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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Reflecting on Indigenous superheroes, Indigenous Futurisms and the future of diversity in literature - guest post by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Reflecting on Indigenous superheroes, Indigenous Futurisms and the future of diversity in literature

I cannot count the number of time I’ve been told it’s unusual to be an Indigenous speculative fiction writer who tells a story about an Indigenous superhero. But Indigenous superheroes are nothing new – at least, not to Indigenous peoples. We have always had stories of the Ancestor heroes, and through the long violence of colonialism, we’ve had other heroes too. These heroes include the resistance fighters of the frontier period; the undercover operatives of the protection era where intense government surveillance required Indigenous peoples to engage in a thousand hidden acts of defiance; and the child heroes who survived being members of the Stolen Generations.  In Australia and elsewhere, Indigenous peoples have also long been able to interact with the world in ways that the West might label as ‘magic’, but this is because the West often defines the real (and hence the possible) differently to the Indigenous cultures of the earth. There are many aspects of Indigenous realities that might be called ‘speculative’ by the West (such as communicating with animals and time travel). There is also much in Western literature that Indigenous peoples regard as fantasy even though it is labeled as fact, including the numerous negative stereotypes and denigrations of Indigenous peoples and culture contained within settler literature. In this context, speculative fiction has told many a colonial tale whereby Indigenous peoples become the ‘primitive’ populations of alien worlds, overcome by the equivalent of the colonial nation-states enacting their so-called manifest destiny across the stars. Spec fic has also told yet more iterations of the ‘white saviour story’ whereby it is only a white hero (and never an Indigenous one) who can ‘save’ the Indigenous peoples from their terrible plight (a plight that was itself created by white invaders). And it is a genre which has continuously engaged in the appropriation of Indigenous and other non-Western cultures, thereby causing much distress to the marginalised peoples of the earth.

But there is a growing Indigenous presence in speculative fiction. Indigenous Australian Young Adult and Children’s writers who write spec fic include myself, Teagan Chilcott, Tristan Michael Savage, graphic novelist Brenton McKenna, and the group of young Aboriginal people responsible for the NEOMAD comics. In the US, Anishinaabe academic Grace Dillon has coined the term ‘Indigenous Futurisms’ to describe a form of storytelling whereby Indigenous peoples use the speculative fiction genre to challenge colonialism and envision Indigenous futures. Since Indigenous cultures (and peoples) have long been relegated to the past in the mythos of colonial settler states, the very act of imagining Indigenous futures is one of resistance. There is therefore a degree to which being an Indigenous spec fic writer is to be part of what might be called, in Star Wars parlance, a ‘rebel alliance’, and it is an alliance that fights – of course – against the forces of Empire.  

Indigenous superheroes are nothing new. Nor are Indigenous stories. But since colonisation began, our voices have been silenced and our knowledges and cultures appropriated. So what is new are the existence of spaces where Indigenous peoples can tell and control our own stories.  This is not to say the battle to protect our cultural expressions is over. It most definitely is not, and here in Australia, we don’t yet have what could well be the single most effective measure of protection – a National Indigenous Cultural Authority. But there is a greater awareness of the need to deal respectfully and ethically with Indigenous peoples than once there was. There is also an ever-growing cyber-space presence of many diverse voices who are challenging misrepresentations and drawing attention to the need to read the authors who are writing to their own worlds. In 2015, spec fic author Corinne Duyvis – a writer with autism and one of the founders of Disability in Kidlit – invented the hashtag #OwnVoices, to promote books with a marginalised protagonist written by someone from the same group. Websites such as Disability in Kidlit and, in an Indigenous context, American Indians in Children’s Literature, provide a source of critiques that interrogate (mis)representations in literature in way that is still generally not done by mainstream reviewers and award judges. So do ally websites such as Reading While White, which is run by a group of White librarians to support the struggles of people of colour and Indigenous peoples in literature. There isn’t an equivalent to these websites in Australia … yet. But questions of authority, legitimacy, appropriateness, privilege and power are increasingly being asked of literature and of the Arts more generally.

The way is gradually opening for Indigenous peoples to speak our truths, whether alone or in equitable partnerships with non-Indigenous peoples. We don’t yet live in a world where all voices have an equal opportunity to be heard, and where all voices are heard equally. But we are on our way to it, and therefore on a journey to the stories that will exist when we do.    
Welcome to the future.  

Ambelin Kwaymullina is an Aboriginal writer, illustrator and academic who comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She works at the Law School at the University of Western Australia and is the author of a number of picture books as well as the YA speculative fiction series, The Tribe.  

Friday, May 20, 2016

My events at Melbourne Writers Festival 2016

Hello Darling Readers,

Long time no see! I am still in the thick of deadline-itis, but thought I'd interrupt my Blog of Solitude to *squeeeeee* a little, and say how excited I am to be back at Melbourne Writers Festival this year!
I'm going to be involved in two Schools sessions: 

How To Review  Tue 30 Aug, 11.15am, VENUE: ACMI Cinema 2

What are the ingredients of a review that does all the right things? Film reviewer Myke Bartlett and YA book blogger Danielle Binks take students through the craft of reviewing, with special tips for reviewing the page and the screen. Learn from the professionals!


Opinion Writing Thu 1 Sep, 12.30pm, VENUE: ACMI Cinema 2

How do you write a killer opinion piece, making your voice heard and maybe even changing minds? Opinion queen Clementine Ford and fellow feminist Amy Gray will open their toolkits and teach you about voice, structure, argument and more.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

#LoveOzYA Committee and Community response to: Productivity Commission’s Report on Australia’s intellectual property arrangements

Hello Lovely Readers, 

I've been a bit incommunicado lately, and I do apologise! It's also that I've been in a bit of a reading slump and haven't been reading enough (or fast enough) to post reviews. Freelance writing, creative writing, and letter-writing having taken up all my brain power, and unfortunately the blog has laid dormant .... and the crickets will probably continue to chirp until I've got a few deadlines out of the way. Apologies again - I shall get back into the swing of things soon! 

I sit on the #LoveOzYA committee, and last week we on the committee decided to speak up and oppose copyright proposals and parallel importation (for all the reasons why, you may want to do some additional reading up here).

This is something I feel really passionately about, and if you #LoveOzYA and want to show your support for the Australian youth literature sector - and Australian publishing in general - then you are welcome to add your name to this submission as a co-signatory (and if you feel so inclined, a paragraph or two response too!): 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

'Night Shift' Midnight, Texas #3 by Charlaine Harris

Received via NetGalley

From the BLURB:

Welcome to the most intriguing mystery you'll read this year.

Welcome to Midnight, Texas.

At Midnight's local pawnshop, weapons are flying off the shelves-only to be used in sudden and dramatic suicides right at the main crossroads in town.

Who better to figure out why blood is being spilled than the vampire Lemuel, who, while translating mysterious texts, discovers what makes Midnight the town it is. There's a reason why witches and werewolves, killers and psychics, have been drawn to this place.

And now they must come together to stop the bloodshed in the heart of Midnight. For if all hell breaks loose-which just might happen-it will put the secretive town on the map, where no one wants it to be...

‘Night Shift’ is the third book in Charlaine Harris’ ‘Midnight, Texas’ urban fantasy series.

I must admit that I went into ‘Night Shift’ a little bit wary. I really, really disliked Harris’ sophomore effort in a series that brings minor and beloved characters from all her other series together … But second book ‘Day Shift’ lacked emotional heart for me, and largely because two of my favourite characters established in book #1 were inexplicably cut down. But I was quickly buoyed by ‘Night Shift’, because those two favourites – Fiji and Bobo – and their unrequited love affair was touched upon quickly, hinting that it’d be a lodestone for this instalment. And lo and behold, it was;
 Bobo had seemed a little broody for days, though no one was sure why. Fiji who was always aware of Bobo, was a little hyped by the fact that she was almost certain that he was staring at her even when she wasn’t speaking. She didn’t know why; she sadly suspected it was not for the same reason she liked to look at him. In fact, looking at Bobo was one of her favourite things to do.

Something is stirring underneath the town of Midnight, Texas. Strangers are being pulled to the town to commit suicide at the crossroads, and everyone in town is aware that this is just the prelude to a bigger bad waking … The best way to describe the action of ‘Night Shift’ is with this exchange between witch Fiji and psychic Manfred, which I loved because it speaks to a more menacing and intriguing “big bad” that’s plaguing the town of Midnight, and just because I love how meta it is that Charlaine Harris gives some love to ‘Buffy’ when she herself is the creator of what has become another iconic vampire series (there’s also mention of Fiji reading some Anne Rice, which also tickled my meta);

“Maybe you’re right, Manfred. Did you ever watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” 
The change of subject left him teetering. 
“Ah … sure. My grandmother loved it.” 
“Do you ever wonder if Midnight’s on the Hellmouth? Like Sunnydale?” 
Manfred laughed. “That’s exactly what it feels like,” he said. “You must be Willow, and Olivia must be Buffy. And Lemuel is Angel.” 
That brought a smile to Fiji’s face, too. “I would classify Olivia more as Faith,” she said. “Bobo can be Xander.” 
“So Diedrik would be Oz.” 
For a reason Manfred couldn’t fathom, Fiji flushed.
I loved the mystery at the heart of ‘Night Shift’, both because it’s more satisfying than the more human mysteries of the past two books and because Fiji very much gets to be at the centre of things. For this reason also, Bobo doesn’t get a lot of page time which I didn’t love … but I can appreciate this book being more Fiji’s show, Bobo had to remain a bit of a mystery to her (and therefore, to readers). I adore Fiji and any time Charlaine Harris chooses her as the series focus, the plot is vastly improved.

I also appreciated that Harris at least touched on a little mystery for Manfred, by mentioning the young woman he crushed on in book #1, but who has all but vanished from the series since; 

Manfred wondered how Creek Lovell was faring. He’d had a crush on her the size of a boulder, and he’d never figured out if it was returned.
I can’t find anything on the internet about whether or not ‘Midnight, Texas’ will continue beyond ‘Night Shift’ – but I sure hope so, for this little emotional nugget about Manfred and Creek, and also because my old favourite from Sookie’s world – Quinn, the weretiger – has hope in his heart by the end of ‘Night Shift’, and I’d love to see how it works out for him.

I really, really loved ‘Night Shift’ – even as things got a little ridiculous towards the end, I just found it great fun and really thought Harris hit her stride juggling all these characters and their relations against a menacing big bad. ‘Midnight, Texas’ is currently filming as a TV-movie, which I’m also ridiculously excited about (not least because Dylan Bruce – who played Paul in ‘Orphan Black’ is onboard to play Bobo!), and the IMDB description has it billed as “Twin Peaks meets True Blood” which is just so on-the-money I can’t stand it, and my hopes are up high.

‘Night Shift’ is Charlaine Harris at her tangled, paranormal-noir best – with beloved witch Fiji as the emotional centre of this instalment, plus a good subplot about Olivia and Lemuel and enough kernels of complication to leave fans hoping for more instalments … ‘Night Shift’ is the high of this series so far, and I want more.

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