Sunday, February 17, 2013

TOO AFRAID TO CRY - Ali Cobby Eckermann


Last Friday night I launched Ali Cobby Eckermann’s memoir Too Afraid to Cry.   Below are some of my speech notes. Unfortunately, words on a page cannot express the level of emotion felt in that space at the South Australian Writers’ Centre in Adelaide, when we all came together to honour the courage of Ali.

This week I was with the community at La Perouse to celebrate the 5th Anniversary of the official Apology to the Stolen Generations, and the impact that moment in Australian history had on many of us with family members removed through government policies of ‘Protection’. With that in mind I think it’s fitting that tonight we are here for the release of Ali’s work Too Afraid to Cry, which talks about the pain, the heartache, and the sense of loss our mobs continue to experience. But equally important is the story of reunions, of coming home, of finding family and peace, and the cementing of identities.

I’ve known Ali for a number of years. I’ve seen her speak at festivals around the country, I’ve sat on panels alongside her, we’ve marched for the mob in the NT together, and we have supported each other across distance by text messages and voicemail. I have admired her as a strong black woman and as an extraordinarily gifted writer. I consider Ali my sister-in-arms.  

Last year I read her award-winning verse novel Ruby Moonlight and I turned a nice shade of green, envious of her capacity to tell important stories so lyrically.

Then four days ago when I opened Too Afraid to Cry I read about a different Ali to the one I have laughed with, talked writing and politics with. Her memoir begins a painful story of abuse, her day of deceit at the age of 7, and the broken trust that scars a child for a lifetime.

The story that follows is an honest one that retells the sense of loss due to forced removal and adoption. It helps the reader to understand the cause and consequences of alcohol abuse, self-abuse, the loss of self-respect and esteem, and unfortunately, that there are many close to us who have suicidal thoughts, even if they never tell us. In this way, Ali’s memoir is incredibly brave, for she has been as honest with her readers and her family, as she has with herself.

Ali’s story is a complex one, but she has told it simply, and with incredible dignity. Within the book she talks about keeping a journal while in rehab, and says:
Writing is allowing me a new clarity of mind, and I have begun to worry less about my future. Writing allows me to define my dreams. Writing allows me to discover who I truly am.’

In writing about who she truly is, Too Afraid to Cry is also memoir about identity – Ali’s identity as a sister, a daughter, an adopted child, as a Lutheran, and importantly, as a blackfellas finding her way home.

It is a story about the burden of silence, the brutality of teen bullying and racism and the futility of living in a domestic violence situation.

I cried a number of times while reading Ali’s story, for the things I related to, and also for the things I didn’t. But it’s important for me to say that I smiled also, because Ali’s trademark sense of humour is there and it softens the sometimes gut-wrenching blows.

Readers get to share the love between Ali’s parents, we learn about life on Malee Brae, and the annual viewing of The Sound of Music on Uncle Ray’s farm, and I’m so glad you included the pig kill!

I particularly liked reading about the ‘best childhood days at Sellicks Beach’ with Big Brother, and that as a child Ali was always cast as an angel in the Church’s Christmas performance, which is probably why she appears so angelic today.

I wasn’t surprised to read that Ali loved school, especially reading, spelling and drawing, that is, until she was assaulted and humiliated, which saw the return of the ‘icy wind’ of fear and memories. These fears thankfully were momentarily forgotten however when Ali and her teenage girlfriends listened to Rod Stewart and Hush and Sherbet, and traded pictures of their favourite pop stars to stick on their textbooks.

Ali’s life-journey shared in Too Afraid to Cry will touch many readers – those she knows, and many people she will never meet. And the trickle-down effect of your story will be great; you need to understand that right now.

Ali writes in conclusion: ‘Together we will be there always turning the past hurts into healing.’

And tonight this is what you are doing, Ali. Thank you for inviting me, thank you for inviting all of us into your life circle, so that we too can turn past hurts into healing.

Too Afraid to Cry will make people think, but more importantly, it will make readers feel. And that is the gift not only of a brilliant storyteller, but more so it reflects the strength of a woman with a heart that forgives completely, shares openly, and loves deeply.

It’s my great honour to launch Too Afraid to Cry.


Too Afraid to Cry was published by Illura Press, and can be ordered direct from their website   or ask your local bookshop to order it in!


Dr Sandy O'Sullivan said...

I can't wait to read this. It just sounds amazing. Thanks so much for the review and encouragement to buy it.

Dr Anita Heiss said...

It's an incredibly powerful read Dr Sandy. I look forward to your responses also.