#LoveOzYA Spotlight: black&write! Project
#LoveOzYA Spotlight is a monthly series of blog posts highlighting bookish initiatives that promote Australian youth literature.
In October, the #LoveOzYA team spoke to Junior Editor Grace Lucas-Pennington about the black&write! Indigenous Writing and Editing Project.
Q: The black&write! project was launched in 2010 and is the first of its kind in Australia. For those in the #LoveOzYA community who may by unfamiliar with it, can you please tell us a bit about it?
A: Sure can! It’s definitely a unique project, there is literally nothing else like it in Australia.
The black&write! Indigenous Writing and Editing Project is a two-part project. Through our Training Program, we employ and train Indigenous editors, providing support, mentorship and practical development with Australian publishers. During the traineeship, editors have the opportunity to participate in real industry processes and see a manuscript through to the stage of being ready for publication.
We also offer two fellowships each year to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers. The Fellowship Program offers $10,000 cash prize to two writers for their unpublished manuscripts. Recipients of the black&write! fellowships work with the black&write! editors to develop their manuscripts towards publication. At the end of their fellowship, the edited manuscripts have the opportunity to be published.
Our current publishing partner is Hachette Australia, and we have recently published Claire G. Coleman’s novel Terra Nullius. From 2011 to 2015 our publishing partner was Magabala Books who published books by nine black&write! Fellows including Jared Thomas, Sue McPherson and Alison Whitaker. (For a full list of previous winners you can click on this link.)
black&write! was developed in response to the significant under-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practitioners published in Australia and aims to make a long-term change to the Australian publishing industry. We are a non-profit arts organisation based at State Library of Queensland. We receive funding from SLQ and the Australia Council for the Arts.
The black&write! Fellowships support writers to bring their work to publication in a context of cultural safety. We are about to open for our next round of Fellowships and we encourage any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander writer, published or unpublished, working in fiction or poetry to consider submitting. Not only will your work be assessed by Indigenous editors, you have the opportunity to receive feedback from the judges to help your improve your writing!
Q: The black&write! project has a long history of publishing young adult fiction as part of its Indigenous Writing Fellowships. Can you share some highlights?
A: Every year we see a strong trend in our writing competition towards YA fiction. Here are some of the winning titles we’ve helped to bring to Australian readers (all available through Magabala Books):
Becoming Kirrali Lewis by Jane Harrison
WINNER – 2014 black&write! Indigenous Writing Fellowship
SHORTLISTED – 2016 Prime Minister's Literary Awards (Young Adult category
Set within the explosive cultural shifts of the 1960s and 1980s, Becoming Kirrali Lewis chronicles the journey of a young Aboriginal teenager as she leaves her home town in rural Victoria to take on a law degree in Melbourne in 1985. Adopted at birth by a white family, Kirrali doesn't question her cultural roots until a series of life-changing events force her to face up to her true identity.
Calypso Summer by Jared Thomas
WINNER – 2013 black&write! Indigenous Writing Fellowship
Calypso Summer is a story told by Calypso, a young Nukunu man, fresh out of high school in Rastafarian guise. After failing to secure employment in sports retail, his dream occupation, Calypso finds work at the Henley Beach Health Food shop where his boss pressures him to gather native plants for natural remedies. This leads him to his Nukunu family in southern Flinders Ranges and the discovery of a world steeped in cultural knowledge. The support of a sassy, smart, young Ngadjuri girl, with a passion for cricket rivalling his own, helps Calypso to reconsider his Rastafarian façade and understand how to take charge of his future.
Rift Breaker by Tristan Michael Savage
WINNER – 2013 black&write! Indigenous Writing Fellowship
WINNER – 2014 Aurealis Awards (author recipient of Kris Hembury encouragement award)
After conducting welding repairs on the outer hull of a space vessel, token human and lowly engineer Milton Lance returns to a silent, gloomy interior. The crew are dead, and the only survivor he can find is an annoying, pointy-eared simian. When a mysterious gun-toting woman rescues the stranded pair, an unlikely trio is formed. But escaping the ship is the easy part, for Milton discovers he is not an ordinary human at all, but a saviour of worlds. Rift Breaker is a sci-fi action adventure driven by distinctive characters, and explores themes of alienation, identity and independence.
Rise of the Fallen by Teagan Chilcott
WINNER – 2012 black&write! kuril dhagun Indigenous Writing Fellowship
Rise of the Fallen is a young adult paranormal romance, the first in a series of novels with demons, angels and elementals at war for power. This contemporary, super-sharp story with sardonic humour features a feisty main character in Emilie and a love triangle. The battles take place in familiar settings: shopping malls, street corners, the Australian bushland and up and down the Queensland coast. Emilie, fire elemental, and Cael, water elemental, are wanted by the entire demonic realm. Lying low in the human realm – as students at a Brisbane school – Emilie encounters the mysterious and charming Soul, and soon finds herself lost in the very world she's been running from for centuries.
Some of our books have even made it onto school curriculums! We hope that this trend towards YA continues into the future so we can continue bringing amazing Indigenous books to younger Australian audiences!
Q: The black&write! project was developed to foster a significant Indigenous writing community. Why is it important for Indigenous voices to be amplified in discussions about Australian YA literature, writing and storytelling?
A: Indigenous-authored Literature is vital because its existence means Indigenous and non-Indigenous people may better understand the reality of Indigenous Australian life and experience, rather than relying on non-Indigenous texts. When people do rely on non-Indigenous written sources, it increases the chances of perpetuating factual errors, stereotypes, misinformation, offensive or outdated language, and bigotry.
Many people in Australia have never spoken to an Aboriginal person. So where are they getting their information from? The answer is stories. Whether that is movies, news articles, Facebook, literature, advertisements, theatre, or someone telling them about the time they went to Alice Springs, people often get their information second-hand.
Stories are important. They are how we learn about life, the universe and the other people we share this world with. Young people should have stories that don’t degrade or embarrass them or their heritage. But also neither should the stories put them on a “noble savage” pedestal or on display as an exhibit from bygone days. Young people should be able to choose books, TV shows and movies with characters from their communities that make sense to them, pop culture that reflects who they are with integrity and insight. People who aren’t Indigenous should be able to read, watch, or listen to stories by and about Indigenous Australians – whether set in historical or contemporary eras – that are authentic and accurate representations of Indigenous ways of living!
Q: A major part of the black&write! project is the Indigenous Editing Internship, which provides training and mentorship to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander editors. What is the significance of this for Indigenous writing and editing, and for the larger #LoveOzYA and Australian literature communities?
A: One of our missions through the editing internships is to increase the amount of Indigenous-authored texts in the national canon.
The original concept for black&write! was based on a National Library’s Auslit audit of the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authored novels which have been produced. The audit found that there was a substantial imbalance where from 1990-2010 only 36 had been published. That 20-year total is fewer than the total of new novels published in Australia in a single year.
The reasons for not publishing more Australian Indigenous writing are many, but a big reason is the lack of expertise that mainstream publishers hold around working with Indigenous authors. So there is a definite, recognised need for Indigenous editors in Australian publishing.
Writing is already hard. Some writers with important stories to tell face disadvantage or barriers resulting from discrimination based on their Indigenous identity (structural racism as well as individual racism). We at black&write! feel that if Indigenous writers can be paired with an Indigenous editor, it can make the writing process a little bit easier.
Q: The black&write! project is such a fantastic and inspiring initiative! In what ways can the #LoveOzYA community lend their support?
A: Spreading the word about our project to your local area Indigenous writers would be fantastic! Read our books, review them, talk about them and recommend them. If you know an author that wants to learn more, encourage them to contact us – we are here to help. If you are a publisher, consider how (or if) your organisation publishes Indigenous-authored works, and perhaps check on your internal processes to ensure you are aligned with the Australia Council’s Protocols for Producing Australian Indigenous Writing.
Thanks for answering our questions, Grace!
For more information about the black&write! Indigenous Writing and Editing Project, visit the website: http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/whats-on/awards/blackwrite