Sunday, March 20, 2011

An inspiring week of books to be grateful for:

The past week has been so jam-packed with events, launches, speeches, panel discussions, and talking books over coffee with friends and peers, that I haven’t had time to document my gratitude for it all. I write this now as part of the International Writing Sprint I am part of on Facebook Thank goodness for commitments and deadlines (and startlines) with writing.

So, this week I am grateful for:

1. YARNING STRONG: The National Centre for Indigenous Excellence in Redfern came alive this week with the launch of the Oxford University Press Yarning Strong Literacy Series. The series is essentially a teaching resource with books, DVDs, CD-Roms and worksheets covering four key areas of Indigenous Australian life: identity, family, law and land. With authors including Bruce Pascoe, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Larissa Behrendt and Jared Thomas, it’s hard not to get excited about the stories that have been told here.

I’m also a co-author with students from La Perouse Public School on the title Demon Guards the School Yard the sequel to Yirra and her deadly dog, Demon, released in 2007. The books and support materials are beautifully photographed by the deadly Wayne Quilliam, and was launched by the CEO of Oxford University Press who came all the way from the UK to be part of the event.

The prospects for improved relations between black and white Australians by having such a resources in the classroom is monumental. As Chris Sarra (pictured above) said in his speech at the launch: ‘If only Captain Cook had access to Yarning Strong, then things would have been very, very different.’ Indeed, Chris, indeed!

To order your set go to Oxford University Press.

2. GUWANYI: Every two years the NSWWC hosts an Indigenous Writers’ Festival in their stunning grounds at Rozelle. Coordinated by playwright Cathy Craigie, the event brings writers from around the country to talk about their writing processes and publishing experiences. This year we were blessed with the presence of Kim Scott who of course has just taken out Commonwealth Writers Prize for best book in south-east Asia and the Pacific. We also heard from playwright, director and filmmaker Wayne Blair and welcome emerging writer Ricky Macourt who is the author of Jali Boy in the Yarning Strong series.

I have to admit that I don’t need motivation, I write every day and I always have two or three projects on the boil or in my head to work on. And I don’t need inspiration either, I find it in my every day life. But I get both from hearing and seeing writers on stage. The truth is I go to these events to find out what other people are working on, what exciting projects and books I need to keep an ear out for and what books I need to buy.

Interestingly, I meet people all the time who want to write a book, but they don’t read, they don’t equip themselves with writing tools (check out the ASA publications list) and they don’t go to events like these to learn from those who have already done it. I’ve said it before: if you want to be an Olympic swimmer, you train, you buy the right equipment, you get and give support to other swimmers and yes, you GET INT THE POOL. It’s the same with writing. You need to immerse yourself in the industry of books and reading. I’m grateful for the energy of this year’s Guwanyi and I look forward to the next.

And as a PS, I was grateful to see crime writer Pam Newton in the audience, front row to be exact! I stumbled upon her blog The Concrete Midden last week, and as you can imagine, this Concrete Koori quite liked the name. Check it out! (that’s Pam and I above)

3. FASS GRADUATION: As a UNSW Alumni and advisor to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences I was thrilled to deliver the Occasional Address at last week’s graduation. I have so many fond memories of my time at the Kensington campus as an undergrad. I won’t post my speech here because it’s too long, but I am grateful to have experienced the passion of youth in front of me that night. I was proud of the hundreds of students I’d never met, so can only imagine what their parents felt. My parting words to the students were two simple suggestions, which I want to share here:

Firstly, dream big: you know exactly what you are capable of. You know what the world has to offer and what you can offer it. Dreams are free, and I have learned they are essential to setting and reaching goals. The only barrier to fulfilling your dreams and reaching your goals is your mental capacity to stop you.

And secondly, don’t lose your sense of individuality: for it is your own sense of self, the way you negotiate your world views, opinions and style into your working life, that will help you shine most. Do not be afraid to do as I did, and make the square peg fit into any and every shape you want. The world needs more people just like you.

4. ANTIPODES: Yesterday I had the great pleasure of launching Antipodes: poetic responses edited by Margaret Bradstock and published by Phoenix Education at a warm, communal, and rather packed event at the Randwick Library.

Antipodes showcases 78 writers and 200 years of poetic work. Some might call these perspectives, theirs and ours. The whites and the blacks. The colonisers and the colonised. Male writers and female writers. Writers of the past and the present.

All perspectives in this anthology are valid and necessary when trying to understand the psyche of this nation from the point of invasion until the present. Interestingly, the term ‘invasion’ as a way of describing the history of first contact in Australia is only used twice in this anthology. Once in my piece 'Token Koori’s: blackfellas for hire' and in my other poem 'Once was enough'. While Rex Ingamells and Samuel Wagan Watson make reference to the Invader / invaders in their works. And the teachers guide that goes with it also makes it easy to unpack the term using works by Kevin Gilbert and Melissa Lucashenko.

There have been many, many anthologies across genre, geography and gender – as pointed out by Elizabeth Webby in the foreword – but in Antipodes, Margaret has done well to provide readers with a chronological poetic timeline related to colonisation and settlement, ‘explorers’, land, activism, and various aspects of the evolution – or lack there of - of our country. Insights are given to us by mostly male white writers in the early days - Henry Parkes, John Dunmore Lang, Kenneth Slessor – to deadly black female writers in more recent times, Lisa Bellear, Charmaine Papertalk-Green and Barbara Nicholson and others.

I was looking for a point of reference that united our writers, our poets, our social commentators in the story as were of ‘settlement’. But the word itself is problematic, because most forget or choose to ignore that ‘settlement’ and ‘colonisation’ are the processes that actually followed invasion – that is the encroachment onto Aboriginal land, warfare and the introduction of disease that wiped out almost all of the Gadigal clan within a few years of ‘settlement’ in Sydney. Invasion therefore, was the first act of the ‘settlers’.

Perceptions of land and of Cook you will see in the anthology, are as diverse as the ideas about truth. For me, it is important to accept and write and read from an understanding that there are differences when considering ‘truth in history’, and my truth may be different to your truth and your truth’ and that is why it is important to read widely. This anthology is a comprehensive, yet compact volume that allows you to do that.

I’ve already given the book and teachers’ guide to my brother who teachers Year 8 history at a Catholic boys school. Engaging students in history and poetry couldn’t be easier now.

You can order your copy of Antipodes: poetic responses here.

5. SUPPORT OF FRIENDS: I want to take this moment to acknowledge the ongoing support of friends who are part of my life’s journey. We share love, laughter, politics and some of you yesterday shared my low, complaining of a backache I believe was brought on my other people weighing me down. It is true we must protect ourselves from negative influences and I thank you for reminding me through your caring and friendship, that sometimes, I just need to take care of myself. I am grateful to you for that, and you know who you are. Much love. XXX

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