In a 2019 article in The Guardian, Gomeroi poet, essayist and legal scholar Alison Whittaker declared that ‘Blak literature is in a golden age’. She named a prize, a shortlisting, fellowships and anticipated books. From 2022 alone, we could add high profile accolades such as Evelyn Araluen’s Stella Prize and Australian Book Industry Award for Drop Bear, Veronica Gorrie’s Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Black and Blue, Tony Birch’s New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award for Dark as Last Night, Claire G. Coleman’s Queensland Literary Award for Lies, Damned Lies and Elfie Shiosaki’s Western Australian Premier’s Book Award for Homecoming. ‘Our white audiences’, Whittaker continued, ‘who are majorities in both literary industry and buying power, are deep in an unseen crisis of how to deal with it’ (‘White Critics’). This essay tries to begin to understand what constitutes the unseen crisis; how settler readers, like me…
Aboriginal Women's Life-History Writing, Settler Reading and Not Just Black and White
Joint Winner of the inaugural ALS PhD Essay Prize.
In a 2019 article in The Guardian, Gomeroi poet, essayist and legal scholar Alison Whittaker declared ‘Blak literature is in a golden age. Our white audiences, who are majorities in both literary industry and buying power, are deep in an unseen crisis of how to deal with it.’ This essay tries to understand what constitutes the crisis, how settler readers, like me, might see it and emerge from it, and what some of the stakes are. I consider the reading crisis in relation to the dominant model for reading testimonial literature established by Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, which positions the reader/listener as empathetic co-owner of the speaker’s trauma and powerful enabler of their testimony. Following Libby Porter, I contend settlers can progress to ‘more mature ways of responding to the invitation to a sovereign relationship.’ I discuss three strategies settler readers can implement to this end: focus on the presence of the writer, position themselves as outsiders wanting to listen and recognise themselves as implicated subjects. I ground the discussion in the 2015 life-history text Not Just Black and White: A Conversation between a Mother and Daughter by Murri women Lesley Williams and Tammy Williams.
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