Friday, May 9, 2008

1 volume, 81 authors and 200 years of Aboriginal culture, history and life

I am fortunate enough to be able to say that I have loved almost every writing project I have ever been part of. And in their own ways, they each hold special meaning, memories and significance to me, not only as an Aboriginal woman, but also as an author.

But the release of the groundbreaking volume The Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal literature this week is without doubt, one of the highlights of my professional career.

Just under four years ago I had a conversation with Elizabeth Weiss, Publisher at Allen and Unwin, about the need for such a volume as this. Around the same time, my mate Peter Minter was having the same conversation, also with Elizabeth. We hadn’t actually had the conversation with each other though.

Four years later, we have had many conversations – about the evolution of our writings in English since Bennelong’s first letter in 1796, right through to the Miles Franklin Award winning novel Carpentaria in 2007. We discussed the role of Aboriginal literature in world literatures, and also how a text like this could be incorporated into many different academic courses (nationally and internationally) including Australian Studies, Cultural Studies, Indigenous Studies, Race Studies, Australian History, Australian Politics, Australian Literature and so on.

On putting this anthology together, Peter and I embarked on a journey of discovery, revelling in much of the unknown writings by Aboriginal people over the past 200 years and how they contribute to the bigger story of who we are as a nation today. The writings included in this anthology are pieces of journalism, letters, petitions, political manifestoes, song lyrics, poetry, play excerpts, short stories, fiction, autobiography, biography and social commentary. It is safe to say there is something for every reader of every genre known to the reading community.

In fact, because of the variety of work we have included in this book, I believe there will be a whole new dialogue about the way in which literature is defined in Australia. For all the works included in this volume tell stories and give voice to the First Nations people of this land who have by-and-large remained voiceless.

Some of those showcased in The Macquarie PEN anthology of Aboriginal Literature include: * David Unaipon * Pearl Gibbs * Oodgeroo Noonuccal * Charles Perkins * Ruby Langford Ginibi * Sam Watson * Archie Roach * Jimmy Pike * Doris Pilkington * Alexis Wright * Mick Dodson * Wesley Enoch * Samuel Wagan Watson * Kim Scott * Jackie Huggins * Larissa Behrendt * Tara June Winch and many more.

The hardest thing for us as editors was culling an extensive list of top quality writing that could easily have been included, but due to space constraints, just couldn’t be.

We are excited and confident that this anthology will go a long way to engaging Australian students in both schools and universities with Indigenous voices, ideas, world views, diverse experiences, and most of all, the sense of dignity we have maintained while continuing to struggle for not only equal rights in Australia but in many instances, basic human rights.

Read William Cooper’s Petition to the King, read the Yirrkala Bark Petition of 1963, read the 1938 ‘Aborigines Claim Citizenship Rights’ manifesto, read Oodgeroo Noonuccal's ‘Aboriginal Charter of Rights’, and then marry it with Mick and Patrick Dodson’s writings, and the poetry of Lionel Fogarty and Barbara Nicholson, and you will see the politics of a people who have used literature since not long after the point of first contact. And, as you will see in the second half of the volume, we continue to do so.

The Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal literature is published by Allen and Unwin, and is available for $39.95 at all good bookstores, including Australian airports!

For more info and to access the on-line Teachers’ Notes, go to:

1 comment:

Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

A mighty effort, by the sound of it.