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Monday musings on Australian literature: Peril, and Asian Australian literature

March 22, 2021

A decade ago, I wrote a Monday Musings post on Asian-Australian literature, in which I named, as I often do in such posts, 5 Asian Australian writers. Given the increasing problems of discrimination faced by Asian communities in western countries alongside, perhaps paradoxically, the increased visibility of Asian Australian writing here, I thought an update might be in order.

Peril

I didn’t know when I wrote my last post about the online magazine Peril which had been in existence since 2006! If I had known, I’d have referenced it. Peril focuse, says its About page, on “issues of Asian Australian arts and culture”. It is free, and is supported by donations from its readers, plus the Australia Council for the Arts, Creative Victoria and other organisations.

Do read its About page for a full description of them, but, essentially, they want

to showcase new literature through diverse forms, including poetry, drama, translations, creative writing, memoir, essays, biographical profiles, interviews and other story structures. We are also interested in writing about the visual arts, theatre and film and other cultural arts practices. 

In the sidebar on its Home Page, you will find a list of its editions, from Edition 1 Nerds to Edition 44 Feminist Journeys.

Hoa Pham, Lady of the realm

Nerds is introduced in an editorial by Peril‘s founding editor, Hoa Pham (whose Lady of the realm, I’ve reviewed). It is a small edition with pieces by Hoa Pham, S.K. Kelen and Tom Cho, among others. Hoa Pham explains the origin of the name, Peril, as coming from the “so called Yellow Peril that labelled the wave of Chinese immigration in the 19th century. We are perilious (sic) and take risks but not in the way that the Pauline Hansons of the world think!” Well said!

In its now 15 years, it has published 44 issues, which is a great achievement. Contributors have included – and here I’m naming some of the writers I know, so it’s highly selective and not, necessarily, the most prolific contributors: Ouyang Yu, Alice Pung, Benjamin Law, Jessica Tu, Merlinda Bobis, Roanna Gonslaves, Eileen Chong, Shastra Deo, Melanie Cheng.

Edition 22 particularly captured my attention. Titled Black on Rice, it’s

A collaborative co-edition with the State Library of Queensland, Indigenous publishing initiative, black&write!. Together with co-editor, Ellen van Neerven, we consider six Indigenous and six Asian Australian writers whose work we love, whose work we like to see side by side, writers whose take on the relationships (or otherwise) between migrant and Indigenous Australia we would like to hear.

The writers included several Indigenous Australian writers you’ve met on my blog, like Ellen van Neerven, Marie Munkara and Jeanine Leane, in addition to Asian Australian writers like Ouyang Yu, Eleanor Jackson and Michelle Law. Even though, historically of course, their situations are radically different, the “othering” that both groups face binds them. I am often moved on shows like The Drum by the empathy Indigenous and immigrant Australians (of colour) regularly show each other.

There is, naturally, a strong political underpinning to the writing, as edition titles make very clear, like Why are people so unkind (8), We’re queer here (28 & 29), You don’t sound Asian (32), History Repeats (36). Peril is a rich source of contemporary writing, on tap whenever you want it – but do consider donating, if you read it!

Asian Australian writers, update

Now, I’m going to add 5 more writers to the 5 I listed in my first post, but I’m not limiting this list, as I did then, to writers only born elsewhere. Most of these writers have written and published more than the books I mention below – short stories, poetry, etc – and are actively involved in promoting diverse writers and writing.

Merlinda Bobis

Merlinda Bobis Fish-hair woman

Born in the Philippines, Bobis has written four novels, including Fish-hair woman (my review). Her most recent novel, Locust girl: A lovesong, won the 2016 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. She is also a visual and performance artist, and has won multiple awards across all her artistic endeavours. She is committed to Asian (indeed migrant) Australians being recognised for their “real” value and contribution rather than being exoticised as other.

Julie Koh

Born in Sydney to Chinese-Australian parents, Koh has had two short story collections published, Capital misfits and Portable curiosities, the latter of which was shortlisted for several awards and won her a Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist award in 2017. A review at The Guardian reports that ‘Koh says her stories are essentially about “the entrapment of the individual in social structures”’. 

Hoa Pham

Born in Hobart to Vietnamese parents, Hoa Pham’s first novel, Quicksilver, was published in 1998. She has since had four novels published. Her second novel, Vixen, won a 2001 Sydney Morning Herald’s Young Writer of the Year award. As mentioned above, she was the founding editor of Peril, and I have reviewed her latest novel. She is passionate about about achieving equality for the Asian Australian community, and the role of literature/culture in supporting this.

Mirandi Riwoe

Mirandi Riwoe, The fish girl

Born in Brisbane, with a Chinese-Indonesian father, Riwoe’s The fish girl (my review) won Seizure’s Viva la Novella V, and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize and the Queensland Literary Award’s UQ Fiction Prize. Her latest novel Stone Sky Gold Mountain won the 2020 Queensland Literary Award for Fiction, the inaugural ARA Historical Novel Prize, and has been longlisted for this year’s Stella. Both these works confront Asian people’s experience under colonialism.

Elizabeth Tan

Born in Perth to Singaporean parents, Tan’s debut novel, Rubik (on my TBR and reviewed by Bill) was well received. Her follow-up collection of short stories, the wonderfully named Smart ovens for lonely people (also on my TBR and reviewed by Bill) won the 2020 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction and is longlisted for this year’s Stella. She writes about a range of contemporary ills, including climate change, capitalism’s failures, and racism.

Finally

In Peril Edition 41 AA17 (March 2020), Hoa Pham wrote “We’re a movement not a moment”. She looks how the Australian literary landscape had changed in the fourteen years since she founded Peril, and asks whether it was still needed. You will surely not be surprised to find that she concludes yes. (Do read her argument if you’re interested.)

And now, a word from Mirandi Riwoe:

I admire those authors who bring us stories and perspectives that reveal unfamiliar worlds. I’m talking of diverse writers, who favour a perspective that is not mainstream. I love books that are beautifully written but are also saying something.

Is saying something an important part of your reading choices?

18 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2021 23:14

    Near the top of your article WG you refer to S.K. Helen. The only writer/poet with those initials I know of is S.K.Kelen. His brother Kit is a friend…

    • March 22, 2021 23:19

      Sorry Jim, you are right. That was a typo, and I’ve fixed it now. Thanks for your beady eyes and your being quick to read the post, as most people will now get the right name!

      • March 22, 2021 23:42

        How do you know my eyes are beady!!! Maybe they are and maybe they’re not!!! Of course it was a typo – I’m all too prone to such myself especially if I respond on my iPad Mini. I admire your intention with this particular post. I am getting sick of politicians and their journalist/opinion-writer buddies (Hartcher/Sheridan/Uhlmann) beating the drums of anti-Chinese rhetoric with the fall-out on my friends, neighbours, students, colleagues and family members out of immigration back into the 19th century from a range of countries in East Asia – north and south-east included – who bear its uglier brunt. Your post proves we are and can be more than is suggested by the ugly racist dog-whistling from the ill-read and and the ill-bred. Brava, WG!

        • March 23, 2021 08:50

          Haha, metaphorically only Jim!

          And thanks, yes, I’m glad you recognised my intent!

  2. March 23, 2021 00:35

    Well, you know my answer to your question: I definitely want the books I read to be saying something, preferably something unique and in a distinctive way.
    I have some Asian-Australian authors to add:
    Vivian Bi, Silvia Kwon, Micheline Lee, Chi Vu, S.L. Lim and Simone Lazaroo. (Along with the others you’ve mentioned, they and their books are listed on my Diversity page.)

    • March 23, 2021 08:55

      Thanks Lisa, of course I knew your answer! And thanks for those names. There are so many to choose from now, which I think was far less the case in 2011, which shows how quickly change can happen – when it comes! (The lead up of course can be soul-destroyingly long.)

      • March 23, 2021 09:10

        It’s interesting to look at the publication dates on my Diversity page (which *sigh* of course needs updating). It’s not representative because I tend to read recent releases, and it’s only the reading record of one reader, but still, it does show that the publishing history is (and has been) more diverse than its critics claim.
        There are authors of various origins who’ve been being published for a long time now…Brian Castro, David Malouf, Madeline St John, and plenty of others whose publishing history starts about 15 years ago.
        Your post has reminded me that The Poison of Polygamy by Wong Shee Ping was first published as a serial in 1909-1910 in the Chinese Times, Melbourne… and I must add him to my page!

        • March 23, 2021 09:48

          True, it has been happening for a long time … but I do think it has picked up significantly.

          I;m intrigued about Madeleine St John. I don’t think I see her in this group. I know her mother was French, or is she in your list because of her mother’s mental illness? The issue of defining diversity is a complex one isn’t it – as I know you know.

          Re keeping pages up to date. I think this is why I don’t have too many pages. I’ve given up on LibraryThing because but the time I write my post – add in to my Authors Page, my own spreadsheet, my GoodReads page and AWW if it’s an Aussie Woman, I’ve had it! I admire your diligence to keeping so many pages going!

        • March 23, 2021 09:56

          Ah, no, MSJ’s mother was not French. According to the Trinca bio, she was Rumanian and she reinvented herself as French because (a) it sounded more glamorous and (b) she could get away with it in unsophisticated 1950s Sydney.
          PS I don’t track disability or racial diversity because I can’t think of a respectful way to do it. Labelling or categorising people by skin colour or disability seems an awful thing to do. I just do country of origin, if it’s recent (parents or grandparents), and of course, only if it’s info in the public domain.

        • March 23, 2021 11:58

          That’s right. I’d forgotten all that. I had never thought of her (Madeleine’s) background as particularly diverse in terms of the challenges we think about, but I can see that if you come up with a definition – parent or grandparent – then you can’t be arbitrary!

          Far enough re disability and racial diversity. It’s so difficult to navigate the whole issue of supporting voices for all without labelling. I think we let people label themselves as they wish.

        • March 23, 2021 21:45

          Yes, that’s what I think.

  3. March 23, 2021 09:21

    Thank you for the links. I find Tan’s writing very exciting. I hope she has novel #2 on the way. Looking at the lists, it reminds me that we use ‘Asian’ to encompass Chinese and SE Asian and the British use it for Indians and Pakistanis, and neither when they say ‘Asian’ is thinking Middle East or the old USSR.
    That said, I can’t think of any writers of Indian or Pakistani descent you have missed, though one will probably jump out at me as soon as I press Comment. Maybe Behrouz Boochani, de Krester, Brian Castro?

    • March 23, 2021 09:52

      Thanks Bill. Yes, the definition of Asian is interesting and perhaps I should have discussed that – but, then, perhaps not. I was talking to Mr Gums the other day about how the Middle East is regarded as Asian, but yes I would definitely include the Indian sub-continent in “my” definition. In my first post I had de Kretser and Yasmine Gooneratne. (I also had Castro in that list.)

      I’m aware that this post’s list is all women. I could have included Tom Cho (whose short stories I have) and Ouyang Yu whom I’ve reviewed.

  4. March 23, 2021 11:02

    Ah, writing my comment when the insomnia gremlins were at work, I didn’t register that wider definition, so here’s some more:
    Lesley Jørgensen (Anglo-Bangladeshi); Ashley Kalagian Blunt (Armenia); Marcella Polain (Armenian/Irish); Suneeta Peres Da Costa; Aashish Kaul; Bem Le Hunte; Rashida Murphy; Christopher Raja; and Subhash Jaireth (all from India); Dewi Anggraeni; Intan Paramaditha and Lily Yulianti Farid (Indonesia); Azhar Abidi (Pakistan); Rajith Savanadasa and Channa Wickremesekera (Sri Lanka)

  5. March 24, 2021 05:46

    Thanks, WG, for this timely and much needed post. Looking forward to more additions. Interestingly, by ethnicity we may be similar, by geographical locales, we are having very different experiences. I’m talking about the diaspora all over the world, Asian Australian, Asian American, and right here at my home, Asian Canadians… also those in other continents. We’re all over, and have many stories to tell. Again, thanks for drawing our attention to the specific in your case, Asian Australian writers. I wouldn’t have known their names and their works. 😄

    • March 24, 2021 08:41

      Thanks Arti, and good point. In fact as soon as you label anyone there’s a tendency to generalise, which has its uses in various political and social ways but can be limiting too can’t it.

  6. July 16, 2021 02:49

    Iam thankful please GOD the father bless you all always.

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