As always before we start, I wish to pay my respects to the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which I work, live and play: the Whajuk/Nyoongar people. May your campfires be always burning. This land was never seceded and has always been and always will be Aboriginal land.
The most exciting news ever!
Congratulations are in order: Ali Cobby Eckermann has won the Windham-Campbell Award of $215,000 AUD. This is fantastic news as it she is the first Indigenous poet to win, one of the first times the award has gone to a poet at all and it is immensely exciting.
Writers are nominated for the Windham-Campbell Awards by members of the literary community – there is no submission process and writers often don’t know that they have won or been nominated. A jury selects a shortlist which is then sent to a judging committee that includes two Yale professors. Yale University will hand out the awards in September.
Ms Eckermann is a Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha woman, a member of the Stolen Generations as were her mother and grandmother who was one of those moved on from Maralinga before the Australian government tested plutonium in nuclear bombs – the surrounding country still has issues with slow degrading plutonium. Ms Eckermann lives in Adelaide and has written four collections of poetry including Little Bit Long Time, a verse novel Ruby Moonlight and a poetic memoir Too Afraid To Cry. I encourage you all to pick up Ali Cobby Eckermann‘s works and get reading.
You can read more about Ms Eckermann’s reaction to the award and what she plans to do with it.
As a whole so far for March we have had 121 reviews of 104 books submitted to the database across all categories and genres.
In March, we had five books by five authors with a total of eight reviews and tagged as diverse/diversity when added to our database. These included Maxine Beneba Clarke‘s The Hate Race, Shivaun Plozza‘s Frankie, Steph Bowe‘s Night Swimming, Ellen Van Neerven‘s Comfort Food and Hannah Kent’s The Good People. That’s about 6% of this month’s reviews. When including specifically queer, indigenous and disabled authors under the diversity tag we get 12 authors with 12 books and 15 reviews or 12% of this month’s reviews.
Nadia King on Steph Bowe‘s Night Swimming (who has written about diverse characters):
A pet goat called Stanley, crop circles, and life in a small outback town. Night Swimming is a salute to living real, following your dreams and coming to terms with being a quirky teenager embarking upon adulthood.
Night Swimming is an example of all that is best of YA Fiction. It celebrates diversity in an authentic way, and explores complex issues such as sexuality, mental health, family dynamics, friendship, and rural life.
We also had six books by six authors, each reviewed once, that had been submitted with the indigenous author/issues tag. Actual works by indigenous authors that were read and reviewed were Ellen Van Neerven’s Comfort Food again and Jeanine Leane’s Purple Threads, and that’s a paltry 1.65% of what was read and reviewed this month. Nene Gare’s The Fringe Dwellers, Kim Mahood’s Position Doubtful, Rebe Taylor‘s Into the Heart of Tasmania, and Cassandra Austin’s All Fall Down I wish to separate out slightly as these authors are non-indigenous authors writing on indigenous issues. Counting all of them we get 5% of all reviews submitted in March.
Kali Myers on Ellen Van Neerven‘s Comfort Food:
Comfort Food is a visceral pleasure to read, and the hardened pages along with the delicious verses made it feel as though I was reading a much-loved copy: as though I was repeating an action gone many times before; sharing my experience with others – innumerable invisible past, present, and future readers feasting together. As the ghosts of my imagination haunted my reading, so too do the ghosts of culture, language, and identity haunt Neerven’s verse. A poet of Dutch and Mununjali heritage, Neerven’s writing (dedicated to ‘those who have made me meals’) looks to food as a means of navigating and finding the self in a world that keeps shifting.
When it comes to authors identifying as queer/lgbtqia+ or writing on queer and lgbtqia+ issues it becomes a bit harder. This is where the tags used during submission can be really helpful. Adding in queer, lgbtqia+ and any other relevant tags would help us track authors and reviews a bit better. Such authors and books reviewed this month that we could identify were Katherine Howell’s Violent Exposure, Hannah Kent’s The Good People, Francesca Rendle-Short’s The near and the far: New Stories from the Asia Pacific Region and Ellen Van Neerven’s Comfort Food. About 3% of all reviews submitted this month.
Whispering Gums on Francesca Rendle-Short’s edited The Near and The Far: New Stories from the Asia Pacific Region which also contains work by a number of diverse and indigenous authors (read the review for more details on the stories included):
The book has been thoughtfully presented. There’s a foreword by Alice Pung and an introduction by the editors at the beginning, and some notes on WrICE and a list of contributors with mini-bios at the back. The stories themselves are organised into three groups – The Near, The Far, and The Near and The Far – though I’d probably have to think hard about why certain stories have been allocated their particular group. There are 21 stories, 15 of which, if I’ve counted correctly, are by women. There’s a lovely extra touch, which is that at the end of each story is an author’s reflection – on the writing process, the goals and/or the experience of WrICE. They were often illuminating.
Disabled/differently abled and identifying authors
As far as I could discern there were no authors reviewed this month that could be identified as having a disability. Again, assessing this depends on the information provided when submitted. If there is an error, let us know in the comments.
But let us assume that these stats for this month are as correct and accurate as possible for a moment and that we haven’t missed anyone out – what I want us to think about here is this: is 3, 1.65 and 6% really good enough? Is it a laudable thing to look at our reading habits and have them be so skewed towards white female authors that they constitute 94% of what we find, read and choose to review? Or that we are missing out on nuances, experiences and viewpoints by reading non-queer/non-lgbtqia+ identifying authors 97% of the time? Or that 98% of what we read is by non-indigenous authors when this is Aboriginal land that we live in? That shows us how deeply entrenched our biases are and how the society we live in must perpetuate them in that we do not seek such work out more often or even consider doing so.
Australian Women Writers is meant to raise up the profile of female and female identifying authors in Australia but it must involve intersectionality – we can’t just seek to promote non-diverse authors alone. We can pat ourselves on the back for 121 reviews in one month but activism doesn’t do participation trophies. We are trying to make this the norm and we can do better. And it isn’t a case of there not being authors to read: here are lists of indigenous, disabled and queer/lgbtqia+ authors that we have compiled to make it easier for you. You can take a look back at the posts in the diversity category here on the site and see who we have featured and interviewed – there is gold in the archives when you dig through them. Our podcasts this year have a distinctly diverse flavour and you can go listen to Tinashe Jakwa in the latest one. We also have the new releases listed below. Each and every one of us can do better and we should strive to do so.
There are plenty of new releases to sink your teeth into that have come out in March. None so far (bar the few we know of listed below) are either by diverse authors or highlight diversity. If you know of any such books that were released in March and will be coming out in April, please let us know in the comments.
Jen Wilde’s Queens of Geek came out in March. It features a queer woman of colour main character as well as a character on the autism spectrum. Have a read and let us know what you think.
Lia Hill’s The Crying Place was released by Allen and Unwin and while I am unaware if she herself has indigenous heritage, the book covers indigenous issues and has indigenous characters.
Angelica Neville, Sienna Merope and Andrea Dao are the editors of They Cannot Take The Sky, an anthology of stories from Australian detention and a definite must read. It was released this month by Allen and Unwin.
Over to you
Here’s what we can do to increase those numbers.
- Get reading. And then reviewing.
- If you can’t review then drop a comment with the work you read on this post. I will collate and count the comments for the next post. I am suggesting this as an option for those who do read and don’t have time to review and submit links because at least this way we can get a bit of insight into the actual readership of the works and we also get more suggestions for everyone to pick from when reading.
- Make a commitment to read only work by queer authors or indigenous authors or diverse authors or disabled ones or authors with a particular background for a period of time or till you hit a certain number. You don’t have to share the goal with us (but share the books) but if you set it for yourself you will soon find yourself rummaging through bookshops and ranting under your breath but more widely and diversely read.
- IF there is a book you love, go through the websites of your nearest libraries and find the request a book/suggest a book option and request that the library order copies of that title. This is one of the best ways to promote authors and ensure that they keep getting read. If you have books to donate to the library then do so.
- Be an accomplice or partner in crime not an ally. An ally (at least most allies) will say and think but not necessarily do. So do. Do what you can to promote diversity in Australia’s literary landscape. Actually do. Sign petitions, read diversely and then recommend diverse authors. Do all the things.
Marisa Wikramanayake is an author, and a freelance editor and journalist and the literary world’s version of a triple slashie. She is Sri Lankan born, world travelled, Perth based, cat owning (called Trouble), queer identifying and an accidental activist for working rights and other things. She’s on committees for MEAA, the latest in a career that spans a lot of committee membership and using geekery to solve problems. She’s edited some fantastic authors who have gone on to win awards and is eternally falling into the strangest journalism gigs imaginable. You can check out her website for more oddities and updates on her fiction or chat to her on Twitter. Please bring plain milk chocolate as an offering. The cat will eat anything but Friskies is recommended.