Why I Read Blak – Drusilla Modjeska

Award-winning Australian author Drusilla Modjeska considers the many ways reading Blak has enriched her reading and writing life.

The first Blak novel I read was Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. It was published in 1958, and I read it a decade later, when I was in Papua New Guinea, studying at the University of PNG. There was a lot of Blak writing at the university, I was in classes with students who were writing articles for the student newspaper, writing and performing plays that we all went to, publishing small books of poetry, some of which I still have on my shelves. It was a time of great awakening for me. I’d grown up in England, where I’d read Kipling, fascinated with the stories of India, but of course I was introduced to it by an English writer, a child of Empire – for all that he loved the place he wrote of. It was reading Chinua Achebe that gave me an understanding of the impact and effect of colonialism – Achebe, who died in 2013, was, of course, Nigerian. Achebe and those young student writers I had the good fortune of studying with, turned my world-view around. Since then reading Blak has been as much a part of my reading as reading women, reading world literature, reading the classics.

Of those long-ago students in PNG, Russell Soaba is still writing – one of the best post-colonial Blak writers of our region – and has fostered the rising generation of young Papua New Guinean writers, who are little know here, in neighbouring Australia. Oh how I wish writers like Steven Winduo, Martyn Namorong, Regina Dorum, Gary Juffa and Leonard Fong Roka (to name just a few) could be in Melbourne for the Blak & Bright Literary Festival.

Drusilla Modjeska is one of Australia’s most acclaimed writers. Her latest book is Second Half First(Random House).

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Why I Read Blak – A Call Out

In the lead up to our Festival in February 2016, we’d love to hear your personal reflections on Indigenous writing.

We are asking for contributions of 50 words or longer on either:

Why I read Blak

Why I write Blak

It could be about …

  • the last Blak book (play, essay, news article, poem etc.) you read
  • a Blak book (play, poem, storyteller) who has most influenced you
  • a Blak book you want to read (or write)

What do we mean by ‘Blak‘? Read this post here.

By providing this copy to us you are agreeing that it may be published on a variety of platforms associated with Blak & Bright Festival, including the Blak & Bright website, or in media releases, or tweeted, and that you agree to have your name published with your response.

We look forward to hearing your reflections! To contribute, please email comms@blakandbright.com.au.

Indigenous Writing in Griffith Review

After some good summer reading in the lead up to our Festival? Griffith Review, one of Australia’s leading literary journals, has curated all of the essays and stories by Indigenous writers or on Indigenous issues on their website, which you can find here.

Their editorial notes:

‘One of the things that makes Australia truly unique is being home to the oldest continuous civilisation. What this really means is undervalued and little understood in this country. It is part of the reason Griffith Review has featured Indigenous writing in every edition.’

The anthology includes writing from Blak & Bright artists Anita Heiss and Bruce Pascoe.

SPECIAL PROGRAM ANNOUNCEMENT – Blak & Bright x Australian Poets Festival

The new national Australian Poets Festival 2016 kicks off with a dynamic poetry reading and conversation featuring young local rapper Caution, award-winning Queensland poet Sam Wagan Watson and South Australian poet Natalie Harkin. Australian Poetry will also launch Word Up! with Sam and Caution discussing their recent mentee/mentorship. The launch and reading will take place in the lovely 19th century surrounds of The Moat. Snacks, great coffee and drinks available. Join us.

WHERE The Moat, 176 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
WHEN 12.45 – 2.15pm Saturday 20 February, 2016
COST Free

ARTISTS APPEARING

Caution is the musical hip hop moniker of rising Aboriginal rapper Jonathan Binge. The young hip hop star has been developing his prose and raps over the past two years at home and at the Artful Dodgers Studio in Collingwood.

Natalie Harkin
is a Narungga woman, a member of the Chester family in South Australia.  Her writing is an archival-poetic response to her family’s Aboriginal records, informed by blood-memory and haunting. Her first collection of poetry, Dirty Words, was published by Cordite Books in 2015.

Sam Wagan Watson
is an award-winning raconteur from the south-side of Brisbane and he hails from an ancestry of Birri Gubba, Munanjali, Germanic and Gaelic peoples. Collected works of his poetry have achieved accolades, been translated into eight languages, various musical compositions, film productions and public/visual art projects.

Why ‘Blak’, not ‘Black’?

Taking ownership of language is a fundamental stage in any People’s journey towards self-determination. Historically the word black has been used to connote something negative and dis-empowering for the people who have been at the receiving end of race-based insults. The term Black was used to denigrate the cultural and racial origin of an individual or community. An example of this was in a high-profile case where racist and labelling language was used to express domination.

Like recent moves by some community organisations from Indigenous back to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and/or language names, Blak is an expression of taking back power and control within a society that doesn’t encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples; and as an opportunity for self-determination, as individuals and communities.

What does Blak mean?

Destiny Deacon first used the term in 1991 in an exhibition Blak lik mi. In her 2004 MCA exhibition, Walk and don’t look blak, ‘blak’ is defined as:

Blak: a term used by some Aboriginal people to reclaim historical, representational, symbolical, stereotypical and romanticised notions of Black or Blackness. Often used as ammunition or inspiration. This type of spelling may have been appropriated from American hip-hop or rap music.

Who has used the term, Blak?
Some of the artists and writers who have also used the term Blak:

  • Djon Mundine at the Queensland Art Gallery’s Blak Insights Exhibition and Symposium and Blak2Blak series at Campbelltown Regional Arts Centre 2007
  • Clinton Nain‘s White King Blak Queen series
  • Artlink edition featuring all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers was called Blak on Blak
  • Tony Albert’s 2007 exhibition at Jan Manton Gallery called ‘I’m bringing sexy blak’
  • Kiss My Black Arts Consultancy by Sam Cook

This is an edited version of a post which first appeared on Blak History Month for Teachers. Used with permission. 

Special UQP Blak Books Giveaway

UQP Xmas giveaway

Thanks to UQP, we’re giving away a Blak books bundle to some lucky winners. To enter, send us a one-sentence review of the last Australian Blak book you’ve read. You can tweet us @blakandbright or pop your review in the comments section below.

The bundle includes:

Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven

Ellen van Neerven takes her readers on a journey that is mythical, mystical and still achingly real. Over three parts, she takes traditional storytelling and gives it a unique, contemporary twist. In ‘Heat’, we meet several generations of the Kresinger family and the legacy left by the mysterious Pearl. In ‘Water’, a futuristic world is imagined and the fate of a people threatened. In ‘Light’, familial ties are challenged and characters are caught between a desire for freedom and a sense of belonging.

Ghost River by Tony Birch

Tony Birch cements his reputation as one of Australia’s most important novelists with his new book, Ghost River. Archie Kemp knows trouble when he sees it, and he sees it when 13-year-old Sonny Brewer moves in next door. But life for the dirt-poor kid of an alcoholic father in hard-knocks Collingwood can be brutal, violent even, so it’s lucky for Sonny he finds a friend in Archie’s stepson, Ren … and both boys find freedom and adventure along the winding banks of the Yarra.

Not Just Black and White by Tammy and Lesley Williams

Lesley Williams was forced to leave the Cherbourg Aboriginal Settlement and her family at a young age to work as a domestic servant. Inspired by her mother’s quest, a teenage Tammy Williams entered a national writing competition with an essay about injustice. The winning prize took Tammy and Lesley to the United Nations in Geneva. Not Just Black and White is an extraordinary memoir about two women, striving for equality and determined to make sure history is not forgotten.

Good luck! Competition closes Wednesday 23 December. Winners will be notified shortly after. We look forward to seeing your reviews.