I write because (very selfishly) I think I have thoughts and experiences that are important for others to consider – whether this be because they resonate with my way(s) of thinking and seeing the world, or because it is something new for them to reflect upon. It can also be quite therapeutic, especially if I’m not trying to rush a piece for a deadline, and I often find myself discovering new ways to approach a topic, or engaging differently with an idea or a concept.
What made you want to start a magazine? Was there a gap in the market?
I’d wanted to do something like this for a while now, I just wasn’t really sure what it was going to be, or what form it was going to take. Originally I wanted to focus on young writers in Queensland, but then I discovered a dearth of Asian Australian writing through my academic endeavours. I think it was sometime last year during Honours that it all clicked and I realised that this was what I wanted to push forward with as a project.
Issue 1 is ready to go or nearly there – how hard has it been to go through the process? What obstacles did you come across?
Honestly, I don’t feel like it’s been hard – maybe because it was all so much fun, and I had a great partner in Rachel to bounce ideas off and just generally goof around with. I think we closed submissions on the 5th of January, and then visual art submissions remained opened for another two weeks. Most of it was more or less done by the end of January! The biggest obstacle wasn’t creative, but financial – it costs a lot to print stuff (!) and I was initially self-funding it. I still am, to an extent, but we’ve had some great support from the community so hopefully it won’t be as difficult next time around. It was also initially a little difficult to get visual art submissions, because many of my contacts and the people I interact with are writers – but Rachel was a great help there!
Pencilled In isn’t just a magazine – you have other projects like #readasianoz – how do they all fit in?
I want Pencilled In to be a collective of sorts. At some point I want it to include musicians, performers, and artists of all kinds, but that’s thinking really long term. The #readasianoz initiative is just another way of getting Asian Australian voices out to the public, which is what we’re all about, and I wanted a way to support existing authors and artists as well as those who are just starting out.
What is your writing process like and what fears do you have about writing?
My own writing process is quite haphazard, which is strange for someone who really likes lists and being quite organised. I do a lot of thinking about the piece before I write it (probably too much, sometimes it can be weeks before I put physical words down), but this just usually means I have a good idea of how I want to start it, and the rest is just garbled, unstructured gibberish. I also have a quirk where I leave sentences half finished if I don’t know how to end them properly, and the same with paragraphs. So early drafts of things can be almost incomprehensible. I *kind* of stopped doing it a little when I was writing my Honours thesis but it’s now back in full force. I think my fears about my writing are mostly similar to those of other writers’ – that of not being taken seriously, that no one’s going to read my work, or that my writing is just bad and I don’t know it. There’s also always the lingering thought that “oh my god, everyone’s so much better/younger/more prolific than I am, what am I doing!?” which is always nice.
Have people been receptive? Do they tell you their preference for print or digital?
People have been amazingly receptive, and I’m so grateful for everyone who has supported us, whether it be by donating to our campaign, pre-ordering a copy, or just retweeting stuff or liking facebook or instagram posts. Some people do ask about print over digital only, but I don’t really mind answering that because it’s quite a simple answer – there’s always great value in seeing your work on a physical sheet of paper, as opposed to on a screen.
What sort of work were you expecting to see? What do you want to see? In terms of themes, experiences or quality?
Honestly, I want to see all types of work. I’m really keen to get some experimental stuff, as well as more comics. I think Rachel would love that – and I’m perpetually in awe of people who can draw because I cannot draw to save my life! There aren’t really any restrictions on what I want, which I realise is a cop out of an answer, but there you go. I just want good, engaging writing and art that will resonate with anyone who decides to pick up a copy of the magazine. And I have been pleasantly surprised – there were a whole bunch of pieces I just didn’t have space for in this issue (and it’s jam packed as it is!) so that tells you the quality of the submissions we’ve been getting.
When do submissions start for the next issue?
A call out for submissions for the next issue will probably come out around the end of June/the beginning of July. It’s going to be a biannual magazine, with time for collaborations with other small Australian magazines in between big issue launches. I’m still in the process of thinking about what else we can do with that time other than relaxing and gearing up for the next issue.
Why is it important to see diverse work in Australian literature?
Whoah, what a big question. I think the main reason is because Australia is a diverse country – and yet that is not reflected in the fiction and non fiction that is published and widely available in this country. I think we’re getting there, albeit slowly, but there is still a dearth of representation in children’s books, which is something that really should be looked at. But I digress. Diversity is important in Australian literature because the majority of university literature curricula and high school reading lists are predominantly euro-centric. I think it is especially important for children, teenagers, and young adults to see themselves reflected in the books they are reading, the music they are listening to, and in all the types of art they may engage with. I know that I would almost certainly have had a richer understanding of the world and possibly of myself if I had had those opportunities when I was younger.
What barriers do diverse authors face in getting their work published and promoted? Do you think Australian readers are not ready to read diverse work or are uncomfortable doing so?
I think readers as a whole are an adventurous bunch, and are willing to try reading almost anything at least once. I think the issue lies more with the publishers and publishing houses than anything else (see the Milo/Simon Schuster case as an example). Ultimately, they are the ones who have the final say in what gets published and what doesn’t. We need more diverse people to be those gatekeepers – so that more diverse work can be published, but also so that work that is insensitive to other cultures/races/religions/
Who is your favourite diverse female Australian author at the moment? Or POC/ATSI author?
I’m currently in love with Julie Koh, Ellen van Neerven, and Omar Musa.
Apart from journals like Pencilled In, what more needs to be done? What do you think is needed to get more diverse work out there?
I think those with influence in the literary/arts world have to harness that influence to give more time and space to diverse artists, and be genuine about it. It’s a weird point to make, but I feel like there is a little bit of a “look at me I’m being so supportive of diverse people” vibe that some people want recognition for that I am not impressed with. Anyway. Just general support, and also sitting down and shutting up when a diverse artist (or person, for that matter) has something to say about an issue that relates to a misappropriation/
What is it that you want to be remembered for in your writing? What do you want to achieve with your writing?
I’ve only started writing non-fiction about nine months ago, so this is a heavy question for such a short period of time. I’m not *really* sure yet, and I don’t know that I’ll ever have a definitive answer to this question. I guess I just want people who read my writing to try and gain an insight into someone else’s life, and someone else’s way of thinking. I actually had a lady message me after she read my post about my favourite person Lionel and the shistorm she brewed in Brisbane last year, telling me that my post got her to think about cultural appropriation in a new light, and that initially she agreed with Shriver, but by the end of the article, she could really see where I’m coming from and that she agreed more with me. I think about that sometimes when I’m in a “all my writing is so shit why am I doing this” slump and it gives me that extra little boost. Just knowing that I’ve influenced *one* person that I’ve never met with my writing is indescribable.
Also – this is perhaps selfish, but I probably want to be remembered as a good writer, as someone who has been brave, and someone who has managed to channel her sarcasm into something vaguely useful. It’d also be nice to play some sort of part in moving the worlds of science and arts a little closer together, because the false dichotomy between the two really grinds my gears.
How do you find the time, energy and motivation to write? What keeps you motivated?
I use pockets of spare time at work to write – and honestly my main motivation is deadlines! I hate letting people down deadline-wise (even though I have been doing that a little more than usual lately) so a deadline usually motivates me to get something done. In terms of energy, I think not having uni for the first time in six (!!) years has taken a giant load off my back, especially after the energy and soul sucking monster that is doing an Honours degree in literature. I don’t really have any tricks to keep me going, but all of my amazing writer friends keep me motivated and pull me up when I feel like nothing’s going right, or when I’ve been rejected from another publication. They’re some of the best people I’ve ever met, and I just want to continue making art and attempting to change the world with them. I also hate having unfinished pieces so I’ll try and finish something unless I think it’s complete and other trash – then I’ll just start again.
New Releases in February
One new release you should check out this month is the anthology of short stories by African Australian writers: Ways of Being Here by Margaret River Press. It has a foreword by Maxine Beneba Clarke and includes the work of Raifeif Ismail and Tinashe Jakwa.
In terms of authors writing about gender and sexuality spectrum issues and content we have Nicole Field’s The Last American Hero coming out this month: “In the aftermath of the accident that revealed his identity, famous superhero Captain Hart has gone missing. His best friend Bruce waits anxiously for any sign of him, any clue as to where Leo Hart might have gone—even though he knows full well he’s not the only one looking, and that it might be best for Leo to stay gone. Then Leo returns, and Bruce starts to wonder whether it will be the good thing he expected it to be.” Nicole writes across the spectrum of sexuality and gender identity. She lives in Melbourne with her fiancee, two cats, and a bottomless cup of tea. She likes candles, incense and Gilmore Girls. She can be found on Twitter, Goodreads and Tumblr.
Quinn Eades, formerly female and now transitioning to male (preferred pronoun is ‘he’) is releasing his new book Rallying, a collection of poetry published by UWA Publishing, written alongside his other work a queer autobiography of the body. I have included this book in an effort to highlight the wonderful occasion it is that a transitioning author has been published by a major press in WA. UWAP is also releasing Flute of Milk by Susan Fealy which deals with gender issues and loss.
About me: Marisa Wikramanayake is a freelance journalist, writer and editor. She published her first book at 17, has lived on three different continents, been in ground zero of a bomb blast twice, covered a Presidential election campaign and is currently hibernating in Perth, Australia. She’s also been freaked out by the Scientologists, helped run a national publishing conference for the Society of Editors (WA) and currently sits on the WA Media Alliance committee worrying about freelancers, editors and publishing and diversity. She is dangerous when bored, having terrorised educational institutions to finish an Honours thesis on Archaeology and a Masters thesis on Neuroscience and Science Communication. She penned book reviews for The West and science news and now writes and edits novels and dreams of fun cross platform media projects in the spare time that’s left over after painting, dancing, gaming and mentoring. She contributes her two cents as non-fiction editor at Australian Women Writers and is sort of in the charging into the fight and terrifying everyone else role at the Diverse Writers of Australia project. Feel free to read her latest book as she writes it at marisa.com.au, on Facebook or tweet at her at @mwikramanayake