Monday musings on Australian literature: Blak and Bright
I should have written about the Blak and Bright last Monday, as the Festival was held last weekend, but unfortunately I only heard about it – my inattention, I’m sure – a few days ago, via an ABC RN program (which you can listen to online). However, although the actual Festival is now over, I think it’s still a worthwhile topic – and, anyhow, most of you who read my blog wouldn’t have been able to attend, given it was held in Melbourne.
So, what is (was) Blak and Bright? From the website, link above, it is described as the debut event of the Victorian Indigenous Literary Festival. Their “about” page lists sponsors and supporters, and says:
We believe Indigenous writing is relevant and exciting to literature lovers and readers everywhere.
What a simple, straightforward “mission statement”! Unfortunately, there is no program online. However, there is a list of artists, and from that you can locate the sessions they were involved in. Via this method, I found a fascinating variety. Here are a few:
- 6 Plays in 60 Minutes: six short play readings from Australia’s longest running Indigenous theatre company, Ilbijerri.
- Blak Book Club: an opportunity to discuss two Indigenous books, Gayle Kennedy’s Me, Antman & Fleabag and Tony Birch’s Ghost River.
- Borrow a Rare (Living) Book: opportunity for attendees to have one-on-one sessions with Indigenous storytellers/Elders (Aunty Di Kerr, Uncle Larry Walsh, Aunty Kerry Reed-Gilbert and Aunty Judith ‘Jacko’ Jackson).
- Cross Continental Conversations: explored the international Indigenous writing scene, by discussing the experiences of a contingent of Aboriginal writers who travelled to the Native American literary organisation, Woodcraft Circle, and the Literary Commons exchange in India. Participants were Lee Francis IV, Bruce Pascoe and Ali Cobby Eckermann.
- Fresh Blak Writers: Maurial Spearim (playwriting), Hannah Donnelly (speculative fiction), and Elijah Louttit (screenwriting) talking about how they got started with their writing.
- Publishing and Editing Blak: about the challenges faced by Blak writers working with white editors and publishers, and the challenges faced by Blak editors and publishers. Posed the question: Is there a need to make Aboriginal language or depiction of culture easy for a white readership? It involved Rachel Bin Salleh, Ellen van Neerven (whom I’ve reviewed) and Sandra Phillips.
- Sistas are Doing It: Tammy Anderson, Anita Heiss, and Kate Howarth share how to “build and sustain a career as a Blak writer”.
- Yung, Blak and Bold: involved young writers presenting new ways of presenting the world. “Listen”, the program advised, “as we bust stereotypes and discuss how words in new contexts can activate change”. Featured Benson Saulo, Amelia Telford and Nayuka Gorrie. (All new to me, but that’s the point I guess!)
It looks wonderfully varied, catering for all sorts of interests. It involved several writers I don’t know; and some, like Bruce Pascoe, Ally Cobby Eckerman, Gayle Kennedy, who are on my radar to read. Sessions were supported (sponsored I presume) by some wonderful literary “players” like the Small Press Network and the Stella Prize. I would be interested to see an assessment of how it went, recognising that these sorts of events can take a few years to build.
There is a blog on the site. I’m not sure if it will continue post-festival, but in addition to posts about events, it has a series on the topic “Why I read Blak?”:
- Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Language and Culture at Osaka University, Sei Kosugi: on the global reach of Australia’s Indigenous storytellers, naming a couple of the writers she teaches and why.
- Writer and crossword-maker, David Astle: on “an important lesson he’s learnt from reading Blak”.
- Writer Drusilla Modjeska: on the various ways reading Blak has enriched her reading and writing life. She looks more widely, starting with African writer China Achebe’s Things fall apart (which I will be reading and reviewing in a few months – at last!)
- Our very own Auslit blogger Lisa Hill: on the value to her of reading books by Indigenous Australians. She writes that “I feel as if I am being invited to get to know my country better. I’m being welcomed in to share in an ancient story”.
Finally, in the RN program I heard (link in the opening paragraph), Anita Heiss spoke on why people should read Blak. She has fleshed it out on her blog. It not only gives excellent reasons – such as “we write human rights” and “we write the search for self” – but it provides a useful but by no means complete list of works and authors well worth checking out.